A.L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School students flourish with its blended learning model curriculum

Not every child learns the same way. That’s why schools like A. L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School on Detroit’s east side feature 21st century technology in a blended learning environment. Study after study proves that individualized learning plans help students expand the learning experience far beyond rote knowledge most of us grew up with and actually teach students how to apply what they have learned in daily life. A good lesson plan for us all. This week the Michigan Chronicle looks inside A.L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School to see how students on individualized learning plans are thriving. – Editor

Every child is a born learner, but not all of them are high achievers. Experts say that our nation’s “onesize- fits-all” education model, which does not always accommodate the kids that learn differently than their peers, may be the culprit in student failure rates. At A.L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School, success is not an option for the majority of its students, who receive personalized support with understanding math concepts, reading compression and study habits.

The school has incorporated individual student learning paths that recognize student challenges and learning preference in a blended learning model that is followed daily. Since its implementation, the jump in student performance has been astonishing, according to Principal Leenet Campbell- Williams. “A lot of schools are doing a form of blended learning, but we’re intentional,” said Campbell-Williams. “We start with a pre-test for each student to determine their different skill sets. The pre-testing shows their strengths and weaknesses in certain areas. We then use the blended learning model of online curriculum coupled with our traditional curriculum to maximize individual learning for our students, allowing them to move at their own pace.” What’s Different at A.L. Holmes?

The school offers a Community Garden Project, Good School Grant for Technology, Project Unify Grant for Tolerance and Anti-Bullying; Computer Labs, Media Center, Student Netbooks, SMARTBoard Technology, Volunteer Reading Corps (PreK & K), Local School Community Organization (LSCO), Playworks Recreation and Conflict Resolution, Winter & Spring The school also hosts regularly scheduled festivals, Family Curriculum Nights, Pathways to Potential Program (Partnership with Department of Human Services), and after-school tutoring and various school clubs including Holmes Mime and Sign Team.

A High Tech, High Touch Approach to Learning All classrooms have a SmartBoard and document cameras; students in grades K-2 have access to desktop computers and all students in grades 3-8 have access to Netbook computers. The school has an updated media center and three computer labs, filled with new iMac computers. High Tech, High Touch Approach Earns School High Marks A.L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School students flourish with its blended learning model curriculum In 2011, Holmes received a $2.8 million grant to improve student achievement. The school also received another $500,000 grant last school year with a portion being solely dedicated to technology.

In partnership with Matchbook Learning, Holmes launched the Hybrid Learning Model where teachers and students use technology daily to enhance instruction and increase student performance with an interactive, comprehensive on-line curriculum. Teachers offer data-driven instruction using a Learning Management System (LMS) to monitor student progress, create small flexible groups and implement Individual Learning Plans (ILP). Parents can access their child’s lessons, projects and grades in the LMS.

Ensuring student growth, at every grade level A. L. Holmes is on a mission to create an academically challenging learning environment that uses student– centered instruction with fun, engaging activities that support learning, the use of data to drive instruction and is propelled by high expectations for student success. The school has a partnership with Cranbrook to enhance its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, “We use the blended learning model of online curriculum coupled with our traditional curriculum to maximize individual learning for our students, allowing them to move at their own pace.” – Leenet Campbell-Williams, Principal Arts and Mathematics) program and a mentoring program with WCCCD (Wayne County Community College District).

During the 2011-12 school year, students in grades 3-8 engaged in virtual online instruction with a virtual teacher as well as face-to- face instruction from their classroom teacher. The blended learning process showed such positive gains for students in grades 3-8 that during the 2012-13 the online learning model was extended to grades K-8. Blended Learning Team Rotations In teacher Eric Fredlund’s fourth and fifth-grade Language Arts and Social Studies courses, the students engage in Blended Learning Team Rotations with four individual work sessions.

Each day, the students rotate through all four Blended Learning Teams until they have participated in each level. Four Team Pathway Rotations Reading Pathway is based on each student’s pre-testing results. The students work on common core standards. Once this level is mastered, it creates a pathway to the second team. Intervention Pathway is accelerated reading and testing on comprehension on the computer. Writing Pathway is utilizing learned comprehension and critical thinking skills to develop opinion pieces. As an example, the students are posed with a question such as, “Do we watch too much television?” They then have to find two articles opposing the question and two articles in support.

The students then use the articles to determine and support their own opinions. Throughout the day, each student will switch four times to take part in each pathway. This type of learning takes place daily at each grade level, in all classrooms. “We see improvement daily because its targeted instruction based on their abilities,” Fredlund said. “We work on their level with intervention and we’ve witnessed great gains in this style of teaching.” In all kindergarten through third-grade classes, there is a teacher and school service assistant for each room. In each classroom, from kindergarten through eighth-grade, you’ll quickly notice small groups, all doing different things, instead of the traditional model of one teacher at the front of the classroom facing 30- plus students.

This learning model has energized teachers who rally daily to make learning more meaningful and fun for students at A.L. Holmes, who give the program a big thumbs up.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about A.L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School or details about Detroit Public Schools.

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