Of course, the best thing about education, whether we are talking about blended learning or the opposite of it (chunky learning, perhaps?), is that every day is predictable. Each student, the same. There are no deviations, distractions, detractions, or diversions. It’s just divine.
Or not. 😉
These days the classroom is a torrent of needs, wants, and feelings as we come back from COVID and do our best to overcome students’ gaps in academic, Executive Functioning, and social-emotional skills. And for many students, this gap is wide and only growing wider. What, then, can be done? How might we change education to meet the changing needs of students?
Maybe blended learning in the classroom is the answer you’re looking for.
Blended Learning Definition
In general, blended learning involves–wait for it–blending the electronic and physical classroom spaces.
Blended learning is combining together (strategically) face-to-face and electronic or online instruction.
What does learning being “blended” look like then?
- Well, consider that a student might, to prepare for a face-to-face activity in the classroom, watch a video on colons (either the punctuation mark or the body part, depending on your discipline).
- Then the student might complete a formative quiz over the learning.
- The teacher, armed with this formative data, then delivers face-to-face instruction in the classroom. This instruction could then feed into more electronic learning or classroom learning, depending on how students respond to instruction.
With this blended learning example, it’s important to note, though, that in a blended learning approach for blended learning in the classroom a student should have some degree of control and choice, so we (as educators) are helping students to put their hands on the wheel to steer the classroom and their learning.
Now, you might be jumping in your brain to the four blended learning models or thinking that you can’t blend because your class doesn’t have “blended learning” in its title.
And if that’s what you’re thinking, let’s shift that belief and consider how we can create a blended learning environment in the regular classroom setting so all students can experience blended learning benefits.
The National Education Association (NEA) notes that, in a blended learning environment, a “student has some control over place, path, and pace of learning.” (Those of you familiar with the Danielson Rubric should be getting goosebumps here – Student control! Student voice! Student choice!)
That doesn’t mean, though, that all 25ish students in your class are all at different places at different times as, the NEA notes, “Learning usually occurs through an integrated curriculum.”
We can think of it this way: We’ve created the skeleton of learning with some connective tissues bridging the electronic and physical classroom spaces.
Students, then, put meat on the bones. They watch videos, engage in discussions, complete activities, collaborate with peers and teachers, etc., gradually filling in the gaps.
If students are controlling some of the pacing, then what are we the educators doing? We are making sure they are making progress–measuring and monitoring their achievement of learning goals.
We are giving students feedback– sharing feedback on assignments and assessments that students feed forward for improvement.
And we are intervening and enriching students’ learning and experiences–helping those who are behind and those who are ahead meet or exceed their goals.
That all might sound like a lot–and it is–but it’s also doing better in a blended learning classroom what we always wanted to do in a traditional classroom: differentiate.
We’ve always wanted to have responsive instruction for our students, and with blended learning, we have a permission structure to tailor our instruction to individuals and groups at different paces rather than moving all kids ahead all the time, regardless of whether they are ready or not.
This doesn’t mean, though, that technology does all the work or that students just watch videos online in a blended learning classroom.
Sit-and-get from a screen is not a hallmark of blended learning best practices.
No, the blended learning benefits come from the blended learning flex model that gives teachers more time to engage in highly effective learning practices: giving feedback, intervening with students, conducting classroom discussions, and teaching to small groups for small-group learning.
THAT’S the better blended learning approach that will show the blended learning benefits.
Blended Learning Strategies
So for blended learning in the classroom, we need to have flexible time, offer students choice and opportunities, promote collaboration, and blend together online technological and in-class pedagogical decisions.
For this, we need some tools for blended learning to foster a blended learning approach using blended learning strategies.
Here are some blended learning ideas you can use right now in the classroom:
- Construct playlists for students to follow. If you listen to podcasts, you are familiar with playlists–an ordered list of things you listen to when you can. We can do the same for students–create an ordered list of learning tasks (texts to read, videos to watch, assessments to take) that they approach in a flexible manner, which frees up time for us educators to meet with students during the process.
- Make a choice board. Instead of a playlist that includes first-next-last tasks, design a choice board that can guide students through the blended learning environment. For example, to learn how to cite evidence from a text, they could choose to watch several videos and synthesize together their content, read several articles and do the same, or they could meet with the teacher for a one-on-one lecture.
- (Speaking of lectures), lecture less. If it’s information you want to deliver in class, consider how students could access it outside of class. Perhaps you record a Screencast that students watch at home before class so students can use the information rather than hear the information in class. Perhaps you assign an Edpuzzle that illustrates a concept and asks students to answer (or ask) questions in preparation for class. In other words, let’s take advantage of this blended learning flex model, and flex our creativity in the classroom rather than lecture in the blended learning classroom.
- Use online tools available to you and your students to promote learning and collaboration. Make a Kahoot! for students to participate/compete in before coming to class. Use Schoology or Google Classroom to have an asynchronous discussion among students. Think of it this way: Is there anything in the offline classroom that takes up synchronous time that could be moved online to take up asynchronous time, freeing students and teachers to learn differently–even better–while at school in the classroom?
- Set up stations or small groups. For example, Station A is working on developing thesis statements, Station B is working on selecting relevant evidence to prove a claim, Station C is working on integrating evidence into an essay, etc. Different groups, then, can be working at different times for different purposes. The teacher, then, can float among the stations or call students up one at a time to review their progress and provide feedback.
- Have students do the work. Oftentimes we are scrambling to find the right video to share or the perfect article to distribute–so let’s put this work on our students’ shoulders. As part of their learning, let them research and find the best material out there, which can then be used in the classroom and shared with other students.
- Enlist other experts to help you and your students. You don’t have to blend alone. Perhaps, for example, you enlist your library director to run a station in the classroom on source evaluation. Perhaps the reading specialist in your school helps you intervene with a group of students. Maybe your PLC divides up skills, and each person makes a video to share with all students.
- Have students help create the calendar. At the start of a unit, ask students to contribute to the unit’s pacing guide. What do they need to learn? How long do they think they need to learn it? With this reflection and with students, we can set turn-in windows or flexible, realistic, fair deadlines to help students pace themselves through learning.
- Embrace the firm, but flexible mindset. In a blended learning classroom, with students moving at different paces, we need to accept that students will not master skills at the same pace and at the same time, so we need to be flexible with some things. However, that doesn’t mean we aren’t firm in other things. For example, if you have flipped the classroom and students absolutely need to watch a video in preparation for the day’s discussion or collaboration, students need to understand that’s a firm deadline and there are consequences for not meeting it.
- Remember what we learned from the pandemic. Likely, during the first years of COVID-19, you engaged in many discussions about shifting learning from what we knew to things that were new. Likely you discussed blended vs hybrid learning, asynchronous vs synchronous learning, Zoom vs Google Meets, for example. For many of us, then, that was our first taste of blended learning in the classroom as we might have had some students in the physical classroom and other students on their computers at home or a block schedule where some students attended one day and other students attended another day. Through this, then, we probably used technology in different ways, planned lessons in different ways, and approached learning in different ways. What worked during this time? What most certainly did not? Let’s use those lessons to help us plan post-pandemic.
With the tips for blended learning and blended learning strategies above, I hope that you and your students benefit from blended learning.
Sometimes the walls of the classroom, the dark lines of a curriculum map, and the ticking clock of the school day can feel restrictive–but with blended learning in the classroom, we can free ourselves of some of these constraints and focus on what matters most–students and their learning.
Hey, if you loved this post, you’ll want to download a FREE copy of my guide to streamlined grading.
I know how hard it is to do all the things as an English teacher, so I’m excited to share some of my best strategies for reducing the grading overwhelm.