Jun 21, 2012 by Cory Armes, M.Ed.


Technology and blended learning

In a previous post I discussed some  benefits of blended learning.  Now I’d like to share how those benefits might be achieved within a hypothetical blended learning “classroom” using the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs together in addition to a core curriculum and other technology.

The Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs are adaptive, technology-based tools that allow each student to receive differentiated instruction and progress at their own pace. While much of the work can be done independently, teachers play a critical role in reinforcing the concepts covered in the programs and intervening when students have difficulties.

With these programs:

  • Productivity is increased – for both teachers and students
    • After completing the Fast ForWord program, students typically become more productive because they are more focused and confident, and are better able to understand and retain what is taught in the classroom.  When cognitive ability improves, learning is accelerated and behavioral issues are often reduced.
    • With the Reading Assistant program’s proprietary technology, every student receives the personalized oral reading practice and corrective feedback that would take hours for a teacher to provide individually without it.  Students can complete this reading practice independently while teachers provide other students with small group instruction and intervention. Students benefit more from the time they spend reading with the Reading Assistant program, as guided oral reading is the most effective method for building fluency (according to the April, 2000 report of the National Reading Panel [i] ).
  • Students move at their own pace and excel
    • The  Fast ForWord program progressively builds cognitive, language, and reading skills, adapting to provide individualized challenge and feedback to each learner.  Within a short time of starting the program, a group of students will be on different learning paths based on individual strengths and weaknesses.
    • The Reading Assistant guided oral reading program provides leveled reading selections based on grade and Lexile level.  Students listen to a modeled reading of each selection before they read aloud, and can listen again as often as needed.  After reading a selection aloud, students can view their fluency rate on that selection and an individualized list of words that need more practice.
  • Students receive “just-in-time” intervention
    • With the Fast ForWord program, students receive immediate feedback indicating whether an answer is correct (a ping) or incorrect (they hear a clunk or else the target statement is repeated and they are shown the correct response). This information is a help to the learner the next time that item appears.
    • In the Reading Assistant program, students receive immediate corrective feedback on pronunciation in the teachable moment when they stumble on a word or get stuck on a word they do not know while reading aloud.  Additional real time support is provided via a glossary that pronounces a key word when it is clicked, defines it, and provides an example of how it is used in a sentence (Spanish pronunciation is also heard if the teacher has turned on that option).  Pronunciation support can be accessed for any other word to hear it read orally.
  • Teachers group students more effectively
    • The Fast ForWord program provides error reports that allow teachers to see what types of mistakes students are making in areas such as subject-verb agreement and other grammatical areas.  With these reports, teachers are able to group students for re-teaching in the areas of difficulty before the students practice those skills again in the Fast ForWord exercises.
    • Teachers can use the performance level indicators (Emerging, Developing, and Proficient) in the Reading Assistant reports to group students for additional reading activities.  The comprehension report that breaks the quiz questions down by type (cause and effect, inferential, etc.) also provides information that helps teachers identify students to group together for additional or re-teaching activities.
  • Students construct meaning rather than just memorizing (and forgetting) facts
    • Constructing meaning is crucial in learning.  The Fast ForWord program helps students process more efficiently so they understand and retain more of what they hear and read, retrieve vocabulary and information more easily, and better apply what they learn.  With the additional demands of the Common Core State Standards and the increased rigor in content areas, students must have cognitive skills that are strong enough to allow them to truly understand, assimilate and generalize classroom instruction.
  • Learning opportunities are created across grade levels, subjects, departments and between teachers and students
    • Because learners work independently on individualized learning paths, the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs can be implemented in multiage, subject-independent settings.  Both programs offer students and teachers an opportunity to learn about learning by understanding the principles of frequency, intensity, adaptivity, and timely motivation upon which the learning acceleration software is based.
  • Problem-solving is taught in multidisciplinary units
    • Within the Reading Assistant program, about half of the content is non-fiction, and much of that relates to science and social studies.  Students must answer both guided reading questions and quiz (comprehension) questions for each selection.  The program provides teachers with lesson plans enabling them to extend the learning within these thematic units to other content areas.

The internet allows us to learn and experience the world in a new way and blended learning can help make the most of it for a generation of students for whom technology is a way of life.  Technology isn’t replacing teachers but it certainly can enhance both learning and teaching opportunities and effectiveness.

[i]Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. http://www.nationalreadingpanel.org/Publications/summary.htm. June 21, 2012.

Related Reading: 

Blended Learning Implementation Strategies for the K-12 Classroom

The Role of the Teacher in Blended Learning: Data, Management, and Student Support