By Rebecca Tomasini, Founder and CEO at The Alvo Institute
I encourage you to watch this short video about how the promise of differentiation is being realized at Grimmway Academy in Arvin, CA and then read about how Blended Learning has helped me fulfill an old promise I made to myself nearly 20 years ago.
The promise? When I entered the classroom for the first time, I promised myself that I would be a teacher who understood every student and gave each student exactly what they needed. I promised I would not let any child live in the margins. Not in my class. Not on my watch.
I was trained as a constructivist. When choosing a credentialing program, I sought out one that focused on training teachers to work with students who were typically seen through a deficit model; the students who too easily became the collateral damage of the unrelenting cycles of poverty and racism in neighborhoods like East LA. In my program, I found mentors and friends who shared my passion and who continue to work towards a high quality, free, public education as a path-the path-to social justice.
Together with my cohort of eager first year teachers, we devoured the research describing methods that would help us facilitate our students’ experiences as they constructed their learning. With each article I became more bedazzled by the various ways I could use data and hands-on activities to help each student chart and direct their individual journey towards academic growth, life long learning and developing a wide-eyed curiosity about the world around them.
Then, we all left the confines of the graduate lecture rooms and began working in our own classrooms. It is a good thing I was single and idealistic.
My dreams of individualized instruction took every waking hour, starting the day with a 6:45 am zero period and staying on campus until 8-9 pm every night, creating countless tabs in Excel and using scissors, markers and tape to disaggregate data sets and create graphical representations of student performance. Despite these efforts, student results were still falling short of the potential promised me to in those grad school syllabi. More important the promise I had made myself was becoming more and more allusive.
While differentiation was the noble, lofty goal of any self-respecting emergent constructivist teacher, the realities of the classroom demanded something very different. As high school teachers, we often had as many as 200-240 students on our rolls. Keeping up with student achievement data was daunting. Finding the right content that fit each students’ needs was always time consuming, and the extraordinary efforts were disproportionate to the scant results. It was hard for any of us to admit that the dreams of differentiation were being flattened by the time sucks of our day-to-day realities and the poor to nonexistent data management tools often no more robust than a paper grade book or maybe Excel.
My intentions were good. My expertise was developing. But that final mile—the mile from data to customized instruction was a mile run in quicksand.
Blended Learning is the final mile to fulfilling the promise of differentiation.
At The Alvo Institute, we believe that implementing Blended Learning begins with the tenants of strong differentiation and small, often student directed, group instruction and project based learning.
In a great Blended model, the solid practices of differentiation, are accelerated, deepened, and made accessible for all students, by two innovations:
1) Powerful and intuitive data tools that can help teachers diagnose and monitor student needs and growth (social and emotional as well as academic) in real time.
2) A diverse collection of digital content (much of which is free) that can be accessed through a single web-based interface and presented to students in customized content packages (check out Activate Instruction).
These innovations can transform even the best classrooms into true expressions of complex instruction and constructivism.
I often wonder where some of my students would be today if I had had these technology enhanced tools. I am positive that I would have come closer to the promise I made myself.