Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Secret of Blended Learning

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know there are many benefits to using a blended learning model with your students. It increases student engagements, allows students to work at their own pace, and encourages students to take a more active role in their learning experience. See my post The Student Experience: Blended Learning to hear what students had to say about the online learning portion of our blended learning model used at Tech Camp.

Lately I’ve been working to implement blended learning with my whole class. After taking some time to reflect on our progress this week, I’ve realized some pretty amazing benefits of blended learning that I hadn’t considered yet.

Using Blended Learning to Problem Solve

In their book Blended, Michael Horn and Heather Staker explain that blended learning should be used to address a specific problem so that it has a direct purpose, direction, and clear goals. I’ve chosen to use blended learning to address a particular recurring problem during my guided reading groups.

I don’t know about you, but over the years I have tried multiple strategies to increase student learning during independent reading time. I’ve tried centers, response journals, partner work, book clubs, reward systems...does this sound familiar? I’ve even switched back and forth between these ideas in order to keep students engaged and learning.

These strategies helped most of my students stay engaged during their independent learning, but I need a solution for my students who have to work independently for our entire guided reading block on some days. It’s just not ideal. Believe me, If I could, I would have every student working with a teacher everyday to improve reading skills, but it’s just not possible. Or is it?

My Discovery

Here’s the secret that I discovered while implementing blended learning with my students during reading groups: I’ve basically cloned myself and created my own digital co-teacher. Seriously, alert the media. It’s a big deal.

Rather than having my students read and respond independently as part of our guided reading group time, they are now engaged with my digital co-teacher, participating in meaningful learning that I created for them. Better yet, communication with my digital co-teacher is a snap because I can easily see exactly what each student is working on, who is struggling with certain skills, and who needs enrichment.  

I want all of my students to learn at a high level. Like many of my colleagues, I continually struggled to find time to teach highly rigorous lessons because my students needed more support mastering the skills on a more basic level. It was frustrating. Now, I can use blended learning to solve this problem. My digital co-teacher can teach these reading skills while I go deeper and help students apply those skills in more challenging ways during our face-to-face time.

My face-to-face time with students has become so much more productive and engaging for them. Believe it or not, they want to learn and practice skills in rigorous ways, especially when I’m right there to help them. Before, my face-to-face time with students was admittedly a bit predictable. That’s a nice way of saying it was a little boring. We would read and practice skills, but it was pretty basic. Now my students are excited to come to my reading table and see what challenge I have for them.

Blended Learning as a Pre-Teaching Tool

This is my friend Rachel Lamb. She’s a special education teacher at my school. I have the amazing opportunity to co-teach with her throughout the day. Lately she has tried out blended learning with one of her reading groups. She decided to create online content to pre-teach her students for an upcoming fourth grade unit. Immediately following their online learning, Rachel meets with her students to support and reinforce the topics they just learned. Her goal is to prepare her students so that they will be more successful during whole group instruction.

Here is what she has to say about her experience with blended learning so far, “I believe that we are reteaching so many skills throughout the year that my students always feel behind. With pre-teaching through blended learning, my students will be able to participate in the whole group instruction more, and they will better understand grade-level content. I haven’t seen the direct impact blended learning has made on the grade level standards yet, but I have seen an impact in my time with my reading group. My students are more confident with answering questions, and less direct teaching and modeling has to occur.”
Are you looking for a way to improve your guided reading groups? I highly recommend giving blended learning a try. Rachel and I have found it to be effective in two different, but equally important ways. Whether you are wanting to find time to implement more rigorous instruction, or you are looking to better prepare your students for whole group instruction, blended learning could be a solution for you.

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