Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Fast Finishers and Purposeful Slowpokes of Blended Learning

I was very purposeful in my planning to make blended learning implementation as smooth as possible. See my post, Planning for Success, for details. I used some of our strengths to our advantage while proactively addressing predicted areas of concern. My planning definitely helped us transition to blended learning successfully, but we have had a few bumps in the road lately. Here are a few issues I’ve run into, some solutions I’m considering, and a major success we have experienced.

Fast Finishers 

There are two types of fast finishers in my class. Both finish their work quickly and eagerly await for me to release the next lesson to them. For this reason, I purposefully wait to release the next lesson to students until I am sure they have completed their work to the best of their ability and have received extended learning time with me on the same topic.

I’m finding that some of my fast finishers have neglected to truly think deeply about the online content. In fact, they often completely miss the requirements and directions for online discussions and fail to answer extended response questions adequately, even when models are provided. When I meet with these students and review the directions I get the typical, “Ohhhhh, ok,” and off they go. These students seem to need constant monitoring in order to produce thoughtful, quality work.

If we are being honest, I just can’t keep up with their need to be redirected continually. I’ve thought of three possible solutions to this problem. First, I can pair these students with partner who is working successfully online to provide extra support and explanations of directions. Another possibility is providing an incentive for completing activities according to the directions. Finally, I can provide audio clips explaining directions for the extended response and discussion boards. If you have other suggestions, please comment below!  

The fast finishers who have truly mastered the content are another matter. I recently read a blog post by the Gifted Guru about early finishers that I absolutely agree with. My goal is to create meaningful learning for every student in my class. If the same students are consistently finishing early and mastering content quickly, then I should be planning for them differently rather than simply providing busy work activities. In the context of blended learning, I believe the solution to this problem lies in personalizing lesson content. This allows each individual student to own their learning and interact with content in challenging ways. I’ve explained that idea in my post titled Personalization and Universal Design for Learning. I plan to explore this more this summer and create online content following these principles.     

Purposeful Slowpokes

I’ve noticed a slowly growing number of students who are taking a surprising amount of time to complete their online learning. These students do not typically need extra time in class to complete other assignments, so I monitored their work very closely for a few days without them knowing in order to see what was going on. They were avoiding parts of the lesson that required answering questions or completing discussions by replaying online videos and learning games to excess. The surprising part is that these students are not normally task avoiders. In fact, they are high readers who usually excel in their work.

I’ve encouraged my students to review completed parts of lessons as needed, but these three students were pretty much camped out on videos, songs, and games. My best solution so far is to create a checklist for these students and require them to update me of their progress at the end of our stations each day. I’ll be starting this on Monday for my three purposeful slowpokes.

Winning with Student Tech Support 

The biggest issue I anticipated before implementing blended learning was the fact that students would not have direct teacher support while learning online because I teach guided reading groups at that time. To address this issue, I assigned 3 students the role of “tech support.” These students displayed the ability to problem solve and use good judgement when working online. Our class technology troubleshooting steps are posted every day during blended learning:
  1. Think, “Do I really need help with this?”
  2. Try to solve the problem on your own
  3. Check with a Tech Support student
  4. If you are still stuck, raise your hand for help

At first I had to interrupt my group to help a few students with tricky issues a few times per day. Now more students are fixing their own problems, and tech support students are being used less and less. Allowing three students to provide tech support has completely freed me up to teach- that’s winning!

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