APPLIED DIGITAL LEARNING

Innovation Proposal: Blended Learning: Increasing Student Engagement, Self-Efficacy and Agency

Dear Principal,

Preparing each one of our students for the future is at the core of Harmony School of Excellence mission. As an active and committed stakeholder of the Harmony school community, students need learning experiences through a collaborative and student-centered educational program. Change in education takes effort from all stakeholders, including parents, students, teachers, administrators, and even policy makers. COVID-19 forced each one of us to make a sudden change that I felt and still feel unprepared for when wanting to accomplish the Harmony School of Excellence mission. The process of adapting to the new ways of teaching and learning and meeting the needs of our students at our school will continue requiring considerable communication, commitment from all stakeholders. Since I became a Spanish teacher at Harmony School of Excellence-Dallas back in 2018, I completely relied on paper-pencil activities because the chances of having access to a district-issued device were very slim. My classroom was equipped with a Cart-On-Wheels with 20 Chromebooks to be shared with four language teachers. Students were compliant and the approach worked not only for me as a new teacher but also for students as they wanted a passing grade. Then COVID-19 happened and changed the way I was teaching and my students were learning. We became a 1:1 device organization, which was a positive outcome taking into account the lack of access to the devices before the pandemic. Researchers have recently concluded that “there is a great opportunity to identify new strategies, that if sustained, can help learners get an education that prepares them for our changing times” (Vegas & Winthrop, 2020, para. 12). From the day Harmony Public Schools decided to move to remote learning, I have observed a need to keep students more interested and engaged in the learning that is happening in my classroom. I use the curriculum and pacing guide provided by the district; however, I feel I need to change the approach I use in my classroom so that students feel more invested in the instruction I plan for them. I really thought having the devices available for each one of my students was going to be enough to engage them in my lessons. But I realized that technology enhances learning. Therefore, I propose to use a blended learning approach at our school in order to increase student engagement, self-efficacy and agency.

When students learn by participating in relevant and meaningful learning experiences, the engagement increases. Blended learning is not just the use of technology. This approach allows me to balance the use of technology tools or software acquired by Harmony School of Excellence and the use of other instructional methodologies in a face-to-face / remote learning environment. The main idea behind blended learning is for students to be exposed to a full integration of face-to-face and online learning (Horn & Staker, 2017, p. 35). By using a blended learning approach, I want to give students more control and agency over their learning. This can be done by using different blended learning models that fit their needs. For example, while students in 6th grade may benefit more from a rotation approach in which a teacher of record can provide face-to-face instruction, students in 11th grade may take part in an enriched virtual model as they get ready for the workforce. My teaching style needs to evolve and adjust to a new way of providing the instruction that would meet the needs of each one of the students I serve and blended learning has the right components and flexibility for our school. As a first step, I want to ask for your permission to pilot the blended learning approach in one grade level that I am currently teaching. I can communicate this initiative to students and also provide a town-hall meeting with parents so that I can answer any questions they may have. In order for a sustainable change to happen, a partnership with community stakeholders (parents and students) needs to exist. Having the support of students and their parents, as stakeholders of the learning community, can help me make sound decisions regarding the blended learning approach that best fits their needs. The main purpose of piloting this approach in one of the grade levels I teach is collecting data that will definitely serve as evidence of the benefits of this approach. After I implement the approach, I plan on sharing the findings of this initiative with you and the Harmony School of Excellence staff.

By using a blended learning approach, I want to give students more control and agency over students’ learning. I expect students to be more engaged, and independent so that they can master the student expectations provided by the state. The immediate feedback students have access to when participating in a blended learning environment allows them to advance within the lesson or content being targeted. According to Fyfe (2015), blended learning can break up the monotony of the so-called traditional classroom by providing different ways or contexts in which information is introduced and presented. Such combination of teacher instruction and online technology will enable each Harmony School of Excellence educator to provide student-centered learning, which aligns with the school’s mission. The flexibility of the blended-learning approach will allow educators to provide differentiated activities, which will engage each student, support them in developing ownership of their own learning process, reach their learning outcomes and meet the needs of the diverse population served at Harmony. The change from a traditional way of teaching and learning to a more innovative way to meet the needs of our students takes time and effort from all stakeholders; however, the outcomes will positively impact student learning and live our mission everyday. I am highly motivated to start implementing the blended learning approach in one of the grade levels I teach. I am asking for your permission for me to embark in this exciting and beneficial journey for my students at Harmony School of Excellence.

Sincerely,

Luis Herrera

References

 Fyfe, T. (2015). Role of teacher and student in blended learning. Cincinnati; SOPHIA   Learning, LLC. 

 Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2017). Blended: Using disruptive innovation to improve schools.  Jossey-Bass.
  
 Rocco, S. (2012, November 17). 5 Essential questions to ask before you innovate in your school [Web log post]. Retrieved November 27, 2020, from  http://www.edsocialmedia.com/2012/11/5-essential-questions-to-ask-before-you-innovate-in-your-school/

 Vegas, E., & Winthrop, R. (2020, September 8). Beyond reopening schools: How education can emerge stronger than before COVID-19 [web log]. https://www.brookings.edu/research/beyond-reopening-schools-how-education-can-emerge-stronger-than-before-covid-19