Blended Learning Provides Students With Opportunities Not Available at Groves
Photo by: Grace Silcox
Senior advanced photography student Emma Stempien utilizes her blended class time to travel off campus and capture photos at Douglas Evans nature preserve on February 13. “Having blended time in this class is a really great opportunity to get photos that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to get at Groves,” Stempien said.
As I sat perched at my desk, brainstorming for my sports article, senior managing editor Grace Silcox, left the newspaper classroom on October 25 to take photos at the women’s regional cross country meet. Because newspaper is blended on Thursdays, allowing some students to leave campus, and she is an upperclassmen, Grace has the opportunity to complete tasks she doesn’t have the ability to in the classroom. Grace took advantage of the blended opportunity which helped her article in numerous ways. She attended a critical regional cross country meet that occured during school hours. She took vivid, action shots of the meet, and she gained first hand, primary information, from runners and coaches when it was fresh on their mind. Since non blended classes require students to be in the classroom everyday, Grace would not have been able to research and take photos for her article if the class was not blended.
“The opportunity to use my blended time to travel with the cross country meet and first-hand witness the atmosphere that surrounds the runners, shaped my article,” Grace told me. “Without the class being blended, my article wouldn’t be half of what it is today.”
As an underclassmen, with no access to the blended option, I find it difficult to take photos of events or interview anyone outside the building. As part of our district’s rule for access to the blended option, a student must be an upperclassmen, with a B grade or higher in the class.
Although not being able to partake in blending learning may stifle creativity and hinder independence, many would argue that such restrictions are reasonable to ensure time to mature before given the freedom, and therefore responsibility, that blended classes demand. Upperclassmen, on the other hand, are preparing for their future after high school, whether that is college, the military, or a job; this is the time for them to explore independence, integrity, leadership, and to experience responsibility.
Since I’ve joined journalism I’ve looked forward to blending as an upperclassmen. However, as I watch more classes take away or cut down on the blended option, such as Honors Anatomy and AP European History, I worry I won’t be able to experience it.
As an underclassmen who has taken journalism the past two years, I have written two articles in the sports section. Every Thursday, I am confined to four corners of my classroom, sitting in front of a computer: outlining, writing, and typing. While doing this, my junior and senior classmates are leaving campus to create, review, and explore. If the blended opportunity is taken away, I won’t ever be able to try a new section, which I truly look forward to doing.
Other underclassmen in my class, such as sophomore Blair Chernow, also look forward to having the blended opportunity coming up next year.
“As a sophomore, I am so excited to finally be able to use the blended opportunity next year. I’m worried my creativity could be limited due to me never having the opportunity to leave. Being in a classroom all day makes me tired. Blending can give me the burst of energy I need to produce my best work,” Chernow said.
Although it is reasonable for freshman and sophomores to have a closed campus, juniors and seniors shouldn’t be limited. Through the blended option, upperclassmen, such as senior Ross Sauter, learned important skills, especially time management. “Blended prepares you better for your future better than always sitting in a classroom. It teaches me how to manage my time, maintain my determination, and improves my creative thinking. Ever since I’ve been in blender, I always find myself coming up with more creative ideas that I wouldn’t think of [if I were] cooped up in the classroom,” Sauter said.
While teachers and administrators, including assistant principal Othamian Peterson, consider a blended option best reserved for something that cannot be done inside the classroom, many students find the blended option also helps students inside the classroom.
Not only does senior Xiomara Walker find herself maturing through the independence blended classes offer, but she also finds herself using blended time to get one-on-one help with her teachers, especially in science classes.
“I stayed in class one day when the students had the option to blend, or leave campus. Mrs. Searle didn’t have to worry about teaching an entire class, and she was able to spend more one on one time with me so that I could learn the material. That decision to go in and get help was completely up to me. I didn’t have to use my blended time for that, but I definitely benefited from it. Not all students can come in for X-block or after school to get one-on-one help, which is a huge reason I benefited from this class being blended. As I was in that blended class more often, I started to talk more to teachers one on one, and do my work more productively,” Walker said.
In most college settings, students spend much more time outside of class and must take the initiative to reach out to teachers for help, as Walker did. Thus, blended classes help students’ college readiness regardless if the blended option is needed to do work outside a college setting.
“In college, professors don't reach out to you about an assignment that you didn't do. If you are not comprehending the material, it is far more difficult to get help directly there than at Groves. Students should be able to take advantage of their teachers being available for help during blended hours,” Walker said. “So, with blended you are kind of already practicing that responsibility of independent study, and doing what you need to do.”
Teachers still have to teach the same curriculum and students still have to master the same amount of material in a blended class, so the rigour of a blended class is not reduced, despite some complaints from teachers that this is the case. Teachers who appreciate the blended option still feel the crunch to get their material in and fully prepare students. For this reason, many classes have begun cutting down from two blended days to just one. Sherman’s class used to be blended two days but is now just blended one.
“With blended once a week, I’m still not happy about the amount of material I get through,” Sherman said, “But, I still manage to get the students prepared for their AP exam. Right now, if all the sudden I was told the class can’t be blended, I would be fine with it.”
While Sherman has expressed a legitimate concern, Grace, a student in AP European History, claims that when the expectations were explained at the beginning of the blended course, a huge emphasis was put on responsibility and accountability because of the amount of material that had to be covered inside of the classroom.
“My classmates and I noticed the stress Mr. Sherman put on our responsibility to stay on task on blended days. This was because we were inside of the classroom for one or two less days, so we had to be using that time accordingly. We had a lot of material to get through in AP EURO, and our teacher made sure we knew it. We, as students, took on that challenge,” Grace said.
Teachers are also concerned about time management of students, the safety component that exists with blended classes, and the staff’s ability to manage blended classes wisely. Sherman claims it would be extremely inefficient for some students to be involved in blended classes, due to lack of organization or self discipline.
“A student must be very mature, and they have to be very organized to be successful in a blended class. Otherwise they would just waste their time,” Sherman said. “If a student wastes all of their blended time, which is over an hour, they are hurting themselves, their grade and their ability to learn.”
Time management is obviously an important skill for students to learn. It is far better for students to use their time in high school to experiment with time management. Taking a blended class allows for this to happen before students get out into the real world. Sauter has encountered this very issue with his Xbox.
“I often have two choices sitting in front of me on blended days. Xbox, or homework. I have chosen my Xbox before, and I have learned my lesson,” Sauter said.
Like Sauter, most students who take blended classes not only learn time management, but they also learn how to be safe and accountable. While student safety always comes first, Peterson expresses his concern for students who are permitted to leave campus for blended classes. “I think people would always be weary about students leaving schools,” Peterson said. “The problem is that juniors and seniors, especially those that aren’t here for the right reasons, are still so young, as opposed to when they are in college. In college, they have made that commitment to be there. There is a little bit more responsibility and accountability, and another level of trust there.”
However, juniors and seniors who enroll in blended classes also make a commitment to be there. They are accountable for themselves, their time, and their ability to succeed in class. They know they will lose their privileges if they do not exercise safety and responsibility.
“As students, we are always looking out for the safety of ourselves, and our peers. As a sophomore, I already know that blended classes demand that we take extra precaution when we leave campus during school hours,” Chernow said. “If we don’t take blended seriously, we could lose our privileges.”
Despite some of the concerns that accompany blended classes, such as the amount of material that needs to be covered in a shortened amount of class time, time management challenges, and student safety worries, the advantages to students far outweigh the disadvantages.
As an underclassmen, I’ve anxiously been awaiting the blended opportunity for my final two years in journalism. Blended will expand my writing to other sections such as entertainment, which is a section I can only write if I am permitted to leave the classroom and explore. In entertainment, student journalists have the opportunity to attend important events that may only occur during the school day. Without the blended opportunity, I am limited to writing about topics that can only be covered after school hours.
As I sat at my desk putting the finishing touches on my article, 20 weeks ago, Grace was observing a regional women's cross country meet live. If I were writing the article on cross country, I would not have gotten the action shots she took, the primary interviews she experienced, or the deeper understanding Grace had about the cross country meet. She took advantage of her blended option, and experienced an opportunity that was one of a kind.
Throughout my two years in the newspaper journalism class, especially as an editor, I have utilized the blended learning opportunity in my newspaper class to the maximum. From writing sports, to opinion, and to entertainment articles, the once a week blended class gives me opportunities that I don’t get access to in a classroom setting. In a research and writing intensive class, such as journalism, students use classroom time to go out into the world to investigate issues and interview primary sources while writing stories. Every Thursday, upperclassmen get the opportunity to blend, in other words, to leave class and accomplish what no journalist can do inside a classroom. We can go on interviews, take photos, and research for our article, all with the opportunity of going off-campus.
The blended part of journalism is a huge part of what makes our newspaper so successful. When I was writing an article about the girls cross country team, I was able to use my blended time to travel with the team to their regional meet on October 25, to take pictures, interview the coaches and runners in the midst of the meet, and experience the atmosphere at an important meet. That experience helped my article immensely. Getting the chance to endure a part of what the runners actually go through on a race day made my article so much more vivid and real. The photos I was able to take during the meet were also extremely important for my article and turned out award winning. Without the class being blended, my article would have been limited to seven minute interviews done quickly in school that lack detail and vivid moments in time, and I wouldn’t have gotten the action filled photos of the runners.
The lessons that I, along with many other students, have gained from blended are far too important for them to be limited or completely foregone. Some administrators and teachers worry that we have begun to blend too much and have discussed limiting blended options and blended classes. However, students from all over the school are passionate about the positives that blended brings to their classes.
““If students aren't responsible then we are creating a structured time that could lead to lower grades and other issues. Years ago I had some kids that were not very responsible, taking a blended class. Before the teacher had a chance to catch up and put some restrictions in place, they would go out to get high. As a result, their grades suffered. I don’t want to blame it on the class, but these kids had like two or three blended classes in their day so they were always out of the building,” Peterson said. “Afterwards, we made some restrictions and rules for blended classes, even cutting back on the amount of blended classes.”
Senior editor in chief Hope Tushman has also felt the benefits of blended in her time on the Scriptor. In 2018 Tushman wrote an state award winning article on the newly implemented security system, ALICE, at Groves. While she was writing the article, she used her blended time to gather information from sources outside of Groves. One day she was able to visit the Birmingham Police Department to learn about their involvement at Groves with the new system.
“When I went off campus to interview the Birmingham Deputy Police Officer was the point where my article truly started to come together. He knew more about the program than anyone, as he was the one helping to bring it to our district, so I gained a lot of important information. Without this opportunity, which I did during blended, my article probably wouldn’t have been as successful or credible,” Tushman said.
Although most students embrace the benefits of blended learning, administrators, such as assistant principal and leader in blending learning Othanian Peterson, are more hesitant to expand these opportunities.
“Blended classes were made to extend the classroom learning beyond four walls. Blended brings the opportunity to have flexibility. There are a handful of teachers who saw an opportunity within the parameters of the law to utilize a few days a week to enhance their experiences and their learning. These experiences could have been going to a job, a museum, and using stuff that they can then bring back into the classroom. This is instead of having to organize a field trip,” Peterson said.
Peterson believes that if blended is not used for those experiences, then it does not benefit the student enough to leave the classroom.
“Blended learning is not about comfort. It is not so kids can be more comfortable. If that was the case we would just buy new desks, or rearrange the classroom. That isn’t the purpose of blended learning. It is for the opportunity and experiences that you cannot get in the classroom,” Peterson said.
While administrators such as Peterson support a limit on the which classes blend and how many blended classes a student can take, students are fighting for looser criteria and more abilit to take blended options. As a student who has had blended classes for two years now, I believe that the allotted blended time helps us become more productive and on top of our work in an independent manner. I don’t think that blended should be cut, or limited, based off of the actions of previous students.
Senior Kelly Meir, who successfully used the blended option in journalism, laments that her anatomy, a class that was previously blended, is no longer blended now that she is taking it.
“In a class where blended was canceled, like Anatomy, they never gave the current students the chance to experience blended learning. I think, if they did give us the opportunity, then they would keep blended, because I do believe that students would use the time to their advantage. In anatomy our blended time could be to complete projects outside of class and catch up on major projects like dissections. Every student works at their own pace, and blended is the best way to help us do that,” Meir said.
While a few students use their blended time to get high or to not do school work, their misbehavior and lack of maturity should not stifle those students who thrive under blended. Will those students suddenly perk up and work diligently because they are forced to stay in class? Probably not. They probably just become a disruption in that class for the students who do want to learn. One such student is senior Emma Stempian, a student in advanced photography who spent every second of her blended time to capture photos she could only get off campus.
“My blended class time was important in photo because I could travel to different local places to get the best pictures I could. It was an amazing experience to be able to use the freedom given to me in order to make the most out of the class,” Stempien said. “Without having the blended time, I wouldn’t have been able to get the vivid pictures that I did. They are some of the best pictures I have ever taken.”
The positives that students experience in blended classes, outweigh the potential negatives. Sure there may always be the possibility of a student not being productive within their blended time, but that consequence should fall only on them, not on the entire class.
Senior Xiomara Walker has witnessed these positives in blended and believe that they improve her learning.
“Blended classes give us independence regarding studying and help us practice managing our time without a teacher hovering over us. With the freedom of blended classes, I find myself working smarter and harder,” Walker said.
While Peterson understands the benefit of blended classes both personally and through observing, he worries that upperclassmen aren’t yet mature enough for such freedom.
“From an educational standpoint, I get where you're [students] coming from in regards to college preparation and I do think there are some benefits. However, the problem is that juniors and seniors, especially those that aren’t here for the right reasons, are just still so young. Versus when they are in college, you have made that commitment, so there is a little bit more responsibility and accountability, another level of trust,” Peterson said.
Though Peterson may believe that upperclassmen don’t always take advantage of blended for the right reasons, students like Walker, have felt the positive effects in their study habits, and school-related skills. The learning opportunities and experiences gained by students through blended also extends to the future and helps prepare students for life after high school. “In most colleges, with there being too many students for one on one attention, professors can’t necessarily reach out to you about an assignment you might've missed or help you as much as high school teachers do,” Walker said. “There is just not as much one on one time between teacher and student in college, whereas there is a lot at Groves. It is up to the student to stay on top of their work. With blended, you are already practicing that responsibility of independent study, and doing what you need to do on time.”
Not only do the opportunities that arise from blended classes help students, but teachers as well. Senior Ross Sauter, who is currently in the blended english 12B class feels that he works better under the freedom given to students by teachers of blended classes.
“Blended gives teachers the opportunity to give students larger clumps of work that they may not need to do in class, and have students do it on their own time with attached freedom. It is up to the student to do the work, and if not their grade suffers,” Sauter said.
Blended classes are an opportunity to learn and grow. The opportunity for students to experience new found freedom and independence outside of the typical classroom setting. Not only does this improve the educational experience at Groves, but also prepares the students for life after high school. The benefits of blended classes outweigh the potential of students not using their time adequately, and if they do, that is on them and their learning.
“Having a blended class teaches students skills that we couldn’t necessarily learn by sitting in the classroom; skills like time management, determination, productivity and creative thinking,” Sauter said. “Those actual experiences, and outcomes from blended classes and assignments are one of the best ways to learn these skills that are crucial for our future.
If I didn’t have the opportunity to blend, like Ethan, I would not have gotten that award winning shot, that perfect quote, or the deeper understanding of cross country because I would have to just imagine it from within the four walls of D-4. Blended learning is an extremely impactful addition to our curriculum at Groves, and instead of limiting it, we should be finding more ways to implement it.