The Blended Approach

How one RTI specialist utilized blended learning to help a struggling student.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jane Nold

Academy of MathAs anyone in education knows, you see a wide range of learning styles in your students, which means you are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to help them move past the obstacles that may be holding them back.

This was definitely the case with my student, Payton, who, like so many, entered the sixth grade struggling with math.  While most students view trouble with a subject as a deterrent, Payton took on the challenge, determined to master the material and conquer math.

Students like Payton often come into sixth, seventh, and eighth grade having missed some of the basics early on, making it difficult for them to grasp the more advanced concepts they encounter in junior high.  In other words, there is a piece missing from their foundation, such as rounding numbers or decimals, which means unfortunately, they begin to fall behind, requiring extra help to get them on track for a successful career in high school and beyond.

This is where the blended learning approach becomes a key component of their educational progress.  Blended learning allows me to supplement what they learn in the classroom with an intensive online curriculum that helps fill in the gaps of their learning.  I knew the blended learning approach would be a great fit for Payton and immediately put her into Academy of MATH from EPS Literacy and Intervention, a systematic and totally web-based intervention solution designed specifically for at-risk elementary, middle, and high school students. Academy of MATH starts the students with simple concepts to assess what they know before moving on to more complex skills.  The ongoing assessment and progress monitoring provide robust data to keep me apprised of how students are doing, helping me to create a roadmap of where to go next.   

When we first pre-tested Payton, she scored at level 4.4, well below her grade level.  Although she had a tough road to climb, she showed up every day, worked hard and never hesitated to ask questions when she didn’t understand something.  She persevered and continued to work hard at the program and by the middle of seventh grade, Payton scored at level 7.5!  While it has been a long two years for Payton, it has been rewarding for both of us to see how far she has come and more importantly, where she will go in the future.

What I enjoy about teaching with programs like Academy of MATH as part of the blending learning approach, is not only that it drills down on the fundamentals, but that repetition is a centerpiece of the curriculum.  Once students take the pre-test on Academy of MATH, the program calculates what the student needs to learn and adapts accordingly, creating a customized program.  It is that repetition that requires the student to work at the material over and over again until they learn it.  While the repetition aspect can initially be frustrating for students, eventually, it clicks for them that once they learn the material, they can move on, having finally learned the basics they missed along the way.

I’m excited to implement the Common Core, as it will address the basics that so many students miss, ensuring they don’t get left behind.  However, even with the advent of Common Core, the blended learning approach will still allow us to provide greater depth to a student’s overall educational experience, instilling them with critical thinking skills needed for the future.

Like any educational approach, blended learning works best if students come in with a positive attitude and a willingness to work at a difficult subject.  When my own nephew struggled in school, my brother had to hire tutors to get him through the rough parts.  While it paid off and he’s now a college graduate, he didn’t have the benefit of receiving extra help during school hours to get him over the hump.  I tell my students that story as an example of how if they work hard in school, they too can achieve great success later in life.

Jane Nold is an RTI Specialist at Waterloo Junior High in Waterloo, Ill. Write to:

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