In our eighth-grade math prototype and our elementary math programs, I’ve watched teachers as they adapt to blended learning. For many of them, the idea isn’t a strange one, and it has provided some unexpected surprises (both good and bad).
Elementary teachers have seen the value of centers for a long time. Middle and high school teachers value collaboration and the ability to have more small group/ one on one time with their students.
Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned as an instructional technologist about blended learning. Some of them were expected and some of them have been “ah ha” moments for our teachers.
1. Personalizing learning.This was the thing that scared us the most when we started thinking about blended learning. What about that student that is ready to just move forward? Blended learning showed us and our students which ones were driven to learn and do more. At our school, because we started this process just weeks before the actual classes began, we haven’t been able to allow students to just GO. We are looking forward to the curriculum being in place next year and allowing that flexibility to blossom for some students.
2. Transitioning from traditional. It has been for students to transition from the traditional method of learning to blended learning. They need time to accept and adjust to the change. Blended learning can mean “increased student control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of his or her learning” (Christensen Institute). I am amazed at how hard it has been for some of the students to unlearn the “sit and get” way of instruction they have been accustomed to. Expectations and baby steps were helpful to get them ready for being more in control of their path of learning and accepting the student ownership that comes with this change. Know that in doing this, your curriculum happens at a slower pace than what you were used to at times.
3. Aligning to standards. I believe you can do blended learning well without aligning to standards. But if you do align your activities to standards, you’ll get more precise data than you’ve had before. Being aligned to Common Core math standards has made it easier to select instructional materials each day. Looking within our math technology options such as IXL, Mangahigh, and Khan Academy based on a standard makes the curation of good learning materials easier.
4. Matching landscape to activity. Creating a classroom that works with your goals is crucial and helps keep students on task. Our students never know what the desk placements might be like when they walk in. Creating a learning environment to meet each day’s task has been vital in regards to classroom management and seeing on task behavior.
5. Flipping homework. This one area has evolved more than anyone expected. We have gone from traditional homework problems to watching a video of the teacher the night before to learn the concept. More recently, we have added expectations regarding watching those videos. What happens when students don’t come to class informed of the concepts? Now students take a quick assessment at the end of the video to ascertain how much “practice” they will receive the next day in order to move on.
6. Formative assessments. The ability to quickly assess student learning to determine the mode of instruction is our next “must do.” We have built this program in steps and this is our goal for next semester. Allowing our learning management system, Edify, to assess daily learning and track proficiencies of standards learned by each student will be a priority. Good formative assessments mean less long nights of grading homework for teachers.
7. Consistency in icons. As mentioned earlier, matching your landscape to your task is an important part of a smooth running blended learning classroom. So keeping things visually consistent. For instance, we have the following icons hanging from the ceilings or on desk groupings, as well as placed as a guide for where each student is to start each day:
While the students may not know exactly what to expect in each rotation, they do have a basic idea of what that rotation will entail each day.
8. Setting your goals/expectations. In blended learning, teachers need support and permission to fail. The school administration as well as the teachers themselves need to have clear goals and expectations before classes begin. However, ongoing collaboration and updates are necessary to make sure everyone’s needs are being met. For us, because we’re standards-aligned in a blended learning environment, we can recognize sooner and address when students don’t understand. While this wasn’t a goal or expectation in the beginning, it has become one.
9. Analyzing at the data. Technology-based instructional material and formative assessments are great tools IF they are constantly being monitored. Taking the time to analyze data is crucial to blended learning success. Many technology-based curriculum options even give you precise information on actually how much time a student is spending in the programs. If all you are doing is allowing your students to work in a tech-based center while you work in a small group setting, you may or may not be getting the benefits of blended learning. Reading, acknowledging, and adjusting to technology data points is what can make the difference in a successful blended learning classroom.
10. Being flexible. With any change, each person goes into it with preconceived ideas and expectations. Things you think would be easily controlled or adjusted sometimes aren’t. Go into blended learning knowing that you will be adjusting your preconceived ideas. Be willing to try new things. Reach out to others as a connected educator. You aren’t learning how to teach all over again, but in the words of the lead teacher in our eighth grade math prototype, “I feel like a first year teacher again. I’m learning what works for me and my classroom.”
Blended learning doesn’t just happen. It takes forethought. At the end of this semester I talked with the lead teacher of our prototype project and she wondered what next year would look like. She was ready to plan forward. One thing she did say was, “I can’t imagine ever teaching traditionally again.” She sees the benefit even though this has been a roller coaster year of transitions. Is it hard work? Yes, but I believe her statement speaks volumes to the fact that this seasoned educator finds the challenges worth it.[guestpost]Julie Daniel Davis currently serves as a Technology Integrationist at the largest private PreK-12 school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This school is knee-deep in technology integration and a 1:1 computing initiative. As a mom of two teens and an educator of 12 years, she has learned many tips and tricks in order to help students use technology to enhance their learning. She enjoys helping teachers integrate technology in their lessons while giving them the support and tools to be successful at it. She believes in using technology resources to enhance critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration- all skills that are required for students to become lifelong learners and influencers of their world. Her blog,http://techhelpful.blogspot.com , was named as one of the top 50 edtech k-12 I.T. blogs for 2015 by Edtech Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @chargerrific.[/guestpost]
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