Using position that a blended learning approach could






Using a Blended Learning Approach to Teach Literacy

Allison Weir

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University of Virginia


            “It seems
like we are doing the same old thing, just with new technology. Is it really
any better to use virtual reality machines when students haven’t even fully
developed their fine motor skills? Why are we spending money on this when we
have laptops that barely work?” A few successful, veteran teachers made these
points at a recent faculty meeting centered around the school’s decision to get
virtual reality goggles. These comments sparked a lively debate around the
advantages and disadvantages of the technology currently available in our
school and how “cool” the virtual reality goggles would be. By the end of the
meeting, many interesting ideas and activities for how to use virtual reality
in the school were brought to the table, but no one could identify how these
machines would improve the current curriculum and instructional model. The question
that seemed to remain was how this and other technology can be used to enhance
our instruction and students’ learning, and not be used at just a surface level
or shown off. It is my position that a blended learning approach could be
tremendously beneficial for students learning to read, if it is implemented

Blended learning is an approach to instruction that
incorporates technology into the daily structure and routine of the classroom
(Holland, 2017). Students are taught how to use laptops, iPads, and other
devices with apps and programs specifically designed to aid the current
curriculum and instruction (Musti-Rao, Cartledge, Bennet, & Council, 2014).
Blended learning allows students to work independently, thus allowing students
to learn on their individual level and at their own pace (Schechter, 2015).
This allows teachers to spend less time teaching whole group, and more time
working with individual students or small groups on the skills they need (Schechter,
2015). It is important to note, however, that blended learning does not take
the teacher out of the equation. Blended learning is used to enhance
traditional instruction, by providing more individualization and support in
their learning (Musti-Rao et al, 2014). Blended learning can also be used to
give 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 in
the classroom in two different ways: technological integration and curricular
integration (Huntchinson & Reinking, 2011). Technological integration is
when technology is separate from the curriculum and used as an add-on to
instruction (Hutchinson et al., 2011). For example, a teacher gave the same
homework as usual but asked for it to be submitted through their Google
classroom website. This teacher only changed how the students submitted their
assignment but did not change instruction or the assignment itself. This
example shows a classroom that is still teacher-directed, with very limited
differentiation, student choice, and control over their own learning.
Curricular instruction uses technology to enhance the curriculum and provides
students with control over the pace and manner by which they learn (Hutchinson
et al., 2011). An example of this is the use of an online reading program that
allows students to choose and read books, within their independent reading level,
and then do activities to show understanding of their reading and comprehension
skills. In this example, students were able to choose their own book, read on
their individual level, and work on skills they needed. While the students were
reading with this program, the teacher was able to work with individual
students or a small group on the reading and comprehension skills that group
specifically needed, therefore providing students with more individualized
instruction (Schechter et al, 2015).

Curricular integration
has been found to be highly beneficial in literacy instruction and learning,
specifically for students from linguistically and culturally diverse
backgrounds (Schechter et al, 2015; Musti-Rao et al, 2014). In one study,
students with similar literacy skills in four different classes performed very
differently 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). All
four 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 blended
learning classrooms used technology that allowed students to read books on
their independent level while also working on skills they have yet to master
(Schechter et al, 2015). The teachers in the blended literacy classroom also
worked with small groups during the literacy block on skills students struggled
with, based on data collected from the online literacy program they were using
(Schechter et al, 2015). While all students made great gains in their reading
and comprehension skills, several of the students in the blended literacy classrooms
made over one year’s worth of growth by the end of the school year (Schechter
et al, 2015). This same study also found that English language learners made
significant gains compared to their peers in the classrooms that used a
traditional instruction model (Schechter et al, 2015).

It is clear that blended
learning has many advantages, but it can also have many disadvantages.
Technology can be troublesome at times, causing a disruption in classroom
learning as teachers try to troubleshoot the problem (Hutchinson et al, 2012). This
wastes valuable instruction and learning time as students are left waiting for
their small group to continue or for their device to be fixed. This also leads
to the issue that teachers may not have the skills and knowledge necessary to
fix the problem (Hutchinson et al, 2012). Schools and districts would need to
pay for professional development on how to operate the devices, as well as how
to use the software or programs they selected (Schechter et al, 2015).
Classrooms and schools must also have the necessary resources so all students can
benefit from its use. Many schools do not have the financial means to support
technology, such as iPads or laptops, in every classroom. Even schools that can
afford a small number of laptops or other devices, may not have the resources
to buy software programs that have been found to be beneficial for students,
thus leading to technological integration, not curricular integration.

It is imperative that
when school administrators are considering buying devices and software for
classrooms, they do so with maximum student benefit in mind. They must ask
themselves how this technology can enhance the curriculum, as well as what
resources 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 and
themselves (Musti-Rao et al, 2014). While administrators have carefully
selected technology that they feel is appropriate and beneficial, it is up to
the teachers to structure their day and design learning to ensure that students
are getting the most support and success out of the chosen technology
(Musti-Rao et al, 2014). Understanding the research presented, I can see
considerable benefits with the integration of technology in our school to
enhance curriculum. In literacy, I see and understand how imperative it is for
my students, especially my struggling readers, to use various technologies in
our classroom. My job is to make sure that the technology and programs we use
are most effective through careful planning and professional development to
understand how to most successfully use all aspects of the programs available
to my students.



Holland, B. (2017, February 22). Are We Innovating, or Just
Digitizing Traditional Teaching? Retrieved January 5, 2018, from

Hutchinson, A., Beschorner, B., Schmidt-Crawford, D. (2012). Exploring
the Use of the iPad for Literacy Learning. The
Reading Teacher, 66(1), 15-23.

Hutchison, A., & Reinking, D. (2011). Teachers’
Perceptions of Integrating Information and Communication Technologies into
Literacy Instruction: A National Survey in the United States. Reading
Research Quarterly, 46(4), 312-333.

Musti-Rao, S., Cartledge, G., Bennett, J., Council,
M. (2014). Literacy Instruction Using Technology with Primary-Age Culturally and
Linguistically Diverse Learners. Intervention
in School and Clinic, 50(4), 195-202.

Schechter, R., Macaruso, P., Kazakoff, E. R., & Brooke,
E. (2015). Exploration of a Blended Learning Approach to Reading Instruction
for Low SES Students in Early Elementary Grades. Computers in the Schools,