When a teacher lightened up on the lectures and adopted a blended learning model in his classroom, students demonstrated deeper interest in both subject matter and each other. It's all in the balance, he says.
The Holy Grail: Full Student Buy-In
As a K-12 teacher, I learned early on that the greatest lesson plans in the world will fall flat as a punctured tire if students do not engage with the material. While adopting a blended classroom model may seem like a tactical no-brainer—it is the rare young person who doesn't want more screen time—more tech does not automatically translate to higher engagement. My students upped their participation and continue to exceed their learning objectives through a balance of individual online study, small-group projects, and dynamic face-to-face classroom time.
The big buzz word here is relevancy. To pull my students in, our lessons needed to matter to them, to be authentic. For example, for an Earth science module, one of our online options was a game that focused on the solar system. We used information culled from student experience playing the game to create in-class poster projects about orbits and atmospheres. We spent time, outdoors, as well, observing the phases of the moon. We were even able to identify Venus and one or two satellites.
The Differentiated Experience
When educators say ''differentiated learning,'' they are most often referring to the flexibility the blended model offers to tailor online content for individual students. I would broaden the scope of that definition to include physical and material choices that positively affect learning. Open space, combined with areas for group work and individual study, provide plenty of options to keep the energy flowing. When we go outside, participate in an activity in another class, or use the library or computer room, we hit the refresh key, and are ready to focus.
We operate largely on an in-class rotation system of online and face-to-face learning. This works to engage a classroom full of learners in several ways. Our blended model offers the following benefits:
- Opportunity to move
- One-on-one time with instructor
- Small group interaction
A variety of activities, some of which incorporate online participation, keeps it interesting in our room. The technology also enables me to customize learning content for the students, as well as stay timely with assessments of their progress.
Blended learning coach Marcia Kish champions the use of technology to gather the data that makes a real difference with student buy-in. Through online assessment tools, I can identify where a student is strong, and where more support is needed. And I can do this often, so no student is stranded with material that dampens their interest.
Upsides of Blending on a Budget
A common concern about moving into a blended classroom model is the expense. Few schools I know of have all the money and resources to do everything they'd like to do. At the same time, throwing money at a project that fails to be specific about its objectives and benefits wastes everyone's energies. Creativity and patience go a long way here. When I first began incorporating more technology in my classroom, I looked for innovative and successful models among my peers. Educator Kristin Weller, of P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, is a great example. She increased student engagement in her classroom with the use of a single iPad.
In Weller's classroom, one pair of students at a time uses the iPad to create instructional podcasts for one another. The pair takes turns explaining how to solve a problem. Weller says, ''My students are more motivated to show what they know, and they learn to provide assistance through difficult steps as their partners are working through their problems.''
While I am fortunate to have more than one piece of technology in my classroom, scarcity has an upside, just like in Weller's class. The students working offline while others have the equipment are eager to get their chance and dive right in when it's their turn.
The Joy of the Blend
As a teacher, my goal is to have all students in my classroom participate fully in their own education. The blended model has proven to be a super highway toward this aim. It's not just about being able to deliver the learning content that suits each individual student—although that is certainly a plus. And it's not about having the latest digital everything. Do I have every piece of tech I could ever hope for? Nope, nor do I believe I need it to keep my students focused on their path. As in Kristin Weller's class, the deep engagement comes with interaction, with technology that works to bring different learners together into one enthusiastic, mutually supportive community.