Secondary teachers have been experimenting with blended learning for a while now.
“Flipped Classroom” has definitely been on buzzword lists for several years, but for most teachers, it is just another experimental, trendy practice that will hopefully go away soon like so many other fads that have come through their schools.
This excuse is probably just covering up a fear of new things and the possibility of changing what most consider tried-and-true pedagogy. But, at their core, most teachers realize that society (and teen-agers) have changed while most of our practices have not.
This pandemic has forced the change that was needed.
While the idea of blended learning may be an intimidating concept for many, it actually makes a lot of sense.
What Does It Look Like?
As we stated in previous articles, blended learning is not simply using technology in the classroom. It is utilizing the technology to enable teachers to do even more while also empowering students to manage and control aspects of their own learning: pace, location, time of day, etc.
Teenagers need and want some degree of autonomy and control. They aren’t ready for complete independence yet, though, so they need adults to provide structure, boundaries, guidance, and support.
Blended learning allows for greater individualization and differentiation, both of which tend to be very challenging for secondary teachers who often have anywhere from 100-180 students on their roles.
On a very literal level, a flipped classroom flips in-class learning/lectures/lessons with homework/application/projects.
The content is shared with the student in a digital format (most often a video) that the student will view outside of the school setting (most likely, but not limited to, at home). This allows students to rewind and rewatch as needed (without the sighs and moans from classmates that tend to discourage questions in most classrooms).
Classroom time is then devoted to answering questions students may have about the content, and guiding and assisting them through practice (rather than students sitting at home in the wee hours of the night crying, cussing, and tearing through papers while erasing for the umpteenth time because they just don’t understand the assignment).
Everyone knows that cheating has become even more rampant in this digital age. It’s hard enough to monitor and control in the classroom; using anything sent home as a reflection of students’ understanding is truly questionable and unreliable. Students will have less opportunity to cheat when doing their work in the classroom as well as having less of a need to cheat if the teacher is available to assist as needed.
The idea of blended learning allows the teacher to be present, available, and involved while the students are trying to apply what they have learned. Not only is the teacher there to clarify directions or answer questions about the assignment, they are also observing who is having the most trouble and providing one-on-one assistance and tutoring as needed.
This approach truly makes the classroom more student-focused and less teacher-focused since the teacher will no longer be spending most of the class period lecturing.
Another couple of buzzwords in education over the years have been “Collaborative Learning” and “Project-Based Learning”, but many teachers find it challenging to fit those things into an increasingly jam-packed scope and sequence. And every teacher has had groups that were unable to meet outside of class to work on a project.
This is another way that remote learning can benefit the secondary classroom by allowing for more time in class for this type of learning.
Of primary concern in many schools is the technological limitations faced by some students. Odds are this pandemic has exposed weaknesses in your school and community’s digital plan (devices, wifi, infrastructure, accountability, etc.). Hopefully, your district will spend the summer making the appropriate plans to support some level of remote learning in the fall.
If the district provides devices, but some students do not have reliable wifi, consider allowing a couple of minutes each class period to download the lesson directly to the device, or purchase some flash drives that can be checked out and download the lessons on them.
Be prepared that if students have not experienced blended learning before, the teacher will have the task of retraining the students what school looks like after 10 years or so of being taught in a more traditional way. This will take time, patience, and lots of explaining (to students and parents).
You may actually have to teach students how to watch an academic video deliberately and not passively.
Pre-pandemic, unless working at a more progressive school, most teachers who wanted to attempt blended learning faced the social challenge from their peers that came with being one of the only (if not the only) teachers at the school doing things “differently”. This could lead to complaints from parents, or if the program is particularly successful, the jealousy and ire of colleagues.
The advantage those teachers have now is that they are being sought after for their experience doing what everyone is having to do now.
If you’re trying this for the first time, reach out to colleagues and ask for help. If you don’t know anyone who has tried it, a quick search on social media will reveal a plethora of groups of teachers learning from each other, challenging each other, supporting each other, and even laughing with each other.