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Blended Learning in the Mix: The Proactive Teacher

Jeremy Shorr

Director of Innovation and Educational Technology at Mentor Public Schools
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Editor's Note: Megan Kinsey, Principal of Ridge Middle School in Mentor, Ohio, is the co-author of this post.

It's early spring, and you're just leaving the faculty meeting where you've learned that next year your classes will fall under the umbrella of blended learning, and each of your students will have an iPad as a take-home device. Awesome, right?

With the rapid national push toward moving classrooms and learning experiences to a blended approach, many educators are playing catch-up to learn the best ways of implementing these tools in their classrooms. It's important to keep in mind that feeling overwhelmed by this concept is normal and OK. After all, some schools and districts are just now getting their hands on technology that was developed more than five years ago.

Teachers can be highly successful in a blended environment when they make time for thinking ahead and planning how their classroom will look, feel, and sound in a technology-rich environment.

Find Your Philosophy and Live It

Remember putting your portfolio together at the end of your undergraduate experience? The first article you were instructed to share was probably your philosophy of education. Although you may have felt this was a waste of time, really understanding who you are as an educator -- and understanding your purpose -- can be extremely powerful.

1. Define Blended Learning in Your Classroom

The term "blended learning" is extremely broad by definition and leads some to believe that it hasn't dramatically changed previous definitions of teaching and learning. Refine that definition by asking yourself:

  • What will the infusion of technology look like in my classroom on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis?
  • Will student opportunities for collaboration increase or decrease due to the amount of time that devices are used?
  • Based on the technology tool that I have, what is its optimal use?
  • What does assessment look like?
  • How do I know if students are learning?

Answer these questions and establish your definition of blended learning.

2. We Are All Learners

Somewhere in the course of our educational system's development, teachers were the sole keepers of information which could only be accessed in a classroom. Talk about pressure! Thank goodness times have changed and learning alongside your students is now an admirable quality and what sets some of the best educators apart from the rest. It's now acceptable and even encouraged to ask students for help importing an image into Google Docs, adding music to a presentation, and even allowing time to explore apps that you didn't know existed.

3. It's Not Failing, It's Learning

It's honorable that teachers want to have every detail in order and a plan in place for absolute success. However, it should always be understood in a blended environment that some things may not connect as intended and, most importantly, that your students may not be the digital natives that you once thought. Things will go south from time to time. When that happens, your role isn't lamenting how or why it happened. Instead, you should be focusing on what can be learned and what your next iteration will look like. Accept failure, embrace it, and make it a teachable moment. Ken Robinson said it best: "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original."

Don't Wait Around for PD - Find It

School districts tend to provide teachers with a scripted professional development program, typically driven by federal and state mandates. Although the district has a responsibility to support its teachers, it will likely not provide you with a personalized learning experience. If you don't already have a defined personalized learning network (PLN), get started with one now:

1. Get a Handle

Joining Twitter and following educators and education organizations is an ideal starting point. Twitter is full of great articles from ASCD, Solution Tree, and your grade-level professional organization or association. Try a hashtag search for #BlendedLearning. Learn about growth concepts like SAMR from its creator, Ruben Puentedura. You will see great examples of work from teachers across the country, collaborating and sharing every day.

2. Start Talking

Professional learning communities (PLCs) have a longstanding reputation for improving student learning through data, collaborative planning, and differentiation. Do you know what your content partner is doing in his or her classroom? Do you have any idea what the other teachers at your grade level are planning? Find time to share knowledge and insight with your colleagues on a regular basis. Consider creating a set agenda for each meeting, including celebration, tips and tricks, and collective inquiry.

Design and Implement

In a blended learning environment, the need to plan and develop thoughtful units of instruction has emerged as one of the most critical factors in creating a successful instructional program.

When creating units of instruction, focus on larger themes and big-picture concepts. Too much emphasis on small skills and minutiae will have you feeling like you are drowning in apps, digital content, and 25 individual student learning paths and lesson plans. Reflect on your blended learning philosophy and evaluate its presence in your unit design. If you find you're not using the tool in the manner that you initially intended, make adjustments.

Is there a 1:1 or blended learning program at your school? How do the teachers plan and deliver units of instruction? Please share your experiences in the comments.

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Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

KatiKolorado's picture

Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. This is an important topic I think even for those who, like myself are not in a 1:1 setting. It would be great if some examples of philosophies were also shared here, but the topics and questions could guide someone very well also. One piece of the article where I would love to hear more detail is the suggestion toward the end to stay with the big picture and not get bogged down with the minutiae. I have tried this and it has led to a "go south" day with students frustrated with me and technology because they are unable to keep track of their own digital property (passwords, site addresses, previous-day work) and lack the basic skills to navigate and problem solve with technology. Maybe these problems exist for me since I am not in a 1:1 school and students' access and training with technology is haphazard instead of targeting skills as a school community. Great topic with many validating points and encouragement for those teachers trying to support student learning with technology, equipping them with 21st century readiness skills!

ProfessorFox's picture

I found your article on blended learning to be informative and pragmatic, fitting my teaching style. Defining blended learning from the onset is paramount in building one's educational philosophy. Establishing the infusion of technology on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis helps in planning and hinders the temptation to throw something on the screen on a whim. Asking questions such as what assessment looks like, and how we know when a student learns causes us to focus on desired learning outcomes.

The approach to consider that we are all life long learners and we can learn from our students is a valuable lesson. This proves true with the plethora of technology and apps available. It is impossible to know each one, yet we can learn from others who use them.

I appreciate the advice to follow educators and education organizations on Twitter. #BlendedLearning looks like a great starting point for fueling a blended learning environment. The suggestion to pursue a PLC to engage with other teachers sounds like a good recommendation, too.

Last year I began teaching blended courses in Audit Undergraduate Degree completion. We have three hours of F2F with one hour online making up the four hours per week in a five-week module. Our LMS is easy to navigate giving me multiple venues for making up the one-hour lesson focusing on the big picture. I change up week-to-week from an article to a video, or a PowerPoint, etc., to keep the students engaged in different styles of learning. The students post initial remarks followed by responses on what they viewed for group interaction.

Lastly, I just started teaching high school economics introducing the class to blended learning. This site and your article is a goldmine of information to expand my teaching style in the high school arena. This is my first visit to Edutopia and I am finding an access of information to put to the test. Thank you!

Christy's picture

Thank you for you thoughts and information. I especially appreciated the emphasis that failing is learning. This is what our students do all the time, and so do we. Just the other day during a lesson, I could not figure out how to get the sound to work on a short video I was using to reiterate what the lesson was about. A small thing like sound made me feel like the lesson was failing. However, I looked at the students and asked, "Does any one have any ideas?" Well, we figured it out together and it only took about 3 minutes. The person that figured it out got a round of applause and the video was a hit. Maybe the students appreciated the technology instead of me talking.

MT's picture

Great article. As educators we are always and continuously (or should be) learning new things and new strategies. Your section on "It's not failing it's learning" hit deep. We are always going to make mistakes and what we learn from those mistakes is what makes us stronger. Trying new things and growing from these is what success is. Very excited to start my BL adventure.

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