Harriet Gifford Elementary School — Elgin, Illinois

“The efficacy research on Lexia showed that high-risk students in particular make significant gains when they use it with consistency, so we wanted them to work on Lexia outside of the classroom, too.”

—Joe Corcoran, Principal, Harriet Gifford Elementary School, Elgin, Ill.

Blended Learning for Elementary Reading Instruction in Low-Income Populations

Many public schools are striving to tailor instruction to the needs of individual students and also extend learning beyond the classroom. Their goals is a more student-centered approach that optimizes students’ face time with teachers, produces more meaningful student work outside of school and, of course, improves student performance. A common way of accomplishing these goals is through a blended learning model that uses technology to deliver instruction on basic concepts at home and using classroom time for students to ask questions and receive guidance from their teacher.

At Harriet Gifford Elementary, a Title I school in Elgin, Ill., educators decided to close the reading gap for students by embracing a blended learning model. However, in a low-income population where 80 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch and 43 percent have limited English proficiency—the solution required a twist.

The school’s leadership team decided that personalizing instruction and increasing the focus on data were the keys to improving student reading skills. The school implemented a blended learning approach – mixing virtual instruction with face-to-face instruction – in which students receive differentiated instruction at home, and at various community institutions as well as at school.

“At the center of every blended learning model is a technology-based instructional tool. Many blended learning classrooms use online videos of teacher lectures to support instruction, but since our building serves grades K–6, we knew that approach would not be appropriate, particularly for very young students,” said Joe Corcoran, principal at Harriet Gifford Elementary. “In addition, we wanted a technology component that would provide students an opportunity to actively develop their skills at their own pace. The building leadership team and I determined that we needed technology that was student-driven yet provided the framework for teacher-directed instruction. It also had to be suited for multi-tiered instructional models and support ELL students. We chose Lexia and used Title I funds to purchase the program.”

Seven of the schools’ K–2 teachers are moving to the new Lexia Reading Core5, after using the previous product, Lexia Reading. The new tool offers a scalable, research-proven approach that advances reading skills development for students of all abilities in pre-K through grade 5. Since the program monitors students’ needs and progress, the teachers also have access to Lexia’s Assessment Without Testing®, a feature that can help reduce educators’ dependency on traditional testing methods. The technology is designed to gather student performance data without administering a test and is highly predictive of outcomes on commonly used assessments such as DIBELS and MAPS. Teachers will be able to use the assessment data from student work completed outside the classroom to identify and prioritize students for small-group or individual instruction within the classroom.

In addition, the program automatically provides the teachers with real-time data on each student’s specific skill gaps as well as norm-referenced predictions of each student’s chance of reaching the end-ofyear benchmark. “Our teachers and intervention specialists like that Lexia not only provides targeted instructional strategies and structured lesson plans, but also includes the minutes-per-week of software usage each student needs in order to improve performance on grade-level assessments,” said Corcoran.

Extending Instruction beyond the Classroom

The efficacy research on Lexia shows that high-risk students, in particular, make significant gains when they use the program with consistency, which is why Corcoran wants students to work on Lexia outside of the classroom.

“Lexia Reading Core5 immediately assesses and diagnoses each child’s area of need in order to provide individualized instruction and scaffolding, so students learn reading skills before they even enter the classroom, allowing the teachers to then broaden and deepen what has been learned,” he said. “Furthermore, the embedded ‘Assessment Without Testing’ component of the program will give teachers the time to focus on relevant instruction and necessary interventions.”

Although Lexia Reading Core5 is web-based, the school faced major challenges providing Title I students with adequate access to technology away from school. To address the issue, Corcoran orchestrated a comprehensive, community-based approach that created a collaborative learning environment that encompassed students’ homes, the school and the community. First, because fostering parental involvement in a school with high levels of poverty and English language learners is complex, Corcoran and members of his staff focused on community outreach and nurtured cooperation and positive partnerships with students’ families and local organizations. They enlisted the assistance of the local YMCA and neighborhood library in the initiative, which provided students access to the Lexia program from their computers.


Obtaining Parental Buy-In

“Our school’s homegrown approach to blended learning would not have worked if we had simply sent students home with login instructions for their parents,” said Corcoran. “We needed parents to be active partners with our teaching staff in ensuring a consistent focus on learning at school and at home.”

Corcoran knew he needed parents to understand the parameters of the program and that it was an instructional tool, not a game or busywork. To that end, the staff held mandatory parent meetings at the school where they demonstrated the program and explained how the assessment data from work completed outside the classroom was used to inform instruction within the classroom.

They formed a verbal contract that allowed parents to see how their support at home directly affected the personalized instruction that could be delivered in school. As part of the contract, Corcoran cautioned parents that neither they nor students’ older siblings should complete the tasks and activities in the program.

“We needed an accurate assessment of each child’s abilities to maximize school and community resources,” said Corcoran. “We also encouraged parents to have students work on the program on the weekends and during holidays and summer breaks as well as during weekday evenings.”

Looking Ahead

Corcoran reports the move to a blended learning model for reading and enlisting the support of community organizations and students’ families is working.

“Since beginning this journey, we have expanded students’ opportunities for improving literacy skills and facilitated data-driven instruction and it’s happening in real-time,” he said. “Our school and, more importantly, our students are reaping the benefits of increased and enriched involvement from parents and local institutions – which I believe is the foundations for a great learning community.”

Of course, the greatest satisfaction for our dedicated educators lies in watching students blossom. Corcoran concluded, “As our students take a more active role in their academic success, they are acquiring improved reading as well as critical thinking skills that help them become independent learners for life.”