Huntley changing what traditional high school looks like
Huntley Unit District 158's pioneering blended learning initiative is being hailed as a model for other districts in a recent study published in eLearn Magazine.
The study's researchers visited Huntley High School last year to interview teachers, students and parents about the program, now in its fourth year. Ninety-two percent of students surveyed said they were satisfied with their blended learning experiences, per the study.
Huntley High School started in the 2011-2012 school year with 100 students participating in three blended learning classes. Students are taught through online tools, activities and content, as well as traditional classroom instruction.
Today, more than one-third of Huntley High School's students are enrolled in at least one blended course, District 158 Superintendent John Burkey said.
"We're really changing what the American high school looks like, and that's what's really exciting -- to be a part of changing it," Burkey said. "(High school education) really hasn't changed that much in 100 years, but kids need to learn differently today. What I'm most proud of with this program is we completely created it ourselves with our administrators, teachers."
Blended learning classes were first introduced at the junior and senior level at Huntley High School. Now, blended learning is available at every grade level and in all subject areas. The school has blended learning options in 23 classes with 24 teachers and 932 of the school's more than 2,700 students participating.
"In this area, we are one of the pioneers for this kind of learning model," said Anne Pasco, blended learning department chair at the high school. "Nationally, there are whole schools devoted to blended learning."
How they do it
Huntley High School teachers write their own blended learning curriculum with student input, and set the students' schedules. Students can work online, at their own pace either at the school library, commons area or at home, during the allotted time for blended learning in school or anytime before the deadline for completing an assignment. The program is ideal for students who have a lot of demands on their time, such as participation in after-school or extracurricular activities and Advanced Placement classes or part-time jobs, Pasco said.
"They still have traditional learning for some of their classes ... but they have the option of saying, 'do I want a flexible schedule where some days I'm meeting with the teacher and some days I work online?'" Pasco said. "We actually don't care where they do it. What we care about is the content is mastered and learned when they need to. We're giving them some control over their time management."
Students have to take greater responsibility for their learning and efficient use of their time. It's a life skill they need to master before reaching college.
"That's one of the benefits of this program," Pasco said. "We want them to start to figure out how to learn efficiently. We are trying to address different needs for students and teach them these 21st century skills, as well as traditional (skills). Employers want students to be problem solvers, think through things."
Students can check their own learning online through discussions and quizzes, which also are accessible to teachers to monitor their progress. If a student is failing or lagging behind, teachers can restructure the class schedule to allow for more one-on-one instruction time.
Officials say they don't yet have enough data, other than anecdotal testimonials, to show how students are faring in college as freshmen.
"Academically, we are not seeing any statistical difference with the students' test scores," Pasco said. "(But) with the soft skills, we are seeing a definite modicum of success because students are controlling their learning, they are managing their time. We definitely have students who are talking about how this helps them ease their stress load and still accomplish what they want to accomplish."
The district plans to track Huntley High graduates who took blended courses to measure their success in college.
"Through our failures and our struggles is how we learn," she said. "Blended has allowed us to give students that ability to own that struggle and that it's OK to struggle and ask for help."
Next year, 18 additional teachers are seeking to incorporate blended learning into their classes. Despite the program's success, the blended learning model is not a one size fits all solution.
"It's not a panacea for everybody," Pasco said. "We would like everybody to experience this type of learning at least once before they leave high school. We never want a student who doesn't feel that blended is right for them just yet be forced to take it. I don't think we would ever want to go to where it's all blended learning because that kind of defeats the purpose of differentiated education."