Create an Equitable Blended Learning Environment: 4 Strategies That Work

by | Feb 1, 2021


When the COVID-19 pandemic caused emergency school closures last spring, news outlets like CNBC, The Washington Post, and many more began reporting how the crisis deepened educational inequity for already underserved students. Vulnerable student populations, such as students of color and students with IEPs, were (and have continued to be) disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Today, we’ll share four strategies for your school or district to create an equitable and inclusive blended learning environment for all students.

  1. Train teachers on how to empower students to set their own learning goals.

In the fall, we published an article about how schools can develop virtual lessons that actively engage students. One of the challenges in keeping students engaged in a virtual setting is that students often lack the self-discipline to stay on track with their schoolwork unless they receive consistent external motivation from teachers and their caregivers at home. The first step in empowering students to master new concepts and skills is to help them set their own learning goals.

Dr. Kristin Rouleau from McREL International explains why students need to have a hand in developing learning goals:

“Learning is not something that teachers do to students; it is something that students, ultimately, need to do for themselves, and for that to happen, they need to understand and be full partners in their learning goals. Discussing learning goals puts you firmly on the path to better communication among teachers and better academic results for students.”

Teachers have greater buy-in from students when they involve students in the goal-setting process. Once goals are clearly defined, teachers can help students identify the specific action steps they need to take to master new concepts and skills in each unit of study.

Most importantly, personalized learning goals promote educational equity by allowing students to challenge themselves at appropriate levels for their current knowledge and skills. Learn more about how blended learning can help promote educational equity by meeting each individual student’s needs with our recent article, “Evidence-Based Practices in Blended Learning.”

  1. Ensure your blended learning resources are accessible for all students.

Blended learning platforms have been instrumental for schools that need to accommodate remote learning needs during the pandemic. However, simply having blended learning tools is not enough to develop an equitable, inclusive environment for all students.

Consider steps you can take to make blended learning accessible for all students:

  • Ensure every student has reliable internet access at home. Some school districts (such as the Harrisburg School District in Pennsylvania) have partnered with corporations and/or their local governments to provide free internet subscriptions or hot spots for students whose families cannot afford to pay for internet access.
  • Ensure every student has regular access to a device they can use to connect with online, blended learning resources. Some school districts have provided tablets or laptops for students to borrow during remote learning.
  • If your school serves students with visual impairments, provide training so teachers know how to create visual learning materials that can be easily translated into an audio format by a screen-reader.
  • If your school serves students with hearing impairments, provide training so teachers know how to create visual captions or written transcripts for all audio content.
  • Provide adequate supports for students with special psychological needs or learning disabilities.
  • Have teachers (and, if possible, a school counselor) check in on students’ emotional and social wellness regularly, especially during extended periods of online-only learning.

As a school leader, you must provide professional development for your teachers about how they can ensure learning materials are accessible for all students.

  1. Equip teachers with alternate methods for assessing student mastery of content.

Traditionally, student mastery has been measured with summative assessments. In a summative assessment, students usually take a test or complete a project to show their overall mastery of content at the end of a unity of study.

Unfortunately, summative assessments do not show the whole picture of student achievement. School leaders should also expect teachers to use formative assessments throughout each unit of study to measure students’ progress over time as they learn new content. Formative assessments are especially necessary for promoting educational equity in a blended learning environment so teachers can track students’ individual needs as they learn how to use new technologies.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, EdSurge publishedResearch Eclipsed”, a research report providing insight into how teachers adjust to their schools’ new blended learning plans. One question the researchers asked is, “How do you typically monitor student progress with the use of [blended learning technology]?” Over half of the 341 respondents answered that they:

  • Observe students as they use the blended learning technology — By observing how students use the product, teachers can see which tools are most useful for students and get an insight about elements that are currently lacking in their blended learning plan.
  • Analyze data generated through the use of the blended learning technology — One of the greatest benefits of using virtual blended learning tools is that they provide instant, real-time feedback for teachers as soon as students complete an assignment. Formative assessments are extremely easy to create with blended learning technology. Teachers can even create dynamic content that automatically triggers an appropriate next activity for students based on their performance at the end of each formative assessment.

EdSurge also asked teachers what actions they take to monitor student progress with the blended learning technology. Over half of respondents said they:

  • Select students who demonstrate mastery of a content area (as shown through the data from the blended learning technology) to help struggling classmates — This type of collaborative learning supports students’ social and emotional learning, helps cement knowledge of a learning unit for the helper student, and offers a fresh peer perspective for the student being helped.
  • Implement a different usage model for the technology — For example, a teacher may realize they need to reteach students how to use collaborative tools to increase peer learning.

Provide targeted professional development to train teachers on how to analyze data from your school’s blended learning platform and how that data should inform their instruction.

  1. Support teachers in developing culturally responsive teaching strategies.

Culturally responsive teaching strategies are informed by your students’ unique and diverse backgrounds. To be culturally responsive, teachers must learn how to deepen their understanding of how the following factors impact their students’ learning needs:

  • Familial and cultural history
  • Self-identification
  • Different skill levels and types of skills
  • Individual areas of interest and passion

Edutopia offers some advice about how school leaders can promote culturally responsive teaching strategies:

  • First, have teachers reflect on their own life experiences and implicit biases with the support of Harvard University’s implicit bias tests. Walk teachers through reflective exercises so they understand how their implicit biases can impact their interactions with students.
  • Provide information for new (and veteran!) teachers about the sociopolitical context your school operates within. Help them ask good questions about how students’ upbringing and backgrounds impact their existing knowledge and skills.
  • Train teachers on best practices for building partnerships with parents as they continue to learn about and set high standards for their students.
  • Help teachers understand how to incorporate instructional materials that reflect the backgrounds and identities of their students.
  • Circling back to strategy #1 on this list, encourage teachers to empower students to set their own learning goals. Take this strategy a step forward and let teachers know how they can give students choices in the activities they complete to further their learning and demonstrate mastery of the content.

How to Provide Professional Development for Teachers About How to Create an Equitable, Inclusive Blended Learning Environment

A recent RAND report indicates that only about one in three teachers feel “satisfied with the decisions that their schools or districts had made regarding instruction” in the midst of the pandemic.

One reason for this dissatisfaction is that many teachers haven’t received adequate professional development about how to meaningfully incorporate virtual learning tools into their lesson plans. RAND reports that “about half or more of teachers providing remote instruction reported that they had not received adequate guidance to support students with severe disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, students affected by poverty, and English language learners.”

School leaders must provide targeted and consistent professional development to support teachers in this new blended learning era. Our experts at the Center for Student Achievement Solutions would love to support your leaders to create a customized professional development plan for your teachers and support staff. Start by scheduling a free call with one of our consultants to learn how we can help create and implement your professional development plan with evidence-based practices.