Rural Colo. district uses blended learning to support special education

In Ellicott (Colo.) School District 22, where the town’s population was 1,131 at the last census, there is only one preschool, one elementary, one middle school, and one high school.

Small, rural districts like Ellicott may have fewer resources than larger districts, but with technology, they can expand the reach of their special education practices beyond the brick-and-mortar walls of their own classrooms.

By using distance learning courses in math and English, special educators in Ellicott’s high school can adjust the pace of lessons and differentiate for students with individualized education programs better than they had been able to in a previous co-teaching arrangement, said Christa Hartzog, a special education teacher at Ellicott’s high school.

Hartzog and her colleague Teri Gilbert worked with the Pikes Peak BOCES, which supports Ellicott, to offer blended learning courses through Colorado Digital Learning Solutions to students who were struggling in the school’s traditional Algebra and English classes.

“Our school is all-inclusive, but we were finding that our students’ needs weren’t being met by just being in the general education classes with us as co-teachers,” Hartzog said.

Using the online courses, students are taught by an online teacher certified in math and English. Hartzog and Gilbert facilitate the class, Hartzog said. They work with the online teachers and the district’s math and English division to ensure students have access to the same scope and sequence as other students in traditional classrooms.

Staff can then adjust the pace of lessons and provide accommodations for the students according to their IEPs. The blended learning classes are also available to general education students, Hartzog said.

“A lot of our students with IEPs receive extra time because of processing issues or fluency issues and they needed more time to complete assignments, but the pacing was harder to do in the traditional classroom,” Hartzog said.

In the blended learning class, staff can communicate with the online teacher if students need more time to learn a certain concept, she said. A typical class starts with the teacher projecting the online tutorial on an interactive smartboard in front of the class while students follow along at their desks on laptops, Hartzog said. After working through the tutorial, the students work through supplemental materials developed by the students’ special and general education teachers. After completing the online and supplemental work, students take an online quiz at the end of each lesson. “As soon as they take the quiz, it’s posted, and we can see it,” Hartzog said.

Last spring, the first semester that the high school tried the blended learning classes, 85 percent of the special education students who participated improved their math and English scores on the MAP assessment at the end of the year, Hartzog said.

At the beginning of this school year before the online courses begin, staff will reteach missing skills and start to familiarize students with the technology they’ll be using, Hartzog said. “Going from a traditional classroom to a blended class is a difficult transition,” she said. “We’re trying to prime the well before the online classes start.”

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504, education technology, and Common Core issues related to special education for LRP Publications.

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