Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Keys for Success with Blended Learning (Part 3 of 6)

When I first started in my role as a Technology Integration Specialist four years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the Flipped Classroom and shortly after, Blended Learning. What I heard and read about each of these ideas piqued my interest and I had to know more. Subsequently, as more teachers and administrators within our district heard about the possibilities with Blended Learning, we began exploring what this model might look like in our classrooms. This six-part series will discuss what we have found Blended Learning to be and lays the foundation for Blended Learning that we use to train our teachers. 

In my last article, we explored What Blended Learning is Not. In this article, we will look into the Keys for Success with Blended Learning.

[Photo credit: Got Credit]
Let’s be real. The shift to Blended Learning in your classroom is going to require an investment of time and resources in order to be successful. Any shift in instructional style or model of teaching would. Most blended teachers will tell you the process is ongoing as you learn and adjust; however, 2-4 years is the average time one can expect to move fully into the blended realm. Even though that time frame may seem daunting, just keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish, completely re-envision how learning takes place in your classroom. That’s no easy task; however, it will be highly rewarding. I have personally witnessed teachers’ passions for teaching re-ignite and burn more brightly than before, even after only a matter of months.

So, as you embark on this adventure I recommend holding dearly to these two words, start small. That is the first key to success. Focus on that one place where you feel confident in the content, the course, the students, and your ability to change gears on the fly. I always recommend beginning with the material you know best and with the group of students that you believe can handle the bumps and bruises of your learning. Choose your favorite lesson. Choose one lesson each month in one class. I mean it, start small. As you grow comfortable with the changes you are making and your students begin to adapt, then go ahead and add more. Tweak, stretch, explore, retool, dream, and expand, but start small.

The next three keys for success…
  • expectations
  • engagement
  • management

As you look at that list, what do you notice? Take a minute. Look again. Yep, that’s it. Those three words are the exact same skills possessed by any good teacher. You already have the skills you need in order to be successful. The skills are yours. Take one more look at those words and know that you will be successful. Now, let’s talk a little about each.

We know that our expectations of students influence how they perform in the classroom. Setting high expectations in the blended classroom will do just as much to further learning as in a traditional classroom. These expectations are going to be different from classroom to classroom, and will now need to involve the use of technology; such as, how to handle the device, how to respond to distractions, what to do with the device when it’s not in use, etc. The key is to set your expectations and allow them to grow as you and your students do.

In my last article, I mentioned that student engagement with technology does not equate to learning. The word engage has multiple meanings. In order to engage our students properly, I recommend focusing on this definition, to occupy the attention or efforts of. Now, design your students’ time with the devices in a way that encourages engagement with the content and learning as opposed to the device itself. The reason I chose this particular definition is that it includes both the words attention and efforts. I believe it is important that we grab students’ attention, but that we help them take action through their efforts. Learning is about doing. A television is effective in occupying our attention, but not as effective in causing any type of action. We must do our best to avoid technology and websites that merely entertain.

Management. How do we tackle management? Managing devices in the classroom is interesting. Let us consider a question. If a student is passing a note in class, should the teacher remove from that student all access to paper and pencil? No, of course not. How would that student write, process information, and learn? Pencil and paper are tools for learning. We should focus on the action of the student, not the tool itself. Do you see where I am headed here? If a student is using a device to message other students in a way that does not foster learning, we do not remove the learning tool, instead, we must focus on building the student’s understanding of how to use the tool for learning, and then monitor that use. The basic skills needed to manage blended learning in the classroom are not much different from the skills possessed by teachers in the traditional classroom. The management just feels different. We need to identify the root cause of the behavior instead of focusing on the technology.

The last key that I have for you today is preparation. Preparing your students, adjusting your instructional time, and understanding how your classroom management may change, are not tasks that you tackle overnight. You are not going to jump into class tomorrow ready to blend. (Okay, well maybe some of you are going to try… but you shouldn’t.) I believe we need to take a little more time to plan in those areas. That is why my next article will deal with those issues more directly.

Until then…



Top 10 Reasons that Blended Learning is Worth the Hype!

Teachers' Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform

How to Determine if Student Engagement is Leading to Learning

Definition: Engage

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