I won’t lie. Transitioning to a blended-learning model is tough. It has taken me years of reading and trying new techniques until finding a system that worked for me. That’s the key. A system that worked for me. Wherever you are on your blended-learning journey, hopefully, I can offer some insight and inspiration as you build a system that works for you.
My journey started after my first year or two teaching students the same lesson at the same time using the same practice activities and the same assessments. It was awful! So I began to use technology to incorporate some student choice. First, it was a choice of practice activity. Do you want to practice on Quizlet or practice with a partner? Do you want to write your response on a Google Doc or record it using FlipGrid? It worked well but wasn’t quite enough.
From there, I offered choices for all parts of the lesson. Do you want to learn about commas from a video, a visual handout, the textbook, or a small group with the teacher? Do you want to practice commas with a hands-on puzzle, practice worksheet, or online Jeopardy game? Do you want to prove you can use commas by taking a quiz, completing a writing piece, or creating something else that shows you know the comma rules? I had never seen students so engaged, but be warned! The time it took to plan and assess was too much! I was so overwhelmed, I had to scale it back a bit.
After a few more iterations and ever-changing district initiatives including the workshop model, standards-based grading, and some problem-based learning STEM projects, I finally feel closer to a successful system. Here is what it looks like on a daily basis in my sixth-grade ELA classroom.
Sample 60-Minute Class Period
Students plan their learning for the day. (5 minutes)
Students come in, log on to their Chromebooks and take out their learning plans (essentially a playlist/hyperdoc). These plans include daily activities that span the course of a unit (typically one to three weeks).
As class begins, I make a few short announcements and reminders about which activities students should be working on today (watching a video lesson and taking notes, playing a practice game, attempting a formative assessment with immediate feedback, etc).
Students work independently. (50 minutes)
Students choose which activity from their sheet they’d like to start on. Working at their own pace, they take out the required supplies and begin working on their own. As students begin to finish activities, they are clicking the “Turn In” button in Google Classroom and crossing it off their learning plan.
On the right-hand side of the learning plan, they read the learning target and score themselves on how they think they did. I use a star for “Yes, I met all parts of the learning target”, a checkmark for “Almost, I somewhat met the learning target” and a delta for “No, I haven’t met the target… yet”.
Towards the end of class, students who are finishing faster than others might become ‘Student Mentors” if that was a change made to their learning plan (extension). These students offer assistance to students with questions or are paired up with lower learners.
Teacher meets with small groups (~5 minutes each)
- Missing Assignments – In Google Classroom, I look to see if there are any students who have not “Turned In” the activity from yesterday. I have a short conversation with these students to figure out why the assignment is missing. Was the student absent? Was the student not understanding the directions? Did the student just forget to click “Turn In”? Students who often fall behind or slip through the cracks because they do not complete homework are now forced to complete the activity with me.
- Struggling Starters – The next small group of students I call over includes students who might need help starting and initiating tasks. These might include students with IEPs or students who need extra clarification of the directions.
- First Group- Now, I go back to the list of students who have turned in the activity. Let’s say I call over my high-flyers Billy, Bobby, Bailey, and Brenda. We discuss the learning target, compare their completed work to specific criteria (which they most likely will meet) and then provide this group will an extension or challenge as they start on the next activity.
- Second Group – As I head to my computer, I check in with a few students along the way, and put in a small grade for the assignments I just scored. Since most standards are not graded for accuracy until the summative assessment, I just enter full points for a classwork “completion” or “effort” grade. Once I click “Return”, I know I’ve already met with those students and am ready to meet with a new group. I glance at Google Classroom’s “Turned In” list (which refreshes in real time) to see which students I want to call over next. I decide to call over a few of my lower learners Joey, Jillian, Julia, and Jordan. As we discuss the learning target and compare their work to the criteria (which they most likely will not meet) I can reteach and assist each of them so that their work now meets the target.
- Third Group – Next, I call up Carla, Chris, and CJ. We discuss the learning target, compare their work to the criteria, and figure out each student’s next steps. Although knowing that these kiddos all love basketball, I’ve decided to tweak their next activity. I offer them an example that relates the learning to something they love.
- Fourth, Fifth, etc. – Knowing my students, I call over another group, this time with similar learning styles. I call over my artists, my musicians, my kinesthetic learners. I send them off with a slightly different task. It’s all about relationships and knowing your students.
What I Love about Blended Learning:
The teacher meets with every student every day. Usually, I am able to meet with every student every class. If I ever run over on time, I begin the next day with those students. As I mentioned earlier, being able to work in a small-group setting with my students on a daily basis is such a blessing. Relationships are key, and this method truly allows me to learn about my learners.
Students work at their own pace. Students work through the day’s activities in any order and at their own speed. Students who work quickly can move ahead and on to extension activities. Students who work slowly are not slipping through the cracks. I meet with them at the end or beginning of each new class.
Students have choices. Students are also able to make changes to their own learning plan. Towards the beginning of a unit, I meet one on one with students and we decide together on which supports or challenges they’d like to add to their plan. If they have an idea for an alternate activity, all they need to do is ask!
Final Words of Wisdom:
Plan independent activities carefully. Directions need to be clear and easy to follow. You don’t want to end up with a lot of student questions when trying to meet with small groups. One trick is to balance the difficulty level of the task with the difficulty level of the technology tool. For example, if students are reviewing an easier skill, have them use a new tech tool. Or, if there is a more challenging task they are trying to complete, have them use a tech tool they are already familiar with.
Build in breaks. I typically stop my class halfway through and do a whole-class brain break. Between my small group sessions, I also walk around to answer questions and check in with students.
Have daily goals. Students can still work at their own pace and move ahead if they’d like, but students should have a minimum requirement of what to accomplish during class. If it is not done in class, I assign it as homework. If students don’t do it for homework, they meet with me first thing the next day so that everyone can stay on track.
Tech tools that work well with this model:
- No Red Ink