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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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4 Tips for Getting to Know the Blended Instructional Model

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The days of talking at students are finally over. I recall many a college class filled to the brim with students feverishly taking down notes, as our professor talked at us.

Sounds familiar? Probably.

Recently, I finished my Masters degree in what was a new environment for me: blended classes. The experience allowed me to further communicate with my colleagues and classmates in a manner that I hadn't been accustomed to. Instead of reading each other's notes and organizing study groups, we were posting in wikis and responding to discussion board posts. Instead of learning focused on facts and statistics that we needed to figure out how to memorize, our learning was focused on what we could do with the information presented.

I left this experience determined to bring the concept to my classroom, and due to the Common Core's adoption, we all need to embrace this concept. The fact is that the average American is using technology which is not only above what we in education generally use to teach, but this same technology is banned from our schools to prevent students from using it inappropriately. It's our job as educators to embrace this technology and navigate our students through it. Districts have already begun to explore blended instructional models, so to help ease any tension, here are some tips to keep in mind as you begin adopting these new teaching methods.

Tip #1: Kids Aren't as Tech Savvy as You Think

Like most subjects, your students' knowledge in regards to technology will vary. At the blended high school where I currently teach, my colleagues and I were surprised about the lack of knowledge the average student had in regards to something as basic as search engines. Generally, I've found that my students' Internet knowledge was heavily focused on all things social networking, and that few students ventured very far outside of that.

True, I had the occasional student that could hack into a supercomputer, but that student was generally rare.

Realistically, you might to be forced to instruct students on how to use various mechanisms for your class. A great idea is to consider visiting the help menu of any web resource you wish to use. Most websites include a help menu and troubleshooting questions for users to deepen their understanding of these resources so that they'll continue to use them.

Tip #2: Be Wary of Online Textbooks and Online Classes

Because we were one of the few daily face-to-face blended schools, we ran into the problem of trying to decide how to deliver instruction to students in the proper format. Most online textbook companies don't create their products with blended instruction in mind. They assume that students will sit in a room somewhere and interact with the coursework in a vacuum, without teacher influence. Students often find these online textbooks to be boring and confusing. (Consider your students' reactions to reading their classroom textbooks for reference.)

Online textbook software is just a category of tools, so use these products as such. Many contain useful information, but picking and choosing based on need is always the way to go, rather than giving a student a computer and sitting him or her in a room.

Tip #3: PowerPoint is for Planning Lessons, Not Delivering Lectures

When I was an undergrad, my professors loved PowerPoint. They all used this medium as something we were to look at and take notes with. I couldn't remember any tangible information from them if I tried. I only remember their existence.

More and more, I've become better at using my PowerPoint to guide students through my lesson plans. I can then make an amended version of that presentation and post it online for my students to access as a resource.

Using your PowerPoint to foster and control the flow of the classroom is a great way to lead your students from a vocabulary list to an anticipatory set. They then expect the PowerPoint to guide the lesson, rather than groaning at the return of a torture device that will force them to take more notes.

Tip #4: Get Your Students to Communicate with Each Other

It's no secret that getting students to converse using the vocabulary, information, and concepts you're teaching them will foster deeper understanding and add meaning to their lives. Let them create memes, or show them how discussion board posts are like Twitter updates or Facebook statuses that their peers can comment on. Let them contribute research to wikis, create websites, and make PowerPoints for their presentations.

Now more than ever, the Internet is rife with collaboration tools for students at just a push of a button. Google Apps for Education and Blackboard are two of many varying platform types that allow students to collaborate.

The days of talking at students are almost over, as research and many of our collective personal experiences deem that to be an ineffective method of instruction. Blended instruction gives students investigation, real-world application, and immediate relevance with each lesson -- and even more so because of the educational technology advances that the Common Core will usher in.

It's best to not spend your time memorizing this information. Please just use it.

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Victor Small Jr's picture
Victor Small Jr
9/10th Grade English Teacher from San Jose, California

I generally like creating websites by using simple website creators like Google sites or blogger (but there are others). I'll generally create a website for myself to post and categorize various links and information (the same can be done using the bookmarks function on most browsers) and then create one for my students to get homework information, due dates, and classroom rules and procedures from.

I'm currently working on a website that maps out the entire year for my students, so there's no surprises or excuses for them. I also will attach all examples, necessary visual aids, pictures, video, and other resources to them, to help cut down my prep time in between days.

These suggestions take time, but a quick solution is creating folders for your unit plans and lesson plans. Once you've created all of your lesson plans, I'd group them by folder and name each folder after the corresponding unit plan. By doing this, you'll have your unit plans as living documents the you can make changes to as time goes on.

Jvanderhart's picture

Thank you for the post Victor. Our school is moving focus to offer most classes in a blending learning model. I enjoyed your 4 tips for blended learning. I have found that giving students a discussion board platform for classroom discussion has elevated the discussion between students. They think about what they type and all/most students participate. I am wondering if you have used an LMS platform for organizing and delivering the coursework? I have used both Edmodo and Schoology with success. They are both free and work a little like social media sites that students are very familiar with using. Do you feel that it is more beneficial to create a website?

Victor Small Jr's picture
Victor Small Jr
9/10th Grade English Teacher from San Jose, California

In regards to discussion posts, I generally prefer using platforms that were already created to that end.

For many other functions and organization, I generally prefer blogs and websites to communicate tons of classroom information.

I haven't heard of Edmodo and Schoology, I can't wait to explore them.

Tracie Grover's picture

I enjoyed reading the 4 tips for blended learning. I think tip #4 is one of the most important and most challenging for my students. With the type of population that exist in my school, it is very difficult for students to know how to communicate educationally and to have vocabulary rich discussions with their peers. I will be using blended learning this year for the first time so hopefully through our LMS, our students will become better communicators.

Akanksha Garg's picture
Akanksha Garg
E-learning Consultant-G-Cube

Thanks for sharing -I completely agree with the points raised. Blended learning can be delivered in many ways - and should be aligned as per the needs of the learners. it is still the preferred mode of training delivery in many organizations as it is flexible yet impactful. Here http://www.gc-solutions.net/blog/blended-learning-different-combinations... are some blended learning combinations that can work in the context of corporate training.

RNormanTIS's picture

Our district uses Google Drive & Moodle so we have some flexibility as to which resource to use. We are going to reinvent our computer labs to make them blended learning friendly. =)

Victor Small Jr's picture
Victor Small Jr
9/10th Grade English Teacher from San Jose, California

Please keep us updated with how that goes, I'm always open to new ideas.

Coleen Lowance's picture

I found your tips on Blended Learning to be thought provoking. I will be moving towards teaching blended classes in the fall. Many of the tips you have given are worth the time to research and make sure that I am setting up my classroom to have the most success possible with out having to reinvent the wheel. The tip about using Power Points on there own was especially insightful. I had not thought about how a student would view a power point on there own with out the me ( the teacher) there to guide through and ask appropriate questions.

Tracie's picture

Thank you for presenting these four tips. I will be implementing blended learning in my classroom this fall. Tip number one is especially concerning for me as I work in a Title 1 elementary school, and many of my students have not had a great deal of experience with technology. I have also found that even the students who have access to all types of technology only know the basics. I appreciate your advice to teach the students how the websites are used before having the students use it as a tool. Your thoughts on power points also had me stopping to think about how I will create flip charts in the future. Thank you this blog has given me several things to consider before the school year begins.

Susan Chen's picture

We live in the 21st century, and technology is very much a part of life today. Educators recognize the value of integrating technology into the curriculum. Our students need to be proficient in navigating and using the available operating systems and applications. Purchasing and up-keeping technology is expensive. Hopefully the Department of Education will allocate the necessary funds to schools to make blended instruction a reality in every classroom.

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