“I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.”

–Klaatu, The Day the Earth Stood Still–

As I travel the country to talk about K-12 blended learning, I’m often reminded of the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Klaatu the alien lands on earth with his robot Gort, announces he is on a goodwill mission, and then is promptly shot by a nervous soldier. Suffice to say, Gort doesn’t like that and things go downhill from there. The scene is a good analogy for the current blended learning discussion.  But as we often find in these movies, the humans and aliens have much more in common than it seems.

I’d argue that if you like guided reading, then you should love blended learning.

For students in traditional classrooms, guided instruction is the best way to get individualized, small-group instruction without hiring more adults to free up the teacher. A classroom that uses guided instruction is organized into a series of stations where students work independently on different learning activities (usually reading or math). While students are engaged in independent work, the teacher pulls groups of three to six students to provide focused, individualized instruction.

Many high-performing schools and school systems (e.g., Uncommon, Aspire, Long Beach Unified) have moved to guided instruction for reading and math, particularly at the primary level, in order to individualize instruction and increase student achievement.

The more students are able to work independently, the more choices teachers have over how to serve students. Enter blended learning…

Imagine a high school where students spend 50 percent of their time working independently through a combination of online and offline activities.* If we give highly skilled teachers back half their day, how would they use this time to serve students and drive student achievement? Giving effective teachers more control of their time has profound implications for how we think about good teaching practice, teacher innovation, and job satisfaction. The promise here is teachers have the space to make instructional choices that will have the most impact on students:

  • Freedom to do 1:1, small group, or large group depending on what’s most effective
  • More time analyzing and addressing learning gaps
  • Increased emphasis on critical thinking and other higher order skills

If you take the thesis of “more independent student work = more efficient, personalized teaching” to its logical conclusion, you can imagine schools where students play a primary role driving their own learning while teachers spend their time on the “most important things” that help students learn.

Some might say such a school model is disruptive (in a good way), while others may call if subversive. I’m just saying that if you like guided reading, hold your fire and see what Klaatu has to say about blended learning.

* For the purposes of this conversation, let’s assume that the 50 percent online learning time is as good as or better than face-to-face instruction. See Heather Staker’s post on how quality, adaptive learning programs can boost learning with relatively modest face-to-face support.

Alex Hernandez is a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, a venture philanthropy that provides growth capital for high-performing charter school networks. He leads CSGF’s “next-generation” learning investments in blended learning programs and is eager to talk to social entrepreneurs who want to re-invent schools. twitter: thinkschools


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