Can You Blend?

I was recently asked to write a guest blog for TASA’s (Texas Association of School AdministratorsVision in Practice blog. I really enjoyed this activity as it helped me further organize my thoughts in a more specific manner factoring in my growth as an educator and experiences learned.

Here are my thoughts: 

Blended learning is most definitely a moving target. It is an intangible that can look very different as it is molded to fit specific educational programs. This also makes it very hard for parents, students and even educators to understand. The basic definition of blended learning is instruction that is part face to face and part online; leveraging technology for the benefit of the learner.

Blending can be overwhelming for even the veteran blended educator. For most, the visual of students being left in a room with a computer and without a teacher comes to mind and it’s often said by the student that that the teacher “doesn’t teach me.” This happens to be one of the best qualities of blended learning.  The fact that the educator moves into a facilitator role as the students drive their own learning is a hard change for all stakeholders; but one that needs to take place to transform education. Reasons for blended?

Why?

  1. Learning becomes personalized, differentiated for each student.
  2. Preparation of students to be successful in our ever-changing world.
  3. Students becoming the owner of their education.
  4. It is best for learners.

Blended learning allows students to take ownership of their education while personalizing through differentiation for each individual student. This personalization and ownership is gained by facilitating opportunity for students to have voice and choice in their own learning; which in turn empowers each individual allowing students to not only to gain understanding of content, but to develop the soft skills of time-management, balance of coursework and the ability to make choices. Educators have always had a tremendous job. Imagine, however, today’s learner. Information is at their fingertips and our world is changing due to developments in technology. Educators today must prepare students for careers that do not currently exist. Talk about a moving target!

Where?

  1. Within the classroom
  2. In the hallways
  3. Learning labs (additional room designated with personnel for working online)
  4. Home, think snow days

Many times educators feel the pressure to have a specific space like a learning lab with personnel for student management to be able to blend their learning. That is a best-case scenario; but rarely available due to budget costs and space. Blended learning can truly take place anywhere. Blended educators typically call this organized chaos. It can seem overwhelming to think of each student working at their own pace and choosing different paths to get to the same goal. It can look like stations in a way, collaborative groups, it can be all students plugged in and working individually or a little of every type of instruction. To add to the room space leverage the hallways surrounding your classroom where you can allow students to spread out; while maintaining student observation. Another major plus to blending is the fact that your use of technology (see how below) allows students to access their learning anywhere; when sick, when missing school due to UIL activities, snow/ice days, etc.

How?

  1. With BYOD (bring your own device), cart checkouts, computer lab checkouts and 1:1 devices
  2. Learning management systems (Schoology, Edmodo, Blackboard, Canvas, etc.)
  3. iTunes U, Google Classroom
  4. A multitude of Apps and web-based tools

Once again like the space, some educators think you can’t blend learning unless you are a 1:1 classroom, school, etc. This is not the case. Blending can take place with BYOD to cart/lab check outs to 1:1 devices. If all you can do is use student’s devices in BYOD, use it! They can do a lot on their phone or other devices. Think group work, jigsawing activities, stations, etc. With cart checkouts and computer lab checkouts, educators can plan for one to two to three days a week, depending on availability, for students to work independently and their own pace. While students are working independently, the educator is free to facilitate learning and activities giving more time one-to-one interaction; which brings us the the differentiation blending allows. With the leveraging of technology resources to allow students to work individually or in small groups, educators can incorporate workshops, small group support and individual support. Whether you are using another space, the hallway or every nook in your classroom, designing your blended instruction allows the educator to differentiate for learners in need of more support or more challenge. While students are working independently, students can be called into a small group session with the teacher. Data from formative assessments can be used to group learners according to need for further reteaching or deeper challenging. In addition, workshops can be designed to allow for learner choice in attending according to their need.

When?

  1. The time for innovation in education is now

We as educators and stakeholders are at a crossroads in education. Now is the time to innovate and transform education for today’s students. We are no longer in need of traditional education at its whole. We are in need of a redesign in which we do not discard all practices, but are creative with the time and resources we have. Do students need a fifty minute lecture? No. Might they need a ten minute direct teach? Yes. For example in a fifty minute classroom:

Traditional Instruction:

  1. Warm-up on overhead to get students focused 5-7 minutes
  2. Teacher lectures and works math problems on the overhead/board 30 minutes
  3. Students practice what they have observed 10-15 minutes
  4. Close class/assign problems as homework

Blended Instruction:

  1. Warm-up/Formative Assessment for focus 5-7 minutes, could be overhead, Google form, Socrative, Gizmos, challenge problem, etc.
  2. Teacher give direct instruction 10 minutes
  3. Students work individually in the learning lab or collaboratively work on problems, differentiated small groups are created with data from the formative assessment 20-30 minutes
  4. Teacher possibly gives a workshop open to any student who needs/wants further examples modeled 5-10 mixed within the full classroom time
  5. Close class/assign a few practice problems or 3-5 minute video of further instruction

Blended learning is the combination of best educational practices while leveraging technology to empower students to guide their own learning and strengthen their personal skills. Transforming our instruction will prepare students for a future of their own in a world that will require connecting to and collaborating with a  global community; while maintaining a competitive edge.

 

What experiences have you had with blended? I’d love to hear from you!

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What I’ve Learned Blending

I’ve been officially blending learning for five years now and have grown in my understanding and preparation for the next years. Blended learning is part face to face and online learning. There are several models of blended learning; which is evolving daily in definition and practice. Currently, many schools are moving to blended learning whether they are opening new schools, starting a program within a school or are introducing blended as a pilot. Blended is catching fire.

Here we go, in no certain order…

  1. Even if the student has chosen the blended path, he or she will at some point want out of blended and may even voice this kicking and screaming! Blended is a hard transition for learners that have been trained to sit at a desk and learn the same way as everyone else in the room. They are used to “spoon-feeding,” getting information given to them and regurgitating said information at a later date. It is hard to go from this format to a format where a teacher is giving them to choice in how they want to learn allowing self-starting and self-pacing. Many need a lot of structure and scaffolding early on in their blended journey.
  2. Share #1 with parents when talking blended and establishing your classroom or program. My team tells parents that sometime in the first to second grading period, their child will come home and cry that they want out. We share that it will be okay. They will make it passed this hump and will excel. We give them the words to say and are partners with the parents in the learning. In some cases, the whole first semester can be hard.
  3. “Blended” is hard to understand and explain. It is a very fluid type of instructional design and parents will compare it to the way they learned. It is very hard for them to grasp the transformation in learning. I don’t have the answer to the best way to go about this explanation as I and my colleagues are still trying to figure out what these special words may be. I do know that some new programs are foregoing the “blended” in their title and using “personalized” or “challenge-based” to decrease the confusion, but are using the blended instructional design. Who would say no to personalized learning?!
  4. Within  your campus, program, classroom define for yourself or as a group  your style or model of blended learning. This is your foundation. You must have buy-in and agreement on how blended will work and be a cohesive group. One, you can explain it better when called upon to do so and two, you will refer to this definition often as you design instruction and your program’s mission. This is paramount to a successful blended program.
  5. You (facilitator) will fail and it’s ok. You will not get it right the first time or all the time. Just like any other lesson, it doesn’t always go as planned and you will regroup. Just expect it. Our ideas don’t always translate with the students. And if it’s not lesson design, it’s wifi crashing, slowness of connection that doesn’t allow all students to “get in,” the website is down, you crash the website as it can’t handle all your students at once, the free App now costs money, etc. I could go on and on. Be gracious to yourself.
  6. Blended Learning is the only way to truly differentiate in a full classroom. Blended allows for more individual interaction with learners and small group workshops. In a class of 30 or more, one teacher cannot connect with every learner on a daily basis in an hour. It is just physically not possible; while teaching. We can wax poetic about differentiation all we want. This is an expectation that is humanly impossible of the best educators. The rotational model and flex model of blended learning allow for students to use learning lab spaces for independent work. The classroom teacher is then able to work in small groups or individually with struggling or advanced learners. Moreover, moving from teacher-driven to student-driven allows the teacher to evolve into more of a facilitator moving about the room with learners; helping each individual learner.
  7. It is very hard work in the beginning. If you are an experienced teacher, you will feel like you just started. It is a lot front-loading and lesson planning as blended instruction allows for voice and choice of students in their education. You now have options for an activity instead of one activity for everyone. That is a lot to do. It’s a lot to plan one lesson; let alone, one lesson with multiple options for completion.

I advocate for blended learning and I feel it is the best style of instruction for learners. Of all the educators I know that have taken on the challenge of blended learning, none would ever go back to the way they taught before the move. You will see challenges, but also great benefits from blending your learning.