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Blended Learning Aids Kindergarten Readiness

Blended Learning Aids Kindergarten Readiness

An experimental blended learning method at KIPP Empower Academy is providing encouraging results for early learners.

The kindergarten experiment, which was tested in 116 Kindergarteners last year, uses computer-based learning in the classroom. The blended learning allows students to learn from computers and teachers.

KIPP Empower Academy and school districts in Arizona, California and Virginia are also embracing technology-infused learning in order to manage larger classes. Schools nationwide are feeling the effects of slashed budgets, fewer teachers and larger class sizes. The blending learning is one method that seems to ease the stress of fewer resources; yet, is also benefiting students.

Advocates of the program believe this learning method is an option that works for children who are not kindergarten ready. The paced-learning format tracks student progress so teachers can go back to see what areas need more instruction. While half the students stay engaged with the computer-assisted learning,  teachers can focus on small-group instruction.

While students are only on the computer for 30 minutes at a time, experts caution that young learners develop skills best from traditional, hands-only learning.

“Parents, teachers, and educators are right to be concerned about time at the computer if it replaces essential learning experiences and activities,” said Chip Donohue, the director of distance learning at the Erikson Institute, in Chicago, a graduate school of education that specializes in early-childhood development.

Donohue added that five-year-olds need ‘”active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering activities” not just electronic drill practice.

Whether the program’s success can be repeated next year remains to be seen. However, test scores for KIPP Empower Academy are noteworthy.

According to KIPP Empower Prinicpal Mike Kerr, “the first-year test results were especially heartening because his students—94 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch based on their family incomes—did not start out the year in a strong position. Only 9 percent arrived kindergarten- ready, according to the STEP, or Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress, prereading test, developed by the University of Chicago for children deemed at high risk academically.

By the end of the year, 96 percent of kindergartners reached or exceeded the “proficient” mark on the same STEP test, Mr. Kerr said.”

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Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Alcorn/MCT/
At the KIPP Empower Academy in Los Angeles, which serves kindergartners and 1st graders, Principal Mike Kerr has devised a schedule for kindergartners in which they spend about 30 minutes on laptops in their classrooms twice a day. He says the blended learning approach has allowed him to preserve small-group instruction.