In an effort for students to succeed at a higher academic level, Blake, along with several other schools in the county, have begun to eliminate on-level classes and create “blended” classrooms in certain subjects.
Modeled after other schools in the county who have shown improvement in student performance due to the transition, this new approach allows both honors students and non-honors students to complete the same rigorous coursework. This new step is aimed to push students towards a higher level and, moreover, motivate them to challenge themselves.
Although many students may not have noticed, the implementation of these “blended” classrooms are already underway at Blake. “The idea [to blend classes] was going around Montgomery County Public Schools for maybe the last couple of years,” says English teacher Monica Saxton.
This year was in a sense a “test” year to see how it worked for Blake specifically, starting with classes like Honors English 9, Honors Chemistry, and a part of Geometry. “The criteria [to blended classes was] can we teach at the honors level still but differentiate for those kids….that struggle to get them to that honors level.” says Principal Christopher Berry.
The goal with blended classrooms is to give students the push they need to achieve at higher levels and to lose the stigma surrounding lower level classes and students. “I think on-level classes kind of get a bad wrap . . . they become behavioral problems more than they are classes where students are getting the help that they need. I think with the blended classroom that is taken out of the equation” added Ms.Saxton.
Although not universal, the response from students and teachers has been good. The feedback from ninth grade English students who took a mid-year survey was generally positive. “For the most part [students] were like yes I liked it, I’ve never been in an honors class, I liked having the opportunity, I’ve risen to the occasion” says Mr. Berry. The results from blending class have also been good. “We’ve not only had with a more rigorous curriculum the same number of As and Bs, we’ve had more” says Mr. Berry.
Teachers began preparing for the elimination of on level classes in their subject area around springtime of 2016. Teachers went to other schools to observe their blended classes and spoke to the teachers about the change; they also attended a five-day training in the summer focused not only on blended classes but also on changing the focus of their classroom to accommodate all students.
Even with this change teachers have said it has not drastically altered their teaching. Teachers are keeping standards as high as they would with regular honors classes and stretching themselves to come up with different ways of reaching all students.
Although Blake will be progressively blending more classes next school, some classes will remain separate for years to come.