The benefits of using technology in the classroom are increasingly evident but maintaining a balance between your space and lesson plans is not always easy. This post goes over some tips for creating and sustaining a blended classroom.
Blend the Classroom Collaboratively
The first tip—the one to store right up there in the frontal lobe so it's handy—is that the successfully blended classroom is a collaborative effort. The ideal amalgam of face-to-face and face-to-screen learning is a living organism unto itself. Like the class lizard or hamster, the blended classroom needs both you and your students to help it thrive. As the lead instructor, you are the conductor, even to some extent the composer, while your students are the instruments. To bring the symphony to life, everyone must play.
It may seem like a contradiction to talk about the group dynamic in a classroom in which students may be studying on their own on a computer at least part of the time, but that's just the point. Rather than simply plugging a learner into the technology, the blended classroom aspires to integrate the technology into a rich and collaborative learning environment. This is a particularly important idea when you are in the beginning stages of blending. If your students are aware that all of you are embarking on this journey together, they'll be much more likely to go along with the inevitable bumps in the road, as well as feel empowered to offer suggestions for improvement.
Use All the Space
Forget the proscenium-style, I'm-the-lecturer-you're-the-audience approach to classroom set up. The blended classroom requires flexibility, and that includes how you arrange the furniture. Students need different areas for group work, independent study, and pairing up or one-on-one time with an instructor. That is a tall order for almost any classroom, so be sure to maximize your real estate. Use the corners. Think about flow—students will need to navigate between spaces easily.
Also, get creative with seating. Floor pillows are great and easy to redirect. Sarah Rich, who teaches second grade at the Paul Cuffee School in Rhode Island, likes inflatable exercise balls that students can roll from one work station to another. For greater flexibility, Rich recommends tables over desks, for instructors as well as students.
Remember, too, to access space outside the classroom, whether it's green space outside or the school library.
Critical tip! For your students—and you—to reap the many benefits of a blended classroom, it is essential to properly prepare the soil right at the beginning. What does this mean? Well, this one is all about the rules.
But what are the rules? These are the protocols and procedures you establish to encourage the kind of environment that makes the casual observer say, ''Remarkable! This classroom feels utterly organic, and yet so organized! Bravo!''
Okay, well, maybe not that exactly. But setting procedures, establishing tech etiquette, and reviewing, revising, and refreshing often is one of the keys to a high-functioning and sustainable blended classroom. Some instructors like to post a list of agreements in a prominent place, where students may refer to them often. Aspire Public Schools offers several models for posters and content. Guidelines can include:
- How to handle and store headphones
- How and when to use devices
- How to speak at an appropriate classroom voice level
- How to move around the room
- How and when to clean up, including task assignments
In the best-case scenario, students will understand the procedures and help one another follow them. A second document, and a partner to the first, can be your own class Digital Citizenship Manifesto. This one is based on the 'whys,' rather than the 'hows.' It can speak to a shared culture of enthusiasm, aspiration, and respect for one another's learning.
Build Your Team
As an addendum to 'blend the classroom collaboratively', please add, 'you are not alone.' Or, you shouldn't be. The blended classroom is a team effort, so build your team. Most valuable players (MVPs) include your fellow instructors, parents, and other interested parties such as community leaders and sponsors, if feasible.
As an assignment, Rich has students explain their blended learning classroom to their parents—the structure, as well as why it's so great. Parents gain an understanding of what's going on, while students experience greater buy-in by communicating details on the why and how of it all.
Your fellow instructors are invaluable resources. If you can't actually pair up and share classroom space, consider combining resources and rooms for group projects, presentations, and other activities. Spend some time away from the students to brainstorm, share stories, and create opportunities for one another.
Reap the Benefits
Variety is a key component to blended learning, but it doesn't have to be implemented all at once. Odds are, your blended classroom will be developed in stages. This is a good thing, because it gives you time to incorporate new technologies and systems at a human pace.
The blended model is on its way to establishing a great track record for enabling instructors to differentiate learning, better assess progress, and help students claim citizenship in the digital global community. With an eye toward good design, some shared standards, a flexible attitude, and a little help, your blended classroom will flourish.