George Lucas Educational Foundation
Blended Learning

Using Blended Learning to Explore Multifaceted Topics

Blended learning stations allow teachers to create exciting interdisciplinary lessons that expose students to a variety of learning modalities.

June 16, 2022
Elementary school teacher helps student in class.
SDI Productions / iStock

Loyola Marymount University’s Shannon Tabaldo predicts that blended learning will naturally become “just everyday good teaching in K–12 classrooms.” Over the past seven years, I’ve had the opportunity to observe scores of K–12 blended learning classrooms and lead pre-service and in-service teacher training. This has given me a wealth of firsthand and practical instructional insight into the benefits of blended learning pedagogy. In this article, I share some of the major benefits of blended learning and explore how a blended learning model helps promote curricular alignment and instructional breadth.

What Is Blended Learning?

I define blended learning as the purposeful, coordinated, and synergistic employment of varied learning approaches (classroom, hybrid, and online), exercised through various learning modalities (small group, collaborative, independent, and online), to collectively expand, extend, and enrich the opportunities for learning.

With stations designated in areas of a classroom, students in evenly sized groups will start at a station and continue clockwise until they complete all stations. Depending on factors such as student grade level, estimated time needed to complete a station’s learning objectives or activities, or difficulty of a station’s curricular content, a teacher can predetermine the length of time for each station.

Additional station planning factors might include intra-day class schedule, number of participating students, device availability, and criteria for groupings. As blended learning is a flexible, iterative, and adaptive instructional methodology, with a variety of pedagogical factors to consider, the three-station rotation may begin in the morning and continue after lunch, begin on a Monday and conclude the following day, or pause for 10 minutes between stations to cover an observed learning gap or to more deeply engage a difficult concept.

This article focuses on two areas of effective blended learning planning and practice: curricular alignment and instructional breadth. I use a station rotation learning model to illustrate how these pedagogical objectives work together.

Curricular Alignment

One of the major advantages of blended learning is that it promotes connected and coordinated learning across the curriculum. Let’s say fifth-grade teacher Mr. Smith plans an ELA lesson on the topic of civic engagement and student involvement, purposely organizing diverse exercises and curricular presentation throughout a three-station rotation.

Mr. Smith’s blended learning lesson begins with an introduction of the lesson to the whole class, reviewing prior knowledge, emphasizing key points, and establishing learning objectives. He ends class the same way, presenting the whole class with a summary of the learning, an assessment activity, and a segue to the next lesson.

In between, the students rotate through stations. Students are presented with varied approaches to the day’s lesson: small group/teacher-led learning, collaborative learning, and learning from online sources. The three stations connect and coordinate reading, writing, speaking, and listening curriculum.

Station One: Small Group, Teacher-Led
ELA: reading (fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension): Through direct instruction and group discourse, students learn the history of civic engagement, leading to the present-day movement of student involvement.

In this station, students work directly with their teacher to gain a topic overview, direct instruction on difficult concepts, reteaching, lesson development. Small group, teacher-led stations can differentiate instruction for each of three groups, addressing gaps of knowledge and delivering direct instruction on more difficult or complex concepts.

Station Two: Collaborative
ELA: writing (text types and purposes, production of writing): After research and discussion, students collectively pen an op-ed article, supporting participation in or endorsement of a current-day political topic or social issue.

At station two, students work with other students. For instance, they may view slides together, work on a collaborative document, or role-play within their group. On a rotating basis, students within a collaborative group can assume roles such as group spokesperson, researcher, fact-checker, note-taker, or activity leader.

Station Three: Technology
ELA: speaking and listening (presentation of knowledge and ideas): Students examine a contrastive list of online news outlets, watch a video on political influence and social engagement, complete an adaptive learning lesson on political science, and create a short video responding to teacher-posed questions.

In this station, students have the opportunity to engage with adaptive software. They might complete a teacher-assigned lesson on a computer or tablet, followed by student-paced learning. They may also view interactive videos or engage with formative assessment apps.

Mr. Smith’s connected and coordinated blended learning lesson bridges and aligns content and context, providing students with dynamic and faceted opportunities for learning.

Instructional Breadth

Blended learning also promotes cross-curricular and interdisciplinary learning. In another example, fifth-grade teacher Ms. Jones builds on coordinating and connecting instruction by embedding interdisciplinary and cross-curricular learning methodology into a lesson on recycling and waste management. Ms. Jones plans a blended learning lesson by integrating curriculum from multiple disciplines presented in activities throughout four stations. Like Mr. Smith, Ms. Jones begins and ends each period with instruction to the whole class.

Station One: Small Group, Teacher-Led
Social Studies: economics, sociology, and government (informational text, craft, and structure) and Math: computational thinking (reason abstractly and quantitatively): Through direct instruction and group discourse, students learn about community-based programs, resources, and governance for categories of recyclables and waste management. Students analyze the fiscal impact of recycling or waste management programs at a school, community, city, or state level.

Station Two: Collaborative
Science: engineering (engaging in argument from evaluation and evidence): After research and cooperative discussion, students brainstorm ideas of how to improve recycling efforts through invention, innovation, or change—leading to a whole-class presentation of ideas.

Station Three: Technology
Science: earth sciences (analyzing and interpreting data, constructing explanations and designing solutions): Students employ online resources to explore the ecological impact of recycling and waste management programs in other communities, focusing on successes, challenges, and anticipated future outcomes.

Station Four: Independent
ELA: reading and writing (integration of knowledge and ideas): Students develop a nonprofit proposal; author a business plan; curate a PSA; or pitch a local politician an idea, an improvement, or a project to advance an area/aspect of recycling or waste management.

Because of its versatility and its potential to support independent and collaborative student learning, blended learning can be effective in multiple classrooms, spanning grade levels and across subject areas, learner ability, and instructional level.

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  • Integrated Studies
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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