Blended learning enables individualized instruction


Visitors to St. Therese Catholic School in Deephaven probably won’t see students all facing the front of a classroom while the teacher delivers a lecture. Instead, they’re likely to witness blended learning in action: some students working independently at their desks, some completing assignments or assessments on tablets or computers, and others meeting with the teacher to receive small-group instruction.

Within the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, St. Therese, Immaculate Conception School in Columbia Heights and Our Lady of the Lake School in Mound are pioneering the use of blended learning — an educational model that combines live instruction, classroom interaction and online content delivery. It also enables individualized instruction. Students proceed at their own pace through the curriculum, which is based on Minnesota state standards, with their teachers adjusting the material as each student demonstrates mastery through computerized assessments.

“Just because kids are in the same grade doesn’t mean they are in the same place. One-size-fits-all isn’t necessarily the best approach,” notes Lauren Caton, principal of St. Therese. With blended learning, she explains, “The high achiever doesn’t have to sit through lessons about things he already knows, and the child who isn’t yet performing at grade level isn’t pushed forward without having mastered a skill. They both deserve to learn at their own pace, in their own place.”

Partnering with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, the three schools introduced blended learning in fall 2014. Because the new approach calls for data-driven instruction and individual educational plans, teachers received training on effective ways to plan, prep, teach and manage a classroom. Stronger staff leadership is just one benefit of blended learning, says Jane Bona, principal of Immaculate Conception.

“We’re clearly seeing increases in test scores on the NWEA [Northwest Evaluation Association], a nationally normed test,” Bona reports, adding that most math classes are working nearly a year ahead of grade-level standards. “We also see the kids taking responsibility for so much of their learning.”

“Our students learn so much more than English and math through blended learning,” observes Becky Kennedy, the principal and parent of a kindergartener at Our Lady of the Lake. “They develop lifelong skills, such as asking for help, working in a group and taking ownership in what they’re doing.”

All three principals hope other Catholic schools embrace the new educational model. As Bona says, “Much of what the blended learning model offers works really well with who we are — a small, intimate school setting with an intentional, faith-based culture.”

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