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A TechCHAT With Principal Anthony Townsend On Blended Learning

The TechCHAT series invites teachers, media specialists and other educators from across the country and around the world to share how they’re using technology to enhance instruction and student learning. 


Anthony Townsend has been principal at Locust Grove Middle School through some major EdTech transitions, from when he was a student to being an administrator active in adapting to the evolving educational landscape in K-12. 


Townsend oversaw the blended learning transition in Locust Grove, Georgia, and is closely monitoring the results of this successful change. Recently, he discussed continuous assessment, self-pacing, and personal accountability in student learning witihin a blended learning model with Education World. 


We hear about the plethora of benefits from continuous assessment more often than not. What improvements could be made to the process? What works beyond the kinks?


One of the many benefits of continuous assessment is the rich data available and the opportunity to use that data to support students. At Locust Grove Middle School, our teachers consult student dashboards that allow us to gauge student progress and pinpoint specific areas of struggle. Prior to this, assessments were generic and it was virtually impossible for our teachers to collect and analyze data in an effective manner or speed at which they could make a difference to support the students. Edgenuity’s student dashboard is a living, breathing assessment tool in which we can get to the root of the problem and hammer down the specific issues our students they are having. It ensures we are putting forth the best support and interventions in place to help students overcome their academic obstacles. With all of the data that is now available, it is important not only to use it when it comes to assessing our students, but really put it to work as a catalyst for improvement.


In practice, how are individualized lesson plans playing out? What types of steps are you seeing teachers take in order to ensure that motivation doesn’t lag within the context of self-pacing?


Motivation for students can happen in so many different ways and the real challenge is identifying what will trigger their interest and turn them on to learning. We need to make the students part of the process and, in order to do that, they need to be equipped with the same knowledge, data and information made available to the teachers. At Locust Grove, we have seen our students move from consumers of information to creators of their own education. For example, in the past a student might come to us saying that they don’t understand math. But what about math are they struggling with? It was difficult with traditional assessments for teachers pinpoint the specific problem. Now, with comprehensive data provided to both students and teachers, students can identify the areas within a subject where they are finding difficulty and work with the teachers to bring themselves up to speed.


Prior to moving to a blended model, lessons were based on day-to-day operations of the classroom, where teachers were trying to “hit the middle” of the class. Now our lessons are being built more for each individual student, doing our best to personalize each lesson. At the end of the day if you have students that are part of the process you will have a school that is moving forward for the betterment of its students.


In what ways are students finding themselves more accountable for their own learning objectives through utilizing EdTech? Are the success rates viably higher in your experience when students take ownership of their learning?


We’ve found that with Edgenuity our students are not only meeting academic standards, but are able to hone in and excel in the areas that they are passionate about. As an example, we had a student who was not being challenged in his 6th and 7th grade language arts classes, but with Edgenuity he was able to move through the curriculum and show mastery of those standards at his own pace. He finished 8th grade language arts in 10 weeks and, now in 9th grade, entered high school with credits in English 1 honors, Math 1 and Spanish 1. As he will likely complete his high school requirements ahead of time, he will have the opportunity to pursue his passion for the arts through AP classes and relevant internships because he was able to dictate his own pace and take ownership of his academic success.


Locust Grove recently did a study where we implemented Edgenuity’s blended learning model for half of the school and compared their performance with students using a traditional learning model. We found that students who participated in blended learning courses consistently outperformed students using the traditional model on the CRCT English language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science tests. As a result of these findings, Locust Grove Middle School offered Edgenuity to all students during the 2014–2015 school year and we are continuing to see improvements across the board.


Have any important learning methods been lost in the transition to blended learning? Gained? Transformed? To what extent?


The need for a “stand and deliver” method of teaching has been diminished in our transition to blended learning. Locust Grove is unique in that we have three large labs which allow for a decreased class size of about 15-to-1. In a larger class, the management of the classroom takes over the teaching. With a blended learning class of only 15 students, each at different places in their learning, teachers have the ability to really focus on what the students need and where they’re going in terms of their individual academic goals. 


Blended learning is delivering more data and the ability to diagnose where students are in their academic progress.  With the traditional model our teachers were tied to a pacing guide, a lesson of the day and the overall management of the classroom. With [a] blended learning model our teachers are able to focus more on the art of teaching and truly supporting the students in the classroom. 



Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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