Using a Blended Learning Approach to Teach LiteracyAllison WeirUniversity of Virginia             “It seemslike we are doing the same old thing, just with new technology. Is it reallyany better to use virtual reality machines when students haven’t even fullydeveloped their fine motor skills? Why are we spending money on this when wehave laptops that barely work?” A few successful, veteran teachers made thesepoints at a recent faculty meeting centered around the school’s decision to getvirtual reality goggles. These comments sparked a lively debate around theadvantages and disadvantages of the technology currently available in ourschool and how “cool” the virtual reality goggles would be. By the end of themeeting, many interesting ideas and activities for how to use virtual realityin the school were brought to the table, but no one could identify how thesemachines would improve the current curriculum and instructional model.

The questionthat seemed to remain was how this and other technology can be used to enhanceour instruction and students’ learning, and not be used at just a surface levelor shown off. It is my position that a blended learning approach could betremendously beneficial for students learning to read, if it is implementedwell.Blended learning is an approach to instruction thatincorporates technology into the daily structure and routine of the classroom(Holland, 2017). Students are taught how to use laptops, iPads, and otherdevices with apps and programs specifically designed to aid the currentcurriculum and instruction (Musti-Rao, Cartledge, Bennet, & Council, 2014).Blended learning allows students to work independently, thus allowing studentsto learn on their individual level and at their own pace (Schechter, 2015).This allows teachers to spend less time teaching whole group, and more timeworking with individual students or small groups on the skills they need (Schechter,2015). It is important to note, however, that blended learning does not takethe teacher out of the equation.

Blended learning is used to enhancetraditional instruction, by providing more individualization and support intheir learning (Musti-Rao et al, 2014). Blended learning can also be used togive more authenticity to the students in how they learn, present their learning,and with whom they share their understanding and learning (Holland, 2017).Technology can be used inthe classroom in two different ways: technological integration and curricularintegration (Huntchinson & Reinking, 2011).

Technological integration iswhen technology is separate from the curriculum and used as an add-on toinstruction (Hutchinson et al., 2011). For example, a teacher gave the samehomework as usual but asked for it to be submitted through their Googleclassroom website.

This teacher only changed how the students submitted theirassignment but did not change instruction or the assignment itself. Thisexample shows a classroom that is still teacher-directed, with very limiteddifferentiation, student choice, and control over their own learning.Curricular instruction uses technology to enhance the curriculum and providesstudents with control over the pace and manner by which they learn (Hutchinsonet al., 2011).

An example of this is the use of an online reading program thatallows students to choose and read books, within their independent reading level,and then do activities to show understanding of their reading and comprehensionskills. In this example, students were able to choose their own book, read ontheir individual level, and work on skills they needed. While the students werereading with this program, the teacher was able to work with individualstudents or a small group on the reading and comprehension skills that groupspecifically needed, therefore providing students with more individualizedinstruction (Schechter et al, 2015).

Curricular integrationhas been found to be highly beneficial in literacy instruction and learning,specifically for students from linguistically and culturally diversebackgrounds (Schechter et al, 2015; Musti-Rao et al, 2014). In one study,students with similar literacy skills in four different classes performed verydifferently after being exposed to a blended literacy program (Schechter et al,2015). In this study, two classes had traditional, teacher-led instruction,while two classes used a blended literacy approach (Schechter et al, 2015). Allfour classrooms had rotating centers, where students worked in small groups, independently,and with a teacher (Schechter et al, 2015).

One of the centers in the blendedlearning classrooms used technology that allowed students to read books ontheir independent level while also working on skills they have yet to master(Schechter et al, 2015). The teachers in the blended literacy classroom alsoworked with small groups during the literacy block on skills students struggledwith, based on data collected from the online literacy program they were using(Schechter et al, 2015). While all students made great gains in their readingand comprehension skills, several of the students in the blended literacy classroomsmade over one year’s worth of growth by the end of the school year (Schechteret al, 2015).

This same study also found that English language learners madesignificant gains compared to their peers in the classrooms that used atraditional instruction model (Schechter et al, 2015). It is clear that blendedlearning has many advantages, but it can also have many disadvantages.Technology can be troublesome at times, causing a disruption in classroomlearning as teachers try to troubleshoot the problem (Hutchinson et al, 2012). Thiswastes valuable instruction and learning time as students are left waiting fortheir small group to continue or for their device to be fixed. This also leadsto the issue that teachers may not have the skills and knowledge necessary tofix the problem (Hutchinson et al, 2012).

Schools and districts would need topay for professional development on how to operate the devices, as well as howto use the software or programs they selected (Schechter et al, 2015).Classrooms and schools must also have the necessary resources so all students canbenefit from its use. Many schools do not have the financial means to supporttechnology, such as iPads or laptops, in every classroom. Even schools that canafford a small number of laptops or other devices, may not have the resourcesto buy software programs that have been found to be beneficial for students,thus leading to technological integration, not curricular integration.It is imperative thatwhen school administrators are considering buying devices and software forclassrooms, they do so with maximum student benefit in mind.

They must askthemselves how this technology can enhance the curriculum, as well as whatresources and materials will be needed to make it most effective in the classroom(Hutchinson et al, 2012). Once devices and programs have been decided upon,teachers must become reflective and decisive about their instructional design,ensuring the technology is successful and efficient for their students andthemselves (Musti-Rao et al, 2014). While administrators have carefullyselected technology that they feel is appropriate and beneficial, it is up tothe teachers to structure their day and design learning to ensure that studentsare getting the most support and success out of the chosen technology(Musti-Rao et al, 2014). Understanding the research presented, I can seeconsiderable benefits with the integration of technology in our school toenhance curriculum.

In literacy, I see and understand how imperative it is formy students, especially my struggling readers, to use various technologies inour classroom. My job is to make sure that the technology and programs we useare most effective through careful planning and professional development tounderstand how to most successfully use all aspects of the programs availableto my students. ReferencesHolland, B.

(2017, February 22). Are We Innovating, or JustDigitizing Traditional Teaching? Retrieved January 5, 2018, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/are-we-innovating-or-just-digitizing-traditional-teaching-beth-hollandHutchinson, A., Beschorner, B.

, Schmidt-Crawford, D. (2012). Exploringthe Use of the iPad for Literacy Learning. TheReading Teacher, 66(1), 15-23. http://doi.org/10.

1002/TRTR.01090Hutchison, A., & Reinking, D. (2011).

Teachers’Perceptions of Integrating Information and Communication Technologies intoLiteracy Instruction: A National Survey in the United States. ReadingResearch Quarterly, 46(4), 312-333. http://doi.

org/10.1002/rrq.002Musti-Rao, S., Cartledge, G.

, Bennett, J., Council,M. (2014). Literacy Instruction Using Technology with Primary-Age Culturally andLinguistically Diverse Learners. Interventionin School and Clinic, 50(4), 195-202. http://doi.org/10.

1177/1053451214546404Schechter, R., Macaruso, P., Kazakoff, E. R., & Brooke,E. (2015). Exploration of a Blended Learning Approach to Reading Instructionfor Low SES Students in Early Elementary Grades.

 Computers in the Schools,32(3-4),183-200. http://doi.org/10.1080/07380569.2015.1100652 

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