In our last article, we explored what blended learning looks like in the elementary classroom setting. Because blended learning is used a lot more in the late elementary and secondary settings, there are some “kinks” to be worked out. Here are some suggestions on ways to do that.
All of these challenges are challenges that exist with or without blended learning, by the way. The thought of doing lessons in a different format tends to bring these issues to a head, and some teachers will use these as excuses to forget the whole idea of blended learning altogether.
What we need to understand, though, is that with the uncertainty of the upcoming school year(s) in dealing with the fallout from the pandemic, we need lessons and a format that can be mobile, done no matter what the child’s attendance status is, can be student-led to a degree more than we are accustomed to, and that still accomplishes the teaching we need to do.
This is one of the best ways to do that.
It also lends itself to dealing with the issues of keeping a safe social distance while also addressing the very serious need we will be facing with students on wildly varying levels of learning due to the inequity of the 2019-2020 spring semester.
Challenge One: What to do with early finishers?
There’s always one, isn’t there? In our previous post, we talked about using students as helpers in explaining their own thinking with others while you work with one student or another. That may be possible (although with social distancing, they may have to learn to use whiteboards and write large letters and numbers - we’re confident children will always figure out a way to communicate with each other, though), but it won’t take all their time.
You will have to have a system in place for early finishers just as you do in any other situation.
If you are using whole-class video lessons, activities, and “exit ticket” sort of assessments where all the students are working independently for at least some of the class time (this can be done using stations or centers, in a media lab, or even at home with flipped learning), make a series of special “challenge” videos with accompanying activities and exit tickets.
These optional lessons will only be done by a few of your students, so they can be advanced, fun, and deep. Riddles, solving mysteries, putting together verbal, mental, and spatial puzzles, and playing math games can all be involved in these special lessons.
Another incentive for doing things this way is that it will motivate your students who are on-level (and perhaps even below level) to work hard to also get to these “special fun lessons”. Talk it up big! Don’t be shy! Make those incentive lessons work for you.
Challenge Two: What to do with students who aren’t making progress?
As we explained before, this really is the beautiful part of blended learning. All your planning, prepping, AND presentation time is done beforehand. All you have to do with the students in the room is work with those who aren’t making progress on their own. Reteaching, breaking down concepts into more workable pieces, and reviewing until the student “gets it” is basically what you’re doing the entire class time.
You can now create and use systems like we’re using for remote learning to make data and tracking each individual student’s progress much faster and more efficient, so that you can tell exactly what every individual student is learning at a glance.
Can you imagine walking into an ARD for that student who isn’t progressing and being able to say, “I’ve spent 20 minutes every single day for the past 26 school days working with this student on subtraction and foundational concepts, and he or she is still struggling.” That student is going to get the help they need with that kind of detailed data.
This is a game-changer. You can’t afford not to do it.
Challenge Three: How do you assure this is a cognitive experience and not just a “check the boxes and be done” experience?
Things done with children who are a bit older, who can read, and have more access to executive functioning skills, can be a tough fit for our littlest learners. Metacognition (thinking about one’s own thinking) is often a stretch. So how can we assure that our students are learning and not just going through the motions?
The answer to this can be found in the products we receive - activities and “exit tickets”, or assessments.
There are only three steps to a blended learning lesson: view and participate in the lesson, show what you know with the activity, and assure your learning is complete with the assessment.
Creating activities and assessments that complete the cycle and show learning are key.
An example of this can be done with a pre-k blended lesson.
The teacher creates a video of putting letters in order (alphabetizing). She demonstrates doing this with some letter pieces. She chooses four letters: C, D, E, and F. She uses a “map” (alphabet chart printed out and on card stock, laminated or in a protective sleeve), finds the four letters, and places them in order in front of her. At the end of the lesson, she will say, “Okay! Can you do it? Choose these four letters: L, M, N, and O.”
The child chooses the letters. The child follows the teacher and they both put the letters in order. Now we have actually assured several things: 1) the child knows those four letters, 2) they likely understand what “put them in order” means and can do the exit ticket appropriately, and 3) they can use the letters and work mat to practice independently.
The teacher gives the instructions on how to do the center or station at the end of the video, and the child completes the activity. When he or she is done, they will have another page on card stock and either laminated or in a page protector. They’ll also have a whiteboard marker and something to wipe the page clean when done. The assessment portion (which the teacher showed instructions for), is to circle which of two choices pictured are showing putting the letters in order appropriately. Is it the one that has letters like this: “Z X W Y” or like this “W X Y Z”? The child can deliver the finished product for a quick check with the teacher, who gives permission to do the next center, read a book, or spend some time drawing.
It is possible to do lessons for our very young students this way. It may take a while to get used to, and we will fail and succeed at varying rates, but it is possible to make this learning both meaningful and efficient for all students.
It will definitely take some training. We will have to think through how we will teach our students to learn in this way. But young children are especially resilient, and that is something we can use to our advantage.
Next, let’s talk about what blended learning looks like in the remote classroom.