When I think about the changes and challenges that the Common Core State Standards will bring, I’m reminded of the conversations I’ve had with former students during their freshman year of college. They all consistently expressed their amazement that the days of “just memorizing things” had passed. The challenges of higher education demanded that they spend less time with their flashcards and more time learning a subject deeply, wrestling with concepts, and articulating and defending their own ideas.
It should come as no surprise that the Common Core Standards, which were created to prepare students for higher education, will challenge students similarly. Fortunately, in the same way that higher education’s lecture and discussion model helps students achieve these more challenging academic requirements, blended learning models which combine online curriculum with small-group instruction, give K-12 students and their teachers the opportunity to meet the more challenging academic goals defined by the Common Core Standards.
In the higher education system, the lecture and discussion model supports more rigorous academic demands. In lecture, professors build students’ foundational knowledge of a topic. Then, in discussion groups, teaching assistants support students as they apply their foundational knowledge of a topic to more challenging tasks. In this smaller setting with more support, students can master more complex skills, such as synthesis, analysis, and application. Similarly, if we consider a blended learning model with two stations, a computer-based station for building a foundation of knowledge, and a teacher-led small group station for learning more complex skills, K-12 teachers can achieve the same ends as the college lecture and discussion model. However, instead of achieving these ends during separate times, in different places, and with the support of an army of teaching assistants, with a blended learning model K-12 teachers can achieve the same ends in one classroom and one class period.
Leveraging blended learning’s computer-based and teacher-led stations, teachers can successfully meet the Common Core Standards’ challenge of teaching fewer topics in greater depth. All deep understanding begins with building the foundational knowledge of a topic’s concepts and academic vocabulary. Through multiple examples of a concept and practice opportunities with immediate feedback, students can build this foundation of knowledge at the computer-based station. Then, students arrive at the teacher-led station ready to delve deeper into a topic and its complexities. Through the deep dives into topics via teacher-led small group in concert with online curriculum, students can apply their knowledge to more challenging tasks and thereby gain an understanding of a topic at its greatest depths.
In addition to studying topics in greater depth, the Common Core Standards will also require students to analyze more complex texts across all subject areas, synthesize and defend their ideas in writing, and apply their knowledge to solve problems. All of these are complex skills that require the same type of individualized instruction and support students in the higher education system receive from their discussion sections. Fortunately, blended learning can help teachers deliver instruction in sessions like these discussion sections, but in a scalable way. With data captured from the digital content on the computer stations, teachers can efficiently identify where a student requires further support. Empowered by this information, teachers can then design differentiated lessons to support students’ individual needs. Provided the time and space to deliver these differentiated lessons in a small group, teachers can successfully guide students towards mastery of the Common Core’s more complex skills.
The Common Core Standards will push our K-12 system towards greater alignment with the standards and skills required for success in in our higher education system and the 21st century. The introduction of these new standards is challenging school systems across the country to evaluate existing instructional approaches and to innovate with new instructional models. Blended learning, among others, could prove to be a sustainable model for achieving the educational goals of the Common Core Standards.