Thursday, September 10, 2015

What About Blended Learning?

As we are now 4 weeks into an eighth grade math blended learning prototype at our school we are hearing things, we are experiencing things, and we are learning things. We've started, adjusted, moved forward, and camped in place for a few days. We've listened, we've researched, we've visited, we've adapted. These are things teachers do in any class- whether traditional or blended. Good teachers adjust their teaching to their students needs. As a technology coordinator, this is what I have learned 4 weeks in:

1. A need to explain expectations well. Our students are submerged in a traditional school environment, this model of learning is very different for them. Being in control of their pace, learning that homework doesn't necessarily happen with pencil and paper, and using time in class wisely have been either new concepts or concepts being leaned on more heavily than ever before. Some of these kids seem to have the "mind blown" look in their eyes as they enter into a collaborative-based learning environment with strange looking desks, 3 teachers in a classroom, stations, and technology.

  • We thought we would just let these students be "self-paced" and we may eventually get there but we quickly learned that eighth graders need CHECKPOINT EXPECTATION STRUCTURE. Perhaps it's because it's all new but we have set some progress check points so that we can make sure they are on track.
  • Some zeroes had to be placed in the grade book to remind students "this is for real." They are adjusting, but just like a traditional classroom some kids lag behind based on bad priorities of getting things done- not just ability. Those things are being addressed.

2. Pacebreakers are seen quickly. The ones that struggle to understand and the ones that can just go on ahead show themselves and their learning can be adjusted for much earlier in the classroom than in a traditional environment. Coming up with a plan has been a bit more tricky because this is a prototype and there is no "plan" for those with the ability to zoom beyond Intro To Algebra within the year and we have to keep the stragglers on target to finish the class in the school year as well.
  • Having 3 adults in the classroom has made it easier to small group instruct those students that need additional help. The adults have also taken advantage of some available daily RTI time built into the school day.
  • Using technology has allowed students to move ahead a bit from the pack as well. In a traditional setting, these students would be sitting there waiting for the teacher to address the issues for the majority of the class and they wouldn't have had the ability to do anything but wait and possibly aid their friends in peer-to-peer tutoring. These students can also have the ability to go a bit deeper with projects or tasks that show critical thinking of concepts beyond the norm.
3. A base for good resources is a must. Giving teachers time to create their own videos, places to go to look for additional resources, and a flexible budget to adjust to standards is needed. For instance, we have been using Khan Academy as one of our main technology-based instructional options but the upcoming unit doesn't seem to have as many good videos and problems as we have had for the last 2 units. We plan to adjust by buying something. 
  • Last year, before the project was actually being implemented I spent some time looking into various technology-based options. This list came from that research but I find it to be ever changing with the hardest problem being me finding the time to research more and more. 
  • Using something like or to take a pre-made video resource and allow the teacher to personalize it is also a great way to personalize resources for a certain environment.
4. Standards-based assessment with blended learning could open the door for true personalized learning to happen and for future teachers to know exactly where the gaps are for students next year as they could see "this student is not proficient in these concepts" or "this student is proficient beyond the concepts of this class, dig deeper!"

  • Using a new LMS called Edify has had its challenges but what we are seeing is what value there is in standard-based assessments. We now know what concept a student still isn't getting with a quick look instead of just seeing a grade. While we have not been able to use this to it's full potential, I see amazing capabilities. 
  • We have to start with the standards and work backwards, not start with a curriculum and work towards the standard. Expecting teachers to work from a curriculum forward greatly increases the amount of work they have to do to reap the benefits of standards-based learning.
  • With standards-based learning, the next teacher would know exactly what concepts a student struggles with not just "Suzie is historically a C+ student." Standards-based learning is a longterm continuous key to personalized learning for each student throughout their educational life if handled appropriately. While we aren't "there," I want us to be there and reap the benefits! 

Looking forward to what this means for the future!