There are many more resources available for blended learning in the secondary classroom, and the idea of blended learning is, on the whole, a bit of a different challenge for elementary teachers because so much of it relies on technology.
Remote aspects of blended learning are even more complicated, but they are totally doable. We decided, though, that since for most elementary teachers, this may be their introduction to blended learning in any format, we’d talk about what it looked like, pre-pandemic, specifically in the classroom setting.
Once Upon a Time…
You remember life before the pandemic, don’t you? When life was all sunshine, roses, no bathroom breaks, only one cup of coffee, wearing real pants, and saying, “Stop licking that!” 100 times a day?
Tech-savvy teachers in that ancient time used to use blended learning in stations, in flipped classrooms, and in media lab times.
Here’s a brief run-down of what each of those looked like.
In these classrooms, at least one station was tech-based. Students learned lessons on classroom PCs, laptops, tablets, or other devices. This was more of an “enrichment” activity in the beginning usually, but then more districts started implementing tools like Study Island for older students, Education Galaxy, or Education.com.
Although some of us allowed our students to “play” on iPads as a reward, or to practice iPad skills, this really doesn’t qualify as a learning station (we’re saying that for a friend, not making a confession of any sort…).
We’ve seen this done with varying success in all grade levels.
Flipping a classroom was often reserved for higher elementary. The concept is largely project-based. Students would watch a video, read an article, or otherwise learn information from home, then do an activity or share what they learned at school.
So the bulk of the learning was done independently or with family and the application of the learning was done at school.
Although most early childhood classrooms avoid this sort of learning because for smaller children, families must be involved, and that is a realm outside of the control of the teacher, some early childhood teachers have been able to apply this idea successfully.
Media labs, either in the form of a stationary classroom setup where a set of PCs or laptops permanently reside, or a mobile or “cart” media lab, have been used in blended learning for some time now. While most schools allow all classroom teachers to use media labs, there are times when only students at a certain grade level are given priority.
Although media labs are a great thought and are provided with excellent meaning, early childhood instructors have always struggled with using them with any success. Few administrators have felt the stress involved with getting 24 wiggly first graders successfully logged in, then logged in again when they accidentally log themselves out, then logged in the remaining few who do it again just to irritate their teacher (or… accidentally… who can really tell?).
Often, just getting everyone logged in and on task takes the entire time allotted to classes for use of said media.
It feels like wasted time.
So it makes sense that many teachers and administrators relegated these activities as priorities for older students. Those patient (or stubborn) few who insist on making technology a priority for even the very young do see rewards eventually, but it is expensive in terms of time and energy spent.
How Blended Learning Is Expanded in the Classroom
The goals of blended learning are to give all students access to the material being covered or reviewed, and to offer it at their own pace and within their own level of challenge.
One way teachers do this is to either select or record instructional videos focused on one element that is being learned. You would likely want to cover lessons for one unit at a time, and students would all start the unit at the same time, then progress at their own rate.
So, for example if you were a self-contained first-grade general education teacher and your students were working on subtraction toward the beginning of the year, there are almost always a few students who are barely able to grasp addition, and for whom subtraction is just not happening yet.
For these students, you could have them viewing a video of you teaching a lesson you’ve already taught, or a video from somewhere else that covers the same information.
Then after they’ve viewed the video and feel they understand, they can work on an activity - a part-part-whole chart model with a worksheet to record their answers, or perhaps they could play a game that involves addition or subtraction in relation to addition.
During this time, it would be most valuable if all the students were actively engaged in learning, either also doing lessons using technology, models, or worksheets, but it would work in a mixed subject, mixed “center” or station format, as well.
While the students are working at their own level, you can monitor and pull students to your table to answer questions, dig deeper into the concept, or do intervention with those who are still struggling. All of your time, then, is spent in one-on-one or small group instruction. Students who are on-level or above can also be called upon to help explain to their peers what they’ve learned.
The great part about recording your own lessons is that if you are having all the students work on your lessons each day, you are still technically teaching them “whole group” - all of the students are given access to all the same materials. The difference is that they are getting it at a pace appropriate for them. Thus, the learning is both whole-group AND student-centered.
TroubleshootingThere are a few challenges with this model, but they are all workable:
1. What to do with early finishers?
2. What to do with students who aren’t making progress?
3. How do you assure this is a cognitive experience and not just a “check the boxes and be done” experience?
We’ll tackle those questions in our next article.