Sunday, March 27, 2016

Preparing for Blended Learning, Student Preparation (Part 4.1 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 the Keys for Success. In this series of sub-articles, we will look into what it takes to Prepare for Blended Learning. Today, we will focus on Student Preparation.

Disclaimer: Yeah, so about that whole “Part X of 6” thing… Well, um, I could have stuck to that formula, but these articles need to be digestible and, well, as I was writing this piece I realized you would need a fork and knife. Therefore, I have divided my original article and you are now reading Part 4.1 of 6. Expect 4.2 and 4.3 in the following weeks. Thanks for hanging with me!

Photo Credit: LucĂ©lia Ribeiro
Any teacher that has been in the classroom for any length of time knows that a successful lesson requires an adequate level of preparation. We plan for warm up activities that help to focus students on the topic at hand. We plan challenging exercises for students who “get it” and less complex examples for students working to assimilate new information. We plan for questions that may arise. We plan (or should plan) for when technology takes a vacation and doesn’t want to be our friend that day. We try to think of everything that could go wrong, so that when it does, we are able to switch gears and minimize the interruption to our students’ focus on learning. We plan.

So, if we are going to work towards changing the very foundation of how we deliver content and foster learning in our classroom, should we prepare for it? You bet we should! Well, then, okay, what do we prepare for? Answering that question is the focus of our next three articles. I cannot possibly cover every detail that may need to be considered in your classroom in the space we have here. However, I certainly can provide you some foundational questions to ask yourself as you plan. I may even be able to provide you a few suggestions as well. Even as you take all that into consideration, remember this, your classroom is living, breathing, and unique. Use these suggestions as a gentle push towards the questions you may need to ask yourself as you consider your classroom needs.

So, how do we prepare our students? What do they really need to be prepared for? Chances are that your classroom may be the first experience your students have had with blended learning. As time passes, hopefully, that is not the case; however, until we know better what skills our students possess in this area we must assume they have come from a more traditional learning experience. Blended learning affords us the ability to individualize learning opportunities, to allow students to be more self-directed, and allow us to meet with individual students, or groups of learners, more frequently. Many of our students are not familiar with a learning environment designed to foster individual growth. Students who “do school” really well are going to begin struggling. Others have been waiting for this moment their whole career. Both types of student will ask the same question, “What do you mean I can work more independently and make choices about how much time I spend where?” The possibilities of a student’s growth from this point forward depends on the student’s perspective while answering that question. Is he a self-starter? Can he think for himself, or does he need someone to tell him what direction to move in and in what order to do so? Students who have never had a choice in life are going to struggle. You will need to build their capacity to make decisions. Khan Academy has some great information on Blended Learning, specifically on our current topic, How To Prepare Students To Thrive In A Blended-Learning Environment. The previously linked video is about six (6) minutes in length and if you feel so inclined, there are two more following it on Khan. From the first video, hopefully, you heard that most of the conversations revolve around building a student’s capacity to be self-directed. Again, many of our students will struggle here, so it’s important to be intentional about focusing on developing this skill.

Visit this Blended Learning Handbook from Aspire Public Schools, a charter management organization with 38 locations and 15,000 students. Starting on page 12, teachers are provided an overview of how to create a proper blended environment through student preparation. Much of its pages cover the same “building capacity” ideals as the video above.

Caitlin Tucker, a teacher/blogger/author from Sonoma County, California, speaks in this article, Build an Online Community to Complement Your in Class Community, about building an online community by establishing expectations, allowing time for practice, and correcting missteps online. By allowing time for students to practice using web tools in a non-threatening environment, we, again, are working to build the capacity of our students to function independently.

Here are a few “take aways” our pilot teachers garnered from these resources on Student Preparation.
  • Create a “What to do when you get stuck” checklist to help students troubleshoot 
  • Take the first 2-3 weeks at the start of the year to set up the expectations and procedures for this new way of learning 
  • Foster a Positive Online Community (as you would your classroom) 
  • Develop a set of “code words” for student routines 
  • “tuck ‘em in” means close your laptop screen 
  • “wake ‘em up” means open your screen and log in 
  • Develop or provide time management tools and techniques for students (ex: checklists, table of contents, time sheets) 
Please note: The younger the grade level, the less traditional training that may need to be overcome; however, though your preparation may look different, going through this process is still necessary.

See you next time as we discuss Instructional Time and how that aspect of your classroom might change.

Until then...



Related Articles

What is Blended Learning? (Part 1 of 6)
What Blended Learning is Not (Part 2 of 6)
The Keys for Success with Blended Learning (Part 3 of 6)


Khan Academy, Silicon Schools Fund and the Clayton Christensen Institute

How To Prepare Students To Thrive In A Blended-Learning Environment

Aspire Public Schools, Charter Management Organization

Aspire Public Schools, Blended Learning Handbook

Caitlin Tucker, Teacher/Blogger/Author

Build an Online Community to Complement Your in Class Community

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