As Rhode Island’s first competency-based, personalized blended learning school, Village Green Virtual Charter School (VGV) is changing the way students learn. They have found that technology improves teacher-student relationships and as a result, student outcomes are skyrocketing. By implementing a few strategic changes, other schools can follow their lead in breaking traditional learning molds to better help students.
Students Control Their Time
Educators know that learning happens at its own pace, so one of the most instrumental things that technology has done for VGV is that it enables students to control how they spend their learning time. As Superintendent Dr. Rob Pilkington said, “Time shouldn’t dictate the structure of student learning. If an English lesson takes two hours to complete on a given day, and a science activity takes a half hour to complete, then why should a bell schedule allow only one hour each?”
With this in mind, students use individual workstations to complete their online courses at their own pace. If a student needs more time to work on a geometry lesson, he can watch the lessons multiple times, work on additional practice activities, and retake quizzes until he reaches comprehension. Another student may fly through geometry without any issue and need a little extra time to complete her ELA assignments. The flexibility of VGV’s program allows students to spend time where they need to, and provides teachers to assist and instruct alongside the digital curriculum. In addition to core instruction, VGV also focuses on teaching students to be sophisticated e-courseware users by expecting students to monitor their own progress and ensure they are on track across all of their courses. One student said, “If I was in a regular public school, they’d just move on without me. Here, I’m able to move at my own pace.”
Technology Improves Teacher-Student Relationships
Many people fear that technology will replace teachers in schools, but at VGV, this couldn’t be further from the truth. When Dr. Pilkington founded the school in 2013, he started with a 17:1 student-to-teacher ratio, but quickly learned that the emphasis on technology required more teachers than originally planned for. Now with a 10:1 student-to-teacher ratio, educators can ensure student comprehension and progress across all of their classes using the data available.
VGV uses a rough goal of 60% online and 40% in-person instruction to give their students the benefit of blended learning while customizing learning for each individual student. During the in-person instruction, educators use the data from Edgenuity® to identify the topics students need the most help with and group them accordingly. Teachers also use this time to emphasize concepts critical to success on NWEA® and other mandatory state and national exams, resulting in significant gains.
If I was in a regular public school, they’d just move on without me. Here, I’m able to move at my own pace.
Dr. Pilkington emphasizes that, “While tech is critical, it’s not about the tech. It’s about the relationships and rapport between students and teachers.” Teachers are no longer grading, designing core lessons, and creating quizzes and tests. Instead, they are mentoring, facilitating, and coaching students in their learning journey. When students are at their workstations, educators move about the room ready to offer guidance and assistance as needed. They are also constantly monitoring progress so they can intervene if a student is not completing activities as quickly as normal. One teacher said this flexibility allows her to have more meaningful conversations with her students about issues affecting their learning as soon as they happen, instead of waiting days or even weeks to realize that something is wrong.
If students are not grasping concepts from the Edgenuity Courseware™, educators are ready to reteach, offer additional practice, and reinforce learning with face-to-face instruction. Simply put, “[Students are] not allowed to slip through the cracks” says Joline Spencer, Dean of Academics. “Because [the program] is so flexible we can give them exactly what they need at any given moment. If we have a student struggling with polynomials we can customize a course to give them additional practice with polynomials.” And this teacher flexibility gives VGV educators the ability to fill gaps and push students toward graduation by creating an individualized path just for them.
Summing It Up
Rhode Island’s Instructional Technology and E-Learning Department Head Holly Walsh emphasizes the importance of identifying and supporting early innovators in blended learning so that later adopters can learn as much as possible from their examples. As a result, the state has launched an “ambitious effort to become the first in the nation to adopt blended learning statewide,” according to the US Department of Education. If you’re interested in transforming learning in your school or district, consider these three keys to VGV’s success:
- Empower students with control over the pace of their learning.
- Invest in enough educators to give a teacher flexibility so she can successfully monitor progress and coach students.
- Focus on how technology improves teacher-student relationships.
Want to learn more? Check out Edgenuity.com for blended learning options to suit your needs.
US Department of Education. (2015). Rhode Island school makes learning “personal” for students. Retrieved from https://sites.ed.gov/progress/2015/11/rhode-island-school-makes-learning-personal-for-students/