Educators and parents of young children are rightly wary of too much screen time, but, used with care, blended learning can help ensure that students receive the information and knowledge they are ready for. This model allows teachers to facilitate learning in such a way that students have some control over it. Even at 4 years old, students have different learning needs and backgrounds, so differentiated instruction is an imperative part of the learning experience.
Yet it’s important to understand that implementing blended learning in your pre-K classroom doesn’t happen overnight—it’s a process that you cultivate, and it builds over time.
Start by Making Connections
In the pre-K environment, you can incorporate this model in bits and pieces and add more throughout the school year. Adapting ideas from older classrooms for 4-year-olds will work as long as you chunk and chew.
The framework for blended learning always starts with getting to know your students. Make time for conferencing and speak to your pre-K students one-on-one. At the beginning of the year, the conversations won’t be focused on data, but taking time to connect with each student is irreplaceable. Once you’ve established a relationship with your students, they can partake in the personalized learning pathway that you create for them.
Assess, Analyze, and Act Using Data-Driven Instruction
Data-driven instruction (DDI) is an important aspect of the blended learning model and can be applied in the pre-K setting. The steps for DDI are to assess, analyze, and act. All teachers need for DDI is a common point of data.
You can use a test or any other type of assessment to determine what students learned from a unit. In our pre-K classes, we mostly use data from the Renaissance Star Assessments and IXL. Our teachers use that information to understand what students missed and how to challenge students who are ready for more advanced concepts. For example, if some students have learned to recognize numbers 0–5 on IXL, we move them on to numbers 6–10 in order to meet their needs while their peers continue with 0–5.
DDI presents an opportunity for teachers to come together to collaborate in a professional learning community (PLC), which can be really helpful. PLCs allow teachers to model different approaches for each other, discuss best practices, and identify problems. A teacher whose data on student understanding doesn’t show desired results can learn from a peer in order to teach material in a different way.
Remember, don’t reteach in the same way when you know that strategy didn’t work. You can find methods to teach your students what they need to know—lean on your colleagues for support.
Tracking Their Progress
Once pre-K students are taught a concept, they can track their progress. In my district, we track weekly progress on a skill assigned to every student based on their ability level. Each group of teachers vets different skills in their PLC to determine which skill is most appropriate. Each student has a graphing style data tracker that allows them to color in their progress as they work on their skill.
Starting small is key with the littles. Giving them a quarter-long tracking sheet of what they will learn in six or nine weeks is not the way to start. Small goals with quick wins are the way to go. Think of three or four small attainable goals that each student can reach. These can be weekly or biweekly achievements.
Making students feel successful is really important. Young learners are very motivated by encouragement, and it’s important that every student’s goals be tailored according to their needs. One successful method to involve students in tracking their progress is during one-on-one conferences. Allowing students to keep some sort of data tracker is important because it’s a visual representation of what they need to do. You can go over goals and have the student color in or mark when they reach their goal, which helps them make a connection to and take ownership of their learning.
Introduce Station Rotation
The last piece of implementing a blended learning model in a pre-K classroom is station rotation. In an early childhood classroom, the key is to start small. Introduce one station at a time, and practice with rituals and routines. Teachers typically can choose any activity that they want to eventually be part of a group station where they can monitor and adjust student behavior. Once students have the motions down, then it can be a station where students work independently.
An example might be taking a few weeks to teach your students how to log in to an app and get to the practice section. Until they can do that successfully and independently, hold off on making it part of stations. Once you have at least one station set where all students know the expectations, you can begin pulling small groups for instruction with you.
Your small group can range from literacy or math intervention to any area where specific students can improve. For example, you could do a spiral review of a concept for a certain group of students or assist others struggling with fluency. While you work with the small group, the other students are still being productive. The end goal is to have students working on tasks that fit their needs, even if they aren’t part of your small group.
Again, remember that this model is a process. Seeing your students at ease with personalized stations isn’t going to happen right away. Part of this model is to encourage young learners in their journey of learning to work independently, which is especially important in preparing pre-K students for elementary school.
You will get there. Here’s an expert tip: Have a student job be “tech helper.” You can choose a knowledgeable student to help their classmates who are having trouble using the computer. Stations are no longer busywork because they are purposeful and targeted for your students’ needs. Each student will be on their own path to success.
As with any time a teacher pulls a small group, it’s important to be organized. Knowing ahead of time what students need and where to go with all the necessary materials is crucial. Regular practice will ensure that all students can be successful even without you sitting next to them.
3 Things to Keep in Mind
- This is a process—it won’t be perfect. Having a growth mindset is important!
- Take small bites. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your young learners.
- Believe that your students are capable of being independent, and encourage them to begin to take control of their own learning.