Reimagining Math Instruction with Blended Learning

November 28, 2018 | by Linda Seeberg

“We need better tools that provide more reliable and detailed data about our students’ performance in math so that we can personalize instruction for each learner!”

This was the resounding feedback we received from our grade K-5 teachers during our math instructional materials adoption process in 2015-16, which was spurred by our district’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards two years prior. Like other districts across the country, our students’ test scores dropped significantly at the onset of the Common Core era–not because our students were performing at a lower level than they had previously, but because the new standards were just that much more rigorous.

At Redmond School District, we needed to reimagine how we’d help students master these new standards, bolster assessment scores, and create a data-driven culture in our schools. We discovered that a blended-learning approach was our best bet.

Time for a change

The Common Core took us out of our comfort zone, but it also provided an exciting opportunity for us to help our students become standards-proficient, as well as engaged, math learners. In moving toward a new blended-learning approach and selecting a new math curriculum, our district’s math adoption team, including 16 teacher volunteers, two elementary instructional coaches, and two district administrators, engaged in the decision-making process.  

Our district values teacher input in the selection of instructional materials. Our formal adoption processes always include representative teachers from each of our schools.

We believe that teachers, who will be the primary users of these tools, offer a unique vantage point that is valuable in a comprehensive selection process.

We knew that our new curriculum had to not only be effective, but also easy to use, technology-enabled to produce real-time data, and engaging for teachers and students alike. We ultimately landed on Ready Mathematics and i-Ready, which we implemented across grades K-5 in the 2016-17 school year.

Using these programs together during 90-minute math instruction blocks, teachers received valuable data from students’ diagnostic results in order to guide instruction. And, students received personalized instruction–both online and in print–as well as targeted practice on the math concepts they needed help with most.

New approaches to class time

As we began to use these new materials, our educators started to think more flexibly about the 90-minute instruction block to engage students in the perfect balance of blended learning. The results varied classroom to classroom, but we found teachers stepping away from our district’s previous practice of 60 minutes dedicated to core instruction (focusing on grade-level standards, using the Ready Mathematics curriculum) and 30 minutes of personalized learning (small group, 1:1 or partner work targeted at the students’ instructional skill level using i-Ready). These teachers instead shifted to a more integrated approach, blending components of math instruction and learning structures in a way that felt more natural for both teachers and students.

As an example, some teachers set up a Station Rotation model, in which students participate in 20 minutes of online instruction; 45 minutes of a print-based lesson; and then spend the remainder of the time rotating through centers, which consist of small-group, partner, or independent work or one-on-one instruction with the teacher. This instructional time is personalized using data from both grade-level content formative measures and individual learning profiles.

Setting up for success

A key component to launching this initiative was training. Our teachers received in-depth guidance on how to use the new blended-learning materials, as well as how to teach to the new standards. For example, teachers learned how to slow their lesson pacing dramatically, giving students more time to fully comprehend the content at the depth of knowledge required by the more rigorous standards. Teachers also learned how to apply appropriate scaffolds that required students to be actively engaged in thinking, discussion, and collaborative problem-solving. Built into the Ready Mathematics routines, students take part in multiple reads of complex problems; they learn to contribute multiple answers during the problem-solving process, and they engage in rich discourse using the Think-Share-Compare instructional approach.

Teachers also learned how to use the ample data provided by the i-Ready system to personalize instruction for each student. The goal to personalize instruction to meet student needs necessitated a more flexible approach to instruction. This was really the push that led to new thinking about blended-learning structures.  

Planning and preparation also went into how students would actually use i-Ready on our schools’ shared Chromebook devices. Schools worked out schedules to ensure that Chromebooks would be available in each classroom to provide adequate access for students. During this time, students would either complete the math diagnostic, which was administered three times a year, or engage in online math instruction.

Making gains

Implementing this blended approach has increased the focus, rigor, and discourse during math instruction across our district, while helping teachers better align their instruction to meet the demands of the Common Core. As a result, we’ve seen great gains in our students’ math achievement–district-wide SBAC performance for grades 3-5 rose from 44.1% to 48.9% after one year, and to 53.9% in year two with the new curriculum. Additionally, in our first two years of implementation, our K-5 students were performing above the national average in both growth and achievement, showing strong gains in levels of proficiency in i-Ready.

For other districts looking to replicate a similar blended-learning initiative, it is important to do your research, engage teachers and other stakeholders in the process, work collaboratively to create a data-driven culture and a common language around instructional best practices, and not be afraid to just jump in. Taking these steps has enabled all of us at Redmond School District to really embrace our new math culture and not look back.

Linda Seeberg is the Executive Director of Academic Programs at Redmond School District in Redmond, Oregon.

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