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The Campanile

Blended periods should count as valid instructional minutes

In the midst of overwhelming coursework and extra-curricular activities, blended classes can offer relief to students since they provide time to work on assignments outside of classrooms and a more flexible schedule. 

Starting the 2019-20 school year, however, the Palo Alto Unified School District placed a hold on the release of students in blended courses. At the beginning of the school year, blended teachers received an email from District Ed Tech & Libraries Coordinator Emily Garrison, requesting that they not release students, as the District has encountered a conflict regarding the definition of instructional minutes. District officials did not respond to The Campanile’s request for comment.

The Campanile believes that the California Department of Education should have a more flexible definition of instructional time and recognize the increasing diversity in modes of education that diverge from traditional class settings. 

Blended courses allow teachers to create release days where students don’t have to physically be in class. Instead they can show their learning in other ways, including online using Schoology. 

Therefore, blended periods should continue to be implemented, as they offer opportunities for independent learning and flexible schedules. Students are able to retain ownership of their education, allowing them to have control over their learning and time management skills.

According to English teacher Kindel Launer, who teaches blended AP Language and Composition, the concerns were rooted in the terminology used in Infinite Campus records to describe blended periods, which, prior to this year, have been marked as “Does Not Meet.” 

This label was chosen due to the California State Ed Code, which states that teachers are legally liable for a student’s safety and health during a given class period, Launer said, as DNM implies that instructors are not legally responsible for students.

However, according to Launer, this nomenclature is a misrepresentation of student activity during a blended period, because it insinuates that no learning is occurring on release days. 

While some may speculate about the link between blended periods and productivity rates, most students spend their release days fulfilling their academics needs, whether it be meeting with their instructors for one-on-one feedback or working on group assignments. 

This misconception that students are not receiving education because there is not a teacher in front of them fails to recognize the alternative learning that occurs outside a classroom. With most Paly curriculum currently being taught through online or digital media, learning has become increasingly more diverse as technology progresses. 

Students no longer have to be confined to a classroom in order to work on tasks. They can complete many classroom assignments asynchronously. 

Additionally, research shows blended learning can be more effective than traditional forms of education. A 2010 meta-analysis and review of empirical studies by the U.S. Department of Education showed “students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.” It also noted that combining blended instruction with traditional instruction produces significant benefits for students.

The district recently released the PAUSD Promise, which highlights six main priority areas: High Quality Teaching & Learning; Equity & Excellence; Wellness & Safety; Special Education & Inclusion; District Office Operations; and Moving the Needle. 

One goal recognized in the High Quality Teaching & Learning category is expanding blended learning opportunities. 

The Campanile praises the district for including this in the PAUSD promise, which sends the message to students that it is a priority in the Paly community.

As students prepare to pursue their post-Paly plans, they must equip themselves with the necessary skills to succeed in institutes that require them to manage their own work, be it educational or vocational. By giving them authority over the time and place of their learning, blended courses are beneficial to students for developing life skills. 

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