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Blended Learning: Behind the Scenes

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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It feels like we're on the precipice of a more common, universal implementation for blended learning, but for a while still, blended learning is still dependent on teachers knowing what to teach and how to teach it. It still feels still like a grassroots movement from key teachers who are looking ahead to the future. We know that being able to function online is a 21st-century skill, but for some teachers, it's still as futuristic as Logan's Run.

And while having to jump into using online strategies can be scary, it's really all about our mission of preparing students for their future. It's about having your ear to the ground about the skills these kids will need to know, and the determination to teach to those skills even if the world of education or your school site or your fear factor is not on board.

While I am passionate about online integration in the traditional classroom, I do not know yet if blended learning is really for everyone. It isn't just about the technology or the understanding of online interactions. It's also simply a temperament thing.

So let's look at the behind-the-scenes of blended learning. What does it really take to be a blended learning teacher?

1. Flexibility

Things go wrong all the time. Have a digital Plan B on hand or, if necessary, a way to teach the same goal, but offline, using the resources in the room. Model patience. No cussing. I know it's hard.

2. Problem-Solving

The school tech person can't focus only on your needs even though you might be using technology more than others. You need to great creative in your problem solving. As a computer teacher once said to me after helping me solve a problem: "You should be able to do this (pretends to feed herself with an invisible spoon), but sometimes you have to do this (wraps her arm around her head, still bringing the invisible spoon to her mouth, but going the long way around.) Here's a hint: train students to help problem solve. Code word: Tech Team.

3. Willingness to Handhold

Go back to my point about patience. You have to help all the stakeholders far more than you think: like parents, other teachers, and some students who don't have access elsewhere. On the flip side, however, there are many students who can figure things out with very little handholding if just given the chance. Being a blended learning teacher is about giving students that chance.

4. Ability to Scaffold More Than You Thought Necessary

Make sure you lead up to your expectations in a step-by-step way. For instance, you can't just ask students to blog. You need to help them first understand what the heck blogging is. Here's an early post I once wrote on this very topic. It doesn't have to be baby steps, but you do have to help them climb.

5. Willingness to Learn from Students

See the problem-solving step above. You can learn from your students in ways you never even knew. And it isn't just about the technology that they know and you don't. It's about being there with them when they make that discovery online and being a voice of reason in their heads as they explore the wide world around them.

6. A Full Toolbox

You need a toolbox full of both digital and traditional tools and knowledge. After all, moderating an online conversation is both similar to leading classroom discussions and somewhat different. Setting up groups, giving feedback, engaging students, all of these are still needed when interacting online, but use different tools to accomplish.

7. A Big Inbox

So many interactions go through your email. Make sure you are able to accept them all. Also, get into the grove of being able to check your mail, sort mail into boxes, or delete notifications all together once they are dealt with. Keep up with it all or your email inbox will fill up quickly. Mine often sends me a really cold notification. I haven't solved this problem yet, because when students submit assignments or are engaged in a real great back and forth my inbox turns bold really quickly.

8. Willingness to Give Up Time After School

Be prepared to get sucked into awesome online conversations long after the school bell rings. It won't seem like a chore. It's a pleasure.

I know that blended learning may not be everyone's cup of tea. Having said all that, however, even those who may not be partial to these techniques may soon have to learn to be. It's our students' future. And what's their future is ours too.

This blog is part of a series sponsored by Herff Jones Nystrom.
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Getting Started with Blended Learning

Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

edJobber's picture

Implementing a blended learning program requires proper planning and willingness to learn/understand the blended learning model. I think the 8 examples of what it take to become a blended learning teacher is "right on."

Erin S.'s picture

Although this piece is several years old, I feel like the characteristics of a blended learning teacher still apply. As I begin this adventure of blended learning within my literacy block I want to include the opportunity for students to collaborate and discuss a variety of topics on line and, "A Full Toolbox" is a reminder that these activities must be purposeful and have guidelines. I do worry about providing feedback in a timely manner, but think it might be easier not actually having to load and unload papers.

Nora Ocampo's picture

Definitely, there must be "willingness to learn" in general. From your teacher colleagues, administrators and students. It is crucial that we -the teachers in the classroom- empower ourselves digitally because this is the way our students communicate daily and will continue to do in the future. Education can't be apart from this huge transformation!

Ryan's picture

I absolutely agree with you. Having a willingness to learn is one of the most important aspects of learning itself. For me at least, if I am not motivated to do something, it comes to me with a lot more effort than I would have to exert if I liked it or was motivated. Kids these days are absorbed into their electronics and I think that implementing a system in which technology is used in the classroom in the way it is in this article, it would be very successful.

Silindokuhle Mthimunye's picture

well the idea of being a blended learning teacher sounds very interesting bearing in mind that as a teacher you have to sacrifice more on your spare time. however, how do you as a teacher ensure that your learners use those online spaces to learn better. According to my observation in township schools most grade 12 learners are provided with tablets but they use it for music, whats app, watching porn movies. and taking pictures. How can we encourage learners to use tablets in a way that will be fruitful in their education? Because it is evident that they use them in a wrong way as many some township schools experienced a decrease in their matric pass rate.

atooker's picture

This was great and extremely informative. This past year way my first year teaching and I'm feeling inspired but overwhelmed with the idea of implementing blended learning into the classroom. Not only am I building curriculum, lessons, and activities for my classes, but I am also a coach and involved in several other activities within the school. I see myself taking baby steps towards a fully blended learning classroom environment. Our school is extremely lucky to be able to have 1:1 student to laptops and a variety of online resources for learning. Learning how to streamline, problem solve, give power and control to students are all ways I plan to start implementing blended learning. While the process feels overwhelming to me personally, I could not agree more that our students need this type of learning environment to be better suited for the world they live in.

robino03's picture

I am just beginning to learn about blended learning. With anything new I am nervous if I can truly implement a successful blended learning classroom. This helped me think about how I can approach blended learning and eased my fears. When looking through what it takes to be a blended learning teacher I connected it to what I already do when I implement anything new in my classroom. This time the only difference is technology. I will put these step up where I can see them to remind me of what I need to do in able to implement blended learning. Like you said it is all about preparing our students for their future.

Melc's picture

I am also just beginning to learn about blended learning but I think it will be worth trying in my classroom. I teach 6th grade Math in a rural area so some of my students do not have access to internet at home. Last year was my first year teaching as well, and I found it frustrating that the students would not work independently but when I put a computer in front of them, they were totally engaged. I really think that this will model will help them become more independent learners. I know it will be challenging but I am up for the challenge.

Matt's picture

I think blended learning is very important. As a student, the percentage of memory retention increased when I used more than one way of scribing, gathering resources, etc. The whole process just accessed different parts of the brain and created new muscles while refining the old.

Jasmine Cruz's picture

I think that blended learning is a big part of the educational system today. I really found these 8 examples helpful because it made me think outside the box from teaching the traditional way. I also agree that blended learning might not be for every student because not all students learn the same way.

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