Friday, October 9, 2015

Blended Learning: A Well Oiled Machine or Busy Individual Cogs?

Blended Learning- Lots of hype, lots of varieties, lots of experimentation- success imminent.

 For this blog, we will use the following definition from the Christiansen Institute: Blended learning is not the same as technology-rich instruction. It goes beyond one-to-one computers and high-tech gadgets. Blended learning involves leveraging the Internet to afford each student a more personalized learning experience, meaning increased student control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of his or her learning. The definition of blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns: (1) at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; (2) at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; (3) and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

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As I have watched various teachers and grade levels integrate some level of blended learning in the form of centers/modalities/stations in their classroom I have also watch "best practice scenarios" develop. This blog is an attempt to help educators learn from someone already mucking through the details. Station rotation models are our main form of blended learning here at Chattanooga Christian School. Here is a list of helpful hints:

1. Noise cancelling headphones. Not all students do movement and noise in a classroom well. My ADHD daughter taught me this one when she first started taking part of a class with flipped-learning homework. For students that are doing work on a device where they don't have to listen, it might help them to wear noise cancelling headphones to keep them focused. Perhaps this just means that you suggest that students wear their personal headphones/earbuds during digital instruction time- it doesn't have to be TRUE noise cancelling headphones to be effective. 
2. Spend some time focusing on transitions. Maybe it means setting a timer for students to understand how long transitions from one rotation to another should take. Maybe it means saying "by the time I start small group instruction, everyone in "digital instruction" should be already to log in. Maybe it means saying "you will always move to the modality on your left and you have 2 minutes to be actively engaged in that rotation."
3. Digital instruction goals for each rotation. This might be hard to do but a "checklist" for things to be accomplished at the digital instruction rotations is helpful for the students and is useful for the teacher. It helps teachers by "forcing" students to use time wisely. Maybe it looks like, "by the time you finish this rotation you should have worked through 2 sets of problems" or, "by the time this rotation is over, you should have your opening paragraph/graphic organizer/3 slides etc completed."
4. Expectations of accountability in digital instruction. "Yes this does count for a grade." Many digital instruction websites now show you exactly how much time a student has spent on their website. Here me say this: Accessing and analyzing the digital instruction pieces of a blended learning model is essential to a successful implementation. If your technology rotations are just so your students have something to do so you can do small group instruction you are often better off using the traditional model of whole group instruction. In other words, there is a large possibility that those 20 minutes are now wasted in furthering their learning and it's just a babysitter without clear expectations and accountability that those expectations are being met. This is on the teacher- reviewing your technology-based instruction on a regular basis is pertinent to success. Research shows that well down blended learning has positive results, in my estimation this is one of the major "breakdown pieces" between good and bad implementation.
5. Consistent rotation expectations. Students need structure and from the outside looking in, blended learning doesn't always look structured. As much as possible, create "organized chaos." While the dynamics of the rotations themselves might change, having a "theme" for each rotation helps students wrap their head around the next step. For instance, naming rotations broad names like: "Teacher Instruction", "Digital Instruction", "Inquiry", "PBL", "Peer-to-Peer", etc. This allows the students to have a general expectation before they sit down and change gears. Visibly posting those names at the rotation center helps as well. Having set expectations for each center is important. For example, at a Digital Instruction rotation, making sure the students know the rules of using technology in your classroom is important. Maybe it means that they know they are always to be positioned where you can see over their shoulders from your Teacher-led rotation? 

As I follow the reports from groups like the Christensen Institute and Getting Smart, I know that their are blended learning initiatives that are creating crazy positive results. As I see the preliminary data from our school, I am encouraged. I can't help but get excited when I see teachers constantly trying to make each portion of their blended learning classrooms better for their students. I can't help but get excited when I talk with teachers about how technology is streamlining their workflow in their classrooms. I get excited when I see teachers working solutions by asking parent volunteers to come work the room during math instruction time to keep students on task when using technology.  I can't help but get excited to see open-minded educators trying new things. Clear eyes, full hearts- can't lose.  

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