Looking to Eliminate Dropouts? How Idaho Reached English Language Learners with a ‘Hybrid’ Course Experiment

Looking to Eliminate Dropouts? How Idaho Reached English Language Learners with a ‘Hybrid’ Course Experiment

Mary Jo Madda

In the past two academic years, Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), an online state school created by the Idaho Legislature, has taken proactive steps to fix a key problem: losing English Language Learner (ELL) students before high school graduation, and losing them from highly technical and content-driven courses like biology.

Our solution came about in the form of hybrid courses for students—a mix of asynchronous curriculum and regular, scheduled synchronous sessions. But why the blend of digital and in-person?

The Utility of Hybrid Courses

For those of you struggling to integrate fully online courses—or fully in-person courses—into your school models, consider this.

In hybrid courses, IDLA teachers and students meet on a weekly basis in real-time (synchronously), in addition to the asynchronous nature of online content and assessments, which students can tackle on their own time, at their own piece. Inclusion of synchronous sessions in the hybrid delivery model provides students the additional instruction and support needed in subject areas that have a high need for direct instruction.

The synchronous sessions also provide a more authentic learning experience than can sometimes be provided exclusively in an asynchronous environment. Synchronous components of hybrid courses also provide an opportunity for instructors to better ensure students are meeting listening and speaking standards embedded within Idaho Core Standards.

But don’t take solely our word for it—hear how the students responded. After a survey from the initial pilot cohort of a hybrid Spanish class that we launched in 2014-2015, we found that 100% of the hybrid students in both sections of the pilot successfully completed the class, compared to 85% of the students in the 7 totally asynchronous (online) sections of the Spanish 1A class running in the same semester. Additionally, the average grade on the Final Exam was 11 points higher in the hybrid class than that on the 7 totally asynchronous (online) sections of the Spanish 1A class running in the same semester.

Bringing the Hybrid Model Into Biology

With a pilot under our belts, we took the next step: “Biology with Language Foundations.” The course is targeted to English Language Learners in need of a Biology credit that will meet high school graduation requirements.

The course was delivered in an online hybrid course, blending asynchronous tools provided within the Blackboard Learning Management System (LMS) and regular synchronous sessions facilitated through Blackboard Collaborate. The course was revised based off of the standard IDLA Biology A and B curriculum, and curricular supports were built into the course to provide additional structure for learning language, specifically to support speaking and listening.

The “Speak and Add” co-teaching model was also utilized to provide instruction. Essentially, an IDLA Full-Time Science Teacher served as the primary teacher and focused on the Science content within the course. An additional IDLA Language Teacher supplemented with language supports and tracked student progress toward their language goals. For example, the biology teacher would instruct on different types of cells while the language teacher provided a writing framework to help students complete a compare-and-contrast essay on cell types.

Students from two high schools were enrolled in the course. The course was limited to only those students within the school already on a Limited English Proficiency (LEP) plan. Students took the course during an assigned class period at their face-to-face school. A face-to-face proctor also supported each group of students.

How Did the ELLs Fare in This Hybrid Biology Course?

Overall, student success in the course is indicated by the final grade data below.

Course *Completion % Avg Final Grade
Bio A LF (Hybrid model) 100% 72%
Bio A (Regular course) 74% 67%
Bio B LF (Hybrid model) 100% 74%
Bio B (Regular course) 89% 77%

* Students are considered as a completion if their Final Grade is >=60%

Completion rates in both hybrid courses reached 100%, while the courses with traditional student populations were lower (although there was a larger number of students enrolled in those courses). One important note: there was no correlation between IELA Level (related to an assessment the state uses to identify language level for ELL Students) and Final Grade, indicating that language was not the greatest barrier to student success.

Students were pleased with the course content and activities—70% of the students surveyed indicated that they wouldn’t change anything in the course.

And how did the schools who hosted the courses react? Overall, the schools were both satisfied with the course and recommended that the course continue as an IDLA course offering as it fits an identified need within their school.

  • School A: The students took the class and experienced much success. When the science teacher decided to come back at the 2nd semester (after a leave the first semester), the students were told that they would go back to the regular face-to-face Biology class. They were afraid that they would not experience the same success so they asked to be allowed to continue with their hybrid Biology with Language course.
  • School B: The principal at School B was satisfied and happy with the Biology with Language course. He noted that the students selected for the course were identified as language learners but were not necessarily good online learners. The students also needed the class, but didn’t necessarily want to take the class.
  • Additionally, it should be noted that School A’s ELL students enrolled in Biology with Language Foundations from School A during the pilot school year averaged an 83% as their Final Grade in the spring. ELL, while students enrolled in the traditional Biology course from School A averaged a 74% as their Final Grade in the Spring.

As with any pilot, there have been lessons learned, but these lessons give us the opportunity to move forward with best practices. Based on the feedback from our participating schools, we have plans to continue offering Biology with Language Foundations.

Now, the big question at hand: which state, district or school will tackle hybrid courses next?

Dr. Sherawn Reberry (@SReberry) is the Director of Education Programs at the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA). Jeff Simmons (@idlajeff) is the Associate Director of Education Programs at the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA).

This post is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Idaho). The project is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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