School Committee investigates blended classes
As it has in a number of its monthly meetings, the Block Island School Committee dedicated a part of its Jan. 28 meeting to a continuing examination of options for potential changes to classroom teaching.
Superintendent Robert Hicks and a group of faculty and parents last month visited two mainland schools that have use a blended learning approach to their classrooms and methods of instruction. Blended learning incorporates technology within the classroom — the use of which may vary significantly from school to school, as illustrated by the schools visited.
Pleasant View Elementary School relies 75 percent on traditional instruction and 25 percent to working online. Charter high school, Village Green, serving ninth and tenth graders, divides instructional time with 60 percent spent online and 40 percent in a traditional classroom.
However, as part of an ongoing investigation of varied classroom configurations, and in response to a request from the School Committee, Hicks explained he had begun to look at literature on multi-grade classrooms and has posted research reviews on the school’s website. He also said, “I’ve scheduled a visit to an ungraded Kindergarten-first grade school in Middletown for Thursday, Feb. 6.” Hicks added that the Middletown school adopted the approach as an instructional choice.
Elizabeth Connor wondered about the advisability of combining kindergarteners who largely “learn by play and by doing,” with first graders who learn in more structured ways. She said, “I would think that you’d more likely [combine] first and second grades rather that kindergarten and first.”
Hicks suggested, “We would need to look at arrangements for instruction.” Pat Doyle said, “Based on the literature Dr. Hicks distributed, I think that kids would have enriching classroom experiences.”
While there were “some risks and cautions involved,” Hicks noted that the multi-grade approach demanded a great deal of “teacher planning and preparation.” Though there might be difficulties, Hicks said, “If you do it well, it can offer [students] opportunities for social growth.” He was referring to research that has shown that “multigrade students … interact more with students of other ages and have more positive attitudes toward peers than single-grade students.”
He added that the approach has been found effective among both younger and older students. “More schools in the mid-west are trying this approach,” Hicks said.
Though there is considerable research available on the classroom option, much of it favorable, some of the research Hicks presented suggested that “teacher and administrative opinion strongly favors organizing schools by grade level. Graded classes [according to this view] are “believed to be more efficient and easier for the teacher.”
This idea seems to be built on the notion that students in a one-grade classroom are all at the same academic level. However, other research has shown that “at any given grade level there is a span of student ability … In reality, many single-grade classrooms are quite similar to the multi-grade classrooms.”
Chair Bill Padien said he had reviewed some videos on multi-grade classes and found them “very informative.” He was particularly taken by teachers who had admitted to having not viewed the approach favorably at first, who once involved found themselves growing professionally. He said, “They described themselves as having improved; their approach to teaching improved.”
The discussion proved lively and as Hicks pointed out, the subject would continue to be explored. The next meeting, a budget work session, is set for 4:30 p.m., Jan. 30.