As districts look for improved ways to address unfinished instructional time and tasks, the already-established concept of blended learning is gaining popularity. Combining student autonomy through technology with teacher-led instruction only made sense when the majority of American students were sent home to learn. Now that in-person learning is back, many districts are looking into ways to hang on to the parts of blended learning that benefit students the most.
Dr. Liz Brooke is the Chief Learning Officer at Lexia Learning and has more than 25 years experience in the education sector. In her role at Lexia, Dr. Brooke is responsible for setting the educational vision for the company’s Language and Literacy products. She shared with us some insight into why now, more than ever, blended learning is needed in all forms of schooling.
Question: How can blended learning be most successful?
Answer: Oftentimes you hear, “Oh, we don’t want to replace the teacher.” Or, “Technology is not a teacher.” As a former teacher myself, I agree 100% with these statements. However, the beauty of blended learning is that ea ch element can leverage the strengths of that particular element. For example, with a blended approach where the students are working online, we know from research that they need repetition, practice and guided feedback. Repetition or corrective feedback is a perfect example of using technology for what it does best – because it’s provided to the students at the appropriate level and can provide multiple repetitions. That’s a great way to use technology.
Then for the teacher-led portion, you can extract the data from that online portion and really help instructors be targeted with their time and better understand the student profile. This enables building on expressive language skill which is harder to do online and work within small group learning. It’s really the best of both worlds when it’s done right. The key to blended learning is that the data of one is feeding the other and it’s continuous so that you see that full profile of the student.
Q: When educators are considering edtech solutions to combat unfinished learning, what questions should they be asking?
A: The biggest question they must ask is, “Will this program help me identify where a student is in their learning?” Using an assessment component that can be given remotely and can be given at scale to large amounts of students in each specific grade level, teachers can combat unfinished learning. They need to know where the students are starting and then meet them where they are. You can’t do this without data.
We all know that students are going to be at various places, and in an ideal world, you’d have a first-grade classroom where every student is at first grade level, but we know that’s not true. So, you also need a program and data that will help you answer the question: Okay, what am I going to do about it? By using differentiated tools and grouping students that are at similar performance levels, teachers can effectively personalize instruction and reach everyone where they are.
Q: What are some things schools should look for in edtech solutions?
A: Schools should consider three things, the first of which being evidence that it works, and that it works with the population they are looking to use it with. For example, if they’re looking to use the technology with K-5 students, does the company have evidence and pure research that this has been tested with K-5 students in the schools? They should also look for evidence that the solution accelerates and gives more than one year of growth for that one year of instruction, because we have a lot of catching up to do. We need to make sure that we meet students where they are and quickly move them.
Next, make sure the solution is based in the science of reading and applies the principles of structured literacy, meaning that it’s not just claiming to be research based. Rather, it’s explicit, systematic, and sequential. If you have evidence, then it’s likely based on the science of reading, but it’s important to make sure both elements are in place.
Finally, schools should factor in the type of implementation support and partnership that the vendor offers. Do they come in and do a one-and-done type of training and leave? At Lexia, we have a year-long partnership and we work with schools to not only understand how to use the Lexia products, but how those products fit into their existing schedule and curriculum.
Q: How can a program that provides next-step recommendations for the teacher boost student success?
A: There’s been a lot of focus around how many teachers were or were not trained in the science of reading. But when I presented around the country, I used to ask the same question of how many teachers were trained on how to analyze data to drive instruction. Not a lot of hands are raised up when you ask that question in a room full of educators. It’s one thing to see the data, but that question of “what do I do about it?” is so critical.
A good program helps define next steps and provides support for teachers—even if that teacher is very experienced—via something as simple as a word list or maybe a full-blown scripted lesson. It’s about really connecting those dots of what this data tells me, and then what I can do Monday morning in my classroom to help connect to students and accelerate their learning.
Q: Explain why Lexia Learning is such a strong choice for an edtech platform.
A: One of the biggest benefits is Lexia’s longevity, as we were founded with a grant through the NICHD in 1984. Research has been in our DNA since day one, whereas many other edtech companies have sprung up in the last 5-10 years and particularly in the last two due to remote learning. Meanwhile, we’ve been in this space for over 35 years.
Another strength of ours is efficacy. Lexia understands gold standard research with pre-test, post-test treatment and control, peer reviewed publications. We have over 25 peer reviewed publications. Even if we just look at the last 10 years focused on our product Lexia Core5 Reading and Lexia PowerUp Literacy, the amount of research we have around our current products is unparalleled in the space. It’s voluminous.
To add to that, we continuously evaluate the student data generated by our programs. We have over 5 million users and we analyze that database from both a national and state-specific standpoint (other companies may only do an analysis of the entire database). We not only correlate inside data to outside assessments, but we also conduct pure efficacy research. We’re always updating our products based on that data and the findings, and correlating it to the assessments that schools use. We have ESSA strong studies that have demonstrated large effect sizes (i.e., the difference between the treatment group and the control group).
In our online programs, every click of the mouse or screen tap is captured and analyzed. Even if two students are working on the same activity (e.g., multiple meanings) they may answer differently and require additional support in that concept. Lexia provides personalized pathways and extra support online to see if that helps as a first level of scaffolding/support. If the student continues to struggle, he or she will get even more scaffolding or explicit instruction on multiple meanings. Then, the teacher will get an alert about the student’s struggle with multiple meanings and can group other students who are also struggling. Lexia then provides that teacher with a lesson on how to teach multiple meanings, with lots of different ways to adapt the lesson based on students’ needs.
The bottom line is that students on the same grade level and who started on the same activity may need different pathways through it. We work to personalize those pathways and meet students where they are. That way, they can move on and even go above grade level in some cases.
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