Blended Learning: A Beginner’s Guide

Several years ago I was able to attend a technology conference where I first heard of blended learning, and that 45-minute seminar changed my entire view on how classrooms should look. The basic premise was hardly revolutionary. It sounded a lot like centers, but the new piece was the technology. Adding a time of practice on an adaptive site seemed so promising. I was ready to start that day.

blended learning

 

However, we all know there was no way I could start right then and there. I didn’t have computers yet, and adaptive programs didn’t come free. So I spent the next couple years begging for machines, meeting with administration to ask for permission to do it, and sharing my ideas with my friends on my team. Once we finally got the computers we needed, I tried to start, but I still was missing the adaptive piece.

Finally, we received a planning grant for blended learning, and things began to move quickly. It was a very exciting time for me, and I loved every minute of it. We visited schools in Washington DC and Virginia and got our ideas flowing, and we could finally begin a pilot program in our grade.

There are so many different ways to do blended learning. Your blended learning may not look like mine or any other teacher’s model. How it looks for you depends on your resources and your school culture. But here are some of the things that worked for me.

Each of these may sound overwhelming, but this is just an overview of my program. It’s relatively straightforward if you take it step by step and at a rate that’s comfortable for you.

Blended Learning Models

First of all, what is blended learning? Blended learning is the combination of the best of what technology has to offer with the best of what teachers have to offer. I am a big fan of balance in education. No magic bullet will solve every problem, so we need to take the best of what we do already and incorporate it into our lessons.

There are several different models of blended learning. They are usually in one of these more widely used methods, or a combination of forms.

  • Station Rotation.
  • Lab Rotation.
  • Individual Rotation
  • Flipped Classroom.

My model was different for different subjects. Reading was done as a station rotation, while in science and writing I included more of a flipped classroom model. Grammar was a combination of flipped lessons and individual rotation since each student was working independently with differentiated goals.

The Blended Learning Rotation Model

In my rotation model for reading, I usually had three groups going at a time. The kids were either working independently or collaboratively, meeting with me in a small, flexible group, or working with adaptive programs on the computer. Each of these was directly related to that week’s skills. My students loved rotation days. It got them up and moving around the room and kept them engaged with the activities I used to meet my goals for them. I had several kids who came into the room for class and immediately ask, “Is today a rotation day?”

Collaborative station

In a collaborative group, the children were involved in such activities as games, task cards, skill practice, or anything else focus skill related. Sometimes they worked on the computer together, but not very often. I wanted their time in this group to give them a chance to use their collaborative and communication skills to meet a common goal. The stations only lasted between 15 and 20 minutes, so they had to get right to work and work efficiently to finish in time.

Independent station

There are a large variety of activities students can complete in an independent station. I’ve had success with everything from task cards (paper pencil or completed online) to regular practice sheets and creating slide shows of vocabulary words. As time went on, I did create more activities for computer use in this station.

Computer station

The computer station changes this approach from just a small group rotation model to a blended learning model. Computer programs that adapt to the kids are becoming more and more available and affordable. We used MobyMax for an adaptive program, and we also used IXL for skills practice. MobyMax does have a free platform. It limits the potential, but in a pinch, it’s a good start.

Teacher station

The teacher station ran pretty much like any other classroom using guided reading or small skills groups. I preferred skills groups because I had the technology which made it simple to group the kids based on their performance on various skills. My groups changed often. Usually with every new unit, so I gave more support to the kids who were struggling with the topic. Since the groups were small, I was able to see every student at least in a small group every day we did rotations, usually every five out of seven days.

Managing Rotation Materials

It was sometimes difficult to keep track of materials because there was so much movement going on in my classroom. I also had problems with kids coming up to me while I was working with a small group to ask for directions I had already given. When I began using Google Classroom, it helped with both of these problems. The assignments that required a written response or only had auditory directions went on Classroom. So pretty much if a student came toward me with a questioning look on his face, I could say, “Did you check Classroom?” They had an “a-ha!” moment and went back to the feed for what they needed.

I also could use digital exit tickets or bell ringers. Google Classroom can post a question on the feed for the students to answer directly beneath it. I displayed Classroom on the SmartBoard and watched the number of students who had completed it until everyone finished. Then I put their answers directly on the board and scrolled through them looking for different ideas. I didn’t read them all and never pointed out any that were totally off base or far too short, but the kids knew the class was going to see their response, so I usually got the best effort from most of them.

Missing Work (aka the bane of every teacher’s existence)

My favorite idea for Classroom was when I added an extra page for graded work. When I went through my lists of missing work, I made sure every assignment with a digital or paper response was on the extra class page. I could finally stop making extra copies of assignments!!! They were responsible for printing them out if they could not find theirs.

Flipping Lessons

One other thing I did was try to flip lessons. In a flipped classroom, the kids are introduced to a concept by video and then use that information in class the next day. For example, instead of spending class time at the beginning of the year teaching what the scientific method is, I have them watch a video with a rap song that explains it. Then, they fill out a sheet with a few questions for accountability’s sake. The next day we and briefly discussing the video, and we are free to begin doing experiments the next day.

Another way of doing a flipped lesson is to go on a site like EdPuzzle to find relevant videos with questions embedded. As the kids watch, the video stops wherever you have added questions, which they have to answer without going on. Grading these is so easy because it will automatically grade multiple choice questions. When you go in to grade the written responses, the program automatically shows you all the student answers to one question at a time. Seeing them all together helps you keep the grading consistent.

Of course, you can always make videos with some screencasting programs too like Screencast-o-matic. You provide the narration to your video as you manipulate items on the screen. I’ve recorded myself explaining content from PowerPoints or Google Slides. Making videos in this way is a great thing to attempt because it is often difficult to find videos that are exactly what you need. This way, you are in total control.

Where are you?

I’ve written this post to give you an idea where I stand when it comes to computers in the classroom. I’ve given you a lot of ideas about how to incorporate blended learning. This post is not the end, but the beginning. I plan to give lots of information and ideas for how you can try some of these in your classroom, and I will do it in small, easy to manage portions.

You want to try blended learning in your classroom, but you aren’t sure how you can include technology without going crazy. Build your technology knowledge skills with how-to sheets for you and your students.  Join my mailing list and receive access to free, student-friendly how-to sheets for many different online apps and Google tools that you can use for blended learning.

 

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