Blended learning environments offer a unique opportunity for teachers to shift the control of the learning experience from teacher to learner by combining active, engaged learning online and offline. However, teachers must leverage technology effectively and use data strategically to differentiate and personalize learning to ensure that all students progress towards firm standards-aligned goals. In this context, data-driven design is essential because it allows teachers to make informed decisions about how to support students’ learning in a personalized, targeted, and effective way. By collecting and analyzing data, teachers can adapt their instruction and provide targeted support that meets the unique needs of each student, thereby maximizing student learning outcomes in blended learning environments.

During a recent session with a leadership team, we delved into the assessment cycle pictured below, which teachers can use to design effective learning experiences for students while strategically using data.

Pre-assessment Data

Effective teaching is all about meeting students where they are, and the first step in that journey is assessing their prior knowledge and skills. Just like runners on a track, students are all unique and start their learning journeys at different points, depending on their backgrounds and experiences. As such, teachers must have a clear understanding of their students’ starting points to design units and lessons that meet their diverse needs. This is where pre-assessment data comes in: it enables teachers to determine what students already know and what they need to learn to ensure they progress toward their learning goals. Armed with this information, teachers can tailor their instruction and differentiate learning experiences for students with varying levels of understanding, ultimately maximizing learning outcomes for all students.

Pre-Assessment Strategies

  1. Pre-Test: Administer a pre-test before starting a new unit to identify students’ prior knowledge, skills, and understanding of the content.
  2. Entrance Ticket: Ask students to answer a question or complete an activity related to the upcoming lesson as they enter the classroom to gauge their readiness.
  3. KWL Chart: Create a KWL (Know, Want to Know, Learned) chart where students list what they know and want to learn about the topic before the lesson begins.
  4. Graphic Organizers: Provide students with a graphic organizer that outlines the fundamental concepts of the unit, asking them to complete it based on what they know about the topic.
  5. Self-Assessment: Ask students to assess their own understanding of the content, skills, or learning objectives before the lesson
  6. Survey: Administer a survey to students to gather information about their interests, prior knowledge, and learning preferences related to the topic.
  7. Concept Map: Create a concept map that outlines the key concepts and terms related to the unit and ask students to fill it out based on their prior knowledge.
  8. Anticipation Guide: Provide a list of statements related to the upcoming lesson, asking students to agree or disagree based on their prior knowledge.
  9. Quickwrite: Ask students to write a short response to a question or prompt related to the upcoming lesson to gauge their understanding and interest.
  10. Think-Pair-Share: Asking students to think about a question or prompt, pair up with a classmate, and share their thoughts to gauge their understanding and generate discussion.

Universally Design with Blended Learning Models

Once teachers have pre-assessment data, they can use the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to design effective learning experiences that meet the diverse needs of individual learners. UDL is a framework for designing and delivering instruction that is flexible and inclusive, and that can be customized to meet the needs of all learners. Using UDL, teachers can create multiple pathways so all students progress toward firm standards-aligned goals.

Blended learning models are particularly well-suited for implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles because they shift teachers from a whole group model to a focus on working with small groups and individual students. This shift enables teachers to differentiate instruction and provide personalized learning experiences for each student. Blended learning combines the benefits of small group instruction and peer-to-peer collaboration with technology-based learning, offering a flexible, engaging, and individualized approach to learning.

By leveraging UDL principles in a blended learning environment, teachers can more consistently provide multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression to meet the diverse needs of all students. For example, teachers can use a variety of multimedia resources such as videos, podcasts, and interactive tools to represent content in different ways, allowing students to access the material in a format that suits their learning preferences.

Additionally, blended learning allows for the creation of customized learning experiences that meet the individual needs of students. Teachers can use technology tools to personalize learning paths, monitor student progress, and provide immediate feedback, enabling them to adjust instruction based on individual student needs. This approach ensures that each student receives the necessary support and challenge to succeed, regardless of their learning style, ability level, or background.

Collecting Formative Assessment Data

Formative assessments are ongoing assessments embedded throughout the learning process. These informal assessments provide information to the teacher about students’ understanding of the material being covered and the skills being introduced. This data allows the teacher to identify where students are struggling, where they are excelling, and where they need additional support.

By collecting this data, teachers can adjust their teaching strategies to address the needs of individual students or the class as a whole. They can use this information to differentiate instruction, target interventions, and provide personalized learning experiences for each student. This approach is particularly effective in a blended learning environment, where technology can be leveraged to provide adaptive and personalized learning experiences based on formative assessment data.

Without formative assessment data, teachers may not be aware of what students are struggling with or where they need additional support. This can lead to a lack of engagement, frustration, and disengagement from the learning process. Therefore, collecting formative assessment data is critical to ensuring that all students are making progress toward the learning goals and receiving the support they need to succeed.

Check for Understanding Strategies

  1. Exit Tickets: Give students a prompt or question to respond to at the end of class, which can help you quickly assess if they understood the lesson.
  2. One-Minute Papers: Ask students to write down the most important thing they learned during a lesson in one minute, then collect and review the responses.
  3. Think-Pair-Share: Students think about a question or prompt, pair up with a partner to discuss their thoughts, and then share their ideas with the class.
  4. Peer Feedback: Have students give feedback to each other on their work or responses, which can help them to understand the material better and give constructive criticism.
  5. Gallery Walks: Display student work around the classroom and ask students to walk around and review their classmates’ work, reflecting on the content and how it relates to their own understanding.
  6. Kahoot! or Other Quiz Games: Use an online quiz game platform to create a quiz or game to review key concepts from a lesson, which can be fun and informative.
  7. Quick Writes: Ask students to write a short response to a prompt or question, which can help you gauge their understanding of the material.
  8. Graphic Organizers: Provide students with a graphic organizer or mind map to help them visually organize and connect the material they are learning.
  9. Classroom Discussion: Encourage students to participate in a classroom discussion, sharing their thoughts and ideas about the material to help them better understand the content.
  10. Whiteboard or Sticky Note Check-ins: Ask students to write a response on a whiteboard or sticky note and hold it up for you to assess their understanding of a concept quickly.

Differentiate Instruction, Support, and Models

Formative assessment data provides teachers with valuable information about what their students know and don’t know, allowing them to make informed decisions about how to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of individual learners. By analyzing this data, teachers can gain insights into areas of strength, gaps, and misconceptions in student understanding. This information can then be used to differentiate instruction more consistently and effectively.

Content

How students access the content (e.g., knowledge, understanding, and skills)

Example: Read a text vs. listen to an audio recording of the text

Process

How students understand or make sense of the content

Examples: Graphic organizers, guided notes templates, word banks, work with manipulatives

Product

How students demonstrate and/or communicate their learning

Example: Provide a choice between performance tasks that appeal to learners with different interests, strengths, preferences

Teachers may differentiate the content, process, or product depending on their students’ needs. For example, teachers can group students based on their understanding of a concept and provide targeted instruction to each group. The station rotation model is ideal for designing a lesson to allow teachers time for this targeted small-group instruction. Teachers can also use the station rotation model to provide focused, actionable feedback as students work. Feedback is crucial in helping students understand what they are doing well and where they need to improve.

Teachers can also provide students with different learning activities that are tailored to their individual needs based on the data collected from formative assessments. By using formative assessment data to differentiate instruction, teachers can ensure that all students receive the support they need to progress toward firm standards-aligned goals.

Summative Assessment

The purpose of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning and determine whether they have achieved the intended learning outcomes. It typically occurs at the end of a unit, semester, or course and often takes the form of an exam, project, or paper. Summative assessments provide an opportunity for teachers to measure student achievement against specific learning objectives and to determine whether students have mastered the content and skills covered in the course.

Using performance tasks as a summative assessment strategy offers several benefits over traditional exams. Unlike exams that typically measure discrete knowledge and recall, performance tasks require students to apply their learning to a complex, real-world problem or scenario, providing a more authentic demonstration of what they have learned.

Performance tasks also allow for more flexibility in demonstrating knowledge and skills, as students can approach the task in different ways and showcase their unique strengths. Additionally, performance tasks often involve collaboration and communication, encouraging students to work together and practice important social and emotional skills. Finally, performance tasks provide more meaningful feedback for students and teachers, as the assessment criteria are often aligned with real-world expectations and provide clear indicators of student learning and growth.

Teachers can build student agency into a performance task by giving students meaningful choices about the scenario they select or the product they create. A simple “Would you rather…” option can help students feel more confident in their ability to perform well.

Using data strategically to drive instructional design is crucial to ensure that diverse groups of learners are being supported and challenged effectively. By using pre-assessment data to identify students’ prior knowledge and skills, teachers can design instruction that meets each student’s unique needs and supports their learning journey. Additionally, formative assessment data provides teachers with valuable feedback about students’ progress, allowing for adjustments to be made to instruction and ensuring that students are consistently receiving the support they need. When combined with principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and blended learning models, data-driven instruction can provide meaningful and engaging learning experiences for all students, empowering them to take ownership of their learning and succeed academically.

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