Saturday, April 1, 2017

Planning for Success

Tech Camp was really great! I am so pleased with how the students responded to blended learning (see my posts So Much More Than Screen Time and The Student Experience for specifics). My next step is implementing blended learning for the last 9 weeks of school with my whole class. Like Tech camp, I will use the station rotation model of blended learning during our guided reading groups.

A large part of our success implementing blended learning during Tech Camp is that we had one teacher for each of our stations. That means that there was always a teacher available to assist students with their online learning. When students didn’t have the hang of navigating our online lessons or they had trouble with internet connectivity, there was a very knowledgeable teacher available to troubleshoot and teach students how to solve their problem independently in the future. At the same time, I was able to teach face-to-face guided reading groups with little or no interruption.

Unfortunately, I won’t have the same support during our guided reading groups for the last 9 weeks of school. I’ve given considerable thought to how I am going to support my whole class as we begin blended learning.

Taking Stock

Up to this point, my class has had limited practice using our learning management system (LMS) because I have been delivering most of our content through Google Classroom. I’ve created our blended learning content in our LMS because it has better features for what I am wanting to do. So one challenge I will face is my students' lack of experience with our LMS. Another challenge will be that I won’t be able to constantly see what my students are working on because, ideally, I’ll be teaching a small group.

At the same time, I have quite a few factors in my favor. Since this is the spring semester, my students have a clear understanding of my expectations for Chromebook use. Moreover, they are proficient in using Google docs. They are also extremely motivated to use their Chromebooks for learning tasks. Most importantly, 8 of my students attended Tech Camp, meaning I have 8 students capable of helping others to be successful.
Photo credit: Michele Eaton

Model, Reinforce, Repeat

In order to set up my students for success, I plan to provide direct support during our reading groups for the full first week of blended learning. This means that I won’t actually be teaching a small group. Instead, I’ll be modeling how to navigate our online lessons and teaching students the difference between online learning and online playing.

I also plan to give daily feedback for online work submissions in order to reinforce quality work. I also plan to project exemplary work submitted by students to motivate students to do their best. Toward the end of the week, I hope to be able to release my students to be independent while I conference with individuals or small groups of students and ask for their feedback for our online learning material. I’ll use this feedback for future content development.  

Help Wanted: Tech Support

During the second week, I plan to start teaching my guided reading groups again. I really want to protect my teaching time with my groups, but I know that independent students will eventually run into technical issues and need support during this time. This is why it is ideal to have another adult, such as a paraprofessional, available when implementing blended learning. Since all of our paraprofessionals are teaching small groups during this time, I will just have to problem solve in other ways.  
Photo credit: Michele Eaton

I have two ideas that I’m considering for this issue. First, if I have two or three students who have really found success in online problem solving, I may give them the class job of being tech support. Students with online issues would be required to check in with one tech support student before requesting my help.

There is also a chat feature within our LMS. I’m considering using that as my second line of defense. If the help desk student is unable to solve a problem, students can message me and I can attempt to help them while still teaching my group. If I get multiple messages with the same issue, I know that further intervention is needed.

The Problem of Off Task Behavior

Sooner or later, I know that I will run into the problem of finding a student who is using their Chromebook to play a game rather than complete their online learning lessons. It happened once during Tech Camp, and we were only together for a week, so I know to expect it with my whole class. During Tech Camp, we simply moved that student so we could always see his screen and our problem was solved.

If this issue arises, my first step will be having that student use one of two Chromebox stations I have set up. The larger screens face my reading table, so it will be easy for me to see what they are working on. When that student is ready to use their Chromebook again, I will partner them with a reliable student who can notify me of any problems. I’ve also thought about creating an online lesson specifically for reinforcing my Chromebook expectations. I could require students to complete the lesson before they were allowed to work independently again.

One consequence I won’t be using is completely taking away a student’s Chromebook or online access. It just doesn’t make much sense to me, especially when that is how a student will access our lesson content. Instead, I plan to take steps to reinforce positive digital citizenship and responsibility, because my students will need these skills for the rest of their lives.

Plan B

Sometimes Plan A falls apart. Five students forget to charge their Chromebooks the night before. The Internet won’t work. State testing affects our guided reading time. My baby is sick and I can’t be there to support my students. These things are going to happen, no doubt. There will always be challenges.

The best solution is to plan ahead, have realistic expectations, and be as flexible as possible. I’ll just have my students plug in and sit in a different spot when their Chromebooks aren’t charged. We will have to go back to our read and respond system from before if we can’t get connected to the internet. We will adjust our reading group time as much as possible during our testing window. When my kiddo is sick, I’ll just have my substitute choose what they are most comfortable with, either monitoring online learning or teaching small groups. I will cultivate a classroom culture of flexibility and problem solving. Any day that we can make it work will be a success, and I’ll celebrate those days.


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