Blended Learning, Merit Pay, and My Wife

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I am ready to jump in. For fifteen years I have been employing educational technologies in my high school science classes to increase student engagement and improve student performance. I have documented increases in both of these with my most recent foray into Peer Instruction with clickers over the last three years. Before that I dove head first into podcasting, video making, and blogging. Now, I am ready to take a real risk. I am ready to blend class time to free me up for more individual engagement with students, and to increase the differentiation of study in my classroom.

I will be honest. My first motivation is selfish. I’m not particularly fond of the one-to-many relationship that is forged in traditional classroom instruction. I have been dreaming of a Montessori-like classroom for years. In fact, a decade ago, I tried to organize my classroom into stations that would allow for individually paced progress. Without the aid of technology, however, it was incredibly difficult to keep track of student learning. A handful of students excelled and expressed how liberating it was to move at their own pace. The majority, however, lacked the internal locus of control to carry out a course of study with large spans of time spent in independent work.

My second motivation is to focus a critical lens onto the blended learning model both for my school district and for the larger edtech community. I have a strong baseline of performance data that I can use for comparison. If I am lucky, my current Stanford research partner, J Bryan Henderson, will stay with me and use the same propensity score matching analysis he has used to compare performance from my control class to the experimental classes in our Peer Instruction/clicker study when examining the performance of students in the blended model to students from prior years in the traditional model.

There is a lot of excitement about bringing the world’s best teachers into every classroom in this way. This piece by Hassel and Hassel, that adds comment to a paper by Michael Horn of the Innosight institute, expresses some urgency about the need for the outsourcing of instruction to “the top 25% of teachers” as a silver bullet to our education ills. Hassel and Hassel also suggest that pay for performance would be a nice compliment to this reform structure that will solve our country’s education problems. I am a little less sanguine about that. The first wave of research on the effect of pay for performance in teaching shows this reform to be about as effective as offering online classes to at-risk youth in Colorado; not very.

One point made by Hassel and Hassel with which I do agree is that by bringing in teachers through the internet (Khan, mathalicious, braingenie, whoever), and I don’t think they need to be particularly good ones, I can free up time to focus my instruction on individual students and small groups. If I am spending less time in stand-and-deliver mode, I can spend more time engaging students in meaningful discussion, and assisting them with problem solving and laboratory execution. When not in class, if I am not busy preparing demonstrations and presentations, I can spend more time in assessment and parent communication. The real hope I have for blended learning is that it will allow me to be more human and less automaton.

Much like tech startups, I have a roadmap for my foray into blended learning. The first step was easy. My insatiable appetite for any information about promising edtech has convinced me that blending has strong potential to improve student achievement across the shamefully wide economic spectrum of learners I teach in the public school. Most recently, I have Greg Klein, of Downtown College Prep in San Jose, Ca, to thank for that. The second step was getting my site and district leadership on board. Half a semester of meetings later, I can now check that box. The third step has been writing this post. Now that I have publicly declared my intention, I am committed to a serious effort to make this happen.

The fourth step is getting enough web-enabled devices in both my own classroom and the classroom of my co-planning colleague to have parity between students and devices. A recent site decision to upgrade one of the school’s computer labs might make this easier than it would have been otherwise; the old machines are slow, but still handle internet applications just fine.

The fifth step is convincing my wife that the inordinate amount of time I will be spending ove the next two years, reorganizing the curriculum to fit the new format is a necessity. Wish me luck with that.

The Uncertain Impact of Merit Pay for Teachers, NYT Business Day

Study: $75M Teacher Pay Initiative Did Not Improve Achievement, Gotham Schools

Blend My Learning Study Results, Envision Academy, Oakland, Ca

9 thoughts on “Blended Learning, Merit Pay, and My Wife

  1. whereiskatima

    I so hope this coming school year brings you the joy of greater student engagement. It sounds wonderful. We need more people like you and more administrators who understand that one must experiment and not be so obsessed with only the indicator of test scores.

    Check out Guaranteach.com…….another spin off by Michael Horn. Not sure it ended up being the top 25% of teachers…….
    It would be interesting to know what happened.

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