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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

It’s the teaching, not the technology

Gilroy Prep students use hand signals in a math discussion.

Teaching — not technology — drives success at blended-learning schools, writes Thomas Arnett, research fellow of education at the Clayton Christensen Institute, in Education Next.

He visited five blended-learning schools in Las Vegas and the San Jose area where low-income and minority students are doing well: Dr. Owen C. Roundy Elementary, Vegas Verdes Elementary, and Elaine Wynn Elementary, which are franchise schools in Las Vegas’s Clark County School District, and Hollister Prep and Gilroy Prep, two charter elementary schools operated by Navigator Schools in the San Jose area.

While these schools use the Station Rotation or Lab Rotation blended-learning models for math and English language arts instruction, that’s not what stands out, writes Arnett.

The five schools use teaching coaching, data-driven instruction and small-group instruction to improve learning.

At the Clark County schools, a few experienced teachers serve as “growth analysts.” Growth analysts’ responsibilities include observing teachers’ lessons, modeling best teaching practices, and meeting with teachers on a regular basis to provide targeted feedback. Similarly, at Navigator Schools, school administrators observe and provide live coaching to teachers on a daily basis and meet with teachers weekly to discuss specific areas of improvement. These school administrators have reported that they spend roughly 70 percent of their time providing coaching to teachers.

At the Clark County schools, teachers “help students set individual academic growth goals” and track their progress, writes Arnett.

Navigator students also track their learning progress throughout the school year. Teachers use “student learning data to plan instructional units and to identify students in need of targeted interventions.”

In all five schools, teachers have opportunities to work with groups of seven to 10 students to “target their learning needs” and “build stronger relationships with individual students,” writes Arnett.

Technology “amplifies” the power of high-quality teacher, he concludes.

Online assessments through the Evaluate and Illuminate platforms significantly reduce the burden on teachers to administer, grade, and aggregate the student learning data for data-driven instruction. And this data, in turn, is an essential component of purposeful teacher coaching. Teachers also use learning data from online software—such as ST Math, Accelerated Reader, DreamBox Learning, Reading Plus, and Lexia Learning—to invest students in learning by making it easy for students to see how their efforts contribute to their learning success.

Navigator’s Gilroy Prep is one of the best Bay Area schools when it comes to educating low-income Latino students in reading and math, concludes a 2016 Innovate Public Schools report.

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