Students to receive individualized instruction with new learning model

| Bridget Ryder for the Catholic Spirit | August 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

Three Catholic elementary schools are adding educational innovation to the classroom this fall.

Immaculate Conception School in Columbia Heights, Our Lady of the Lake School in Mound and St. Therese School in Deephaven are partnering with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office of Catholic Schools to become the first blended learning Catholic schools in the Twin Cities.

“We think about individualized instruction as educators, and that is like the dream,” said Constance Krocak, principal of Our Lady of the Lake School. “But the [school] day is only six or seven hours long, and sometimes we don’t get to that. But this allows that to happen. It takes it from hope to reality.”

In blended learning, students spend part of the day working through lessons on computers with software that tracks their progress and adjusts the lesson as the student masters skills.

It allows students to move ahead or have more instruction and practice on specific areas. Each student’s progress is then stored in his or her personal dashboard and available to both student and teacher. The assessment is detailed, showing, for example, that a student might have a strong vocabulary but struggle with reading comprehension.

According to Jane Bona, principle of Immaculate Conception School, the individualized learning puts the instruction “just at [the student’s] right level where it’s enough to challenge, but not enough to frustrate.”

In each school, blended learning will take students in a given class period through centers with computer work and face-to-face instruction with a teacher. The computer software gives teachers more precise and up-to-date data on student progress, allowing teachers to easily and accurately group students and adjust instruction.

The schools are using the model with reading and math. If it’s successful, it could expand into other subjects.

However, Jill Reilly, superintendent of the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools, emphasized that digital curriculum will not replace face-to-face teacher instruction. Computer learning time would cap at 50 percent.

Blended learning has proven successful in other Catholic schools across the country. Reilly visited Divine Providence Academy in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Mich. She was impressed not only by the students’ concentration in the classroom, but also their learning gains of one-and-a-half to two grade levels in a single school year.

Students at St. Paul School in Seattle — the first school to partner with ACE in blended learning, and a school with a diverse student population — made the same strides.

According to Reilly and Laura Ackerman, director of urban education, blended learning is particularly suitable for small schools. All three schools have approximately 100 students.

As immigrant groups moved into the parish boundaries, and the demographics of Columbia Heights trend toward a non-white majority, Immaculate Conception School has seen an increase in the diversity of its students in recent years, including new students with limited English skills. Now, approximately half of the school’s students are non-Catholics.

Father John Mitchell, pastor at Immaculate Conception, sees blended learning as a way the school can continue to attract and welcome new students.

Along those lines, Bona said she had to do a lot of praying, “because we have to never lose sight of our Catholic identity. As long as we hang onto our Catholic identity and high academic rigor, we will continue to fulfill our mission.”

Throughout the school year, ACE will work with the schools to implement blended learning as part of a boarder effort to enhance professional development and new enrollment strategies, and strengthen school culture in its identity and mission.

The archdiocese started working with ACE last fall to strategize ways to meet the needs of the schools in the western region of the archdiocese.

ACE’s recommendations included adding innovative educational models.

Tags: , ,

Category: Back to School