Brilla Blended Learning: Combining the Benefits of Technology with the Human Touch of a Caring Teacher

The author, Ms. Jenee Toval, is a 4th grade teacher at Brilla’s flagship elementary school, Brilla College Prep.  She grew-up in Long Island and has been a dedicated educator for the past twelve years. Ms. Toval came to Brilla four years ago because she was attracted to Brilla’s sense of community and emphasis on core virtues. She was selected to write about one of Brilla’s unique elements, which is its Blended Learning approach.

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The integration of technology in classrooms has been one of the most revolutionary advancements in education since the single-room schoolhouse.  From smartphones, computers to tablets, schools are using technology in ways that support the way teachers teach and students learn.  Through the targeted use of Blended Learning programs and our Co-Teaching model, Brilla students receive a high level of personalized attention.  For about two hours of every school day, each teacher works with 7-8 students while the other half of the class works individually on Brilla’s online learning platform, giving them access to interactive and engaging programs.

Brilla recently implemented i-Ready Online, an adaptive software program that provides individual instruction in math and reading. The program is unique because it offers a dashboard that provides real-time data tracking for teachers and students. This insight enables teachers to create small learning groups to deliver targeted lessons specific to each student’s learning pace.  After a quarterly administered assessment, our scholars enjoy content-rich videos and songs that enhance engagement, understanding, and the application of content tailored to each student.

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After this year’s first diagnostic, in September, 30% of my students were identified as needing phonics support.  Thanks to the i-Ready platform, I identified “vowel teams” as an area where my students need the most support.  The program generated a list of words that I use to make flashcards to help my students practice verbalizing their understanding of why certain words have certain sounds.  For the past five weeks, I have been working with a small group of students in the classroom to recognize vowel patterns using these word cards.  I am gradually introducing more unknown words to ensure understanding of various phonics rules.  On the next diagnostic, I hope to see that my students made meaningful phonics progress so that I can move on to more advanced work.

I think of our Blended Learning program as a third teacher in the classroom, one that is goal-oriented, meeting students where they are and setting them forth on a trajectory to where they need to be.  This third teacher is dependable and engaging.  It is agile and flexible, constantly adapting to what students need. Blended learning gives Brilla scholars and teachers a special tool to take learning from ordinary to extraordinary. Great teachers are a school’s most valuable asset.  Our Blended Learning approach has made me an even better teacher and our students more engaged learners.

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