Wednesday, December 31, 2014

6 Steps for Effective Blended Learning

Our educational system requires a different form of instruction than when I was in school.  One of the methods of instruction that had been a topic of conversations between staff, students, and parents is Blended learning instruction.  In order to have an effective blended learning environment, there are some areas that you need to address before you begin the process.  Always remember the goal behind instruction: student growth.  As a teacher, you try to use different methods of instruction to reach that main goal.  When it comes to blended instruction, follow the steps below to make the transitions and methods have the greatest impact for your students and parents:

1. Stop calling a "flipped" classroom, a "flipped" classroom
Sometimes the name of something can mean everything.  I'm sure every person working in marketing will tell you that.  Simply the way something is stated or what it is called can create the perception of it. I believe this is true with the flipped classroom.  

Why do we call it "flipped" anyway? I understand that in a flipped classroom the homework for the class period is done in class with the presence of the teacher while the instruction (whatever method is used, usually via videos) takes place after the normal class period.  Thus the term "flipped"; it flips the traditional classroom model of doing homework at home and instruction in the class during the school day.  Again, I get all that.

Classroom instruction needs to be more than though to be effective.  We need to offer differentiation and other forms of instruction to our students (which we will discuss below) to address all student learning styles.  What we need to do is blend our classes.  A flipped classroom is a form of blended learning.  Let's just stick with calling our classrooms "blended" classrooms because that is what we are doing, we are blending our instruction to meet all different learning styles.

2. Communication to the students and parents
Communicate to students and parents what type of instruction and methods will take place at the beginning of the school year.  Utilize your most effective means of communication with parents (emails, website, Remind, etc.) to get the message delivered.  Explain how the class instruction will work during the year.  Offer links and articles for your parents to read to become more knowledgeable on the methods.  Most importantly, explain why you will be using the instructional methods.  We are the experts, so we need to explain why this form of instructional will help our students grow.

3. Short videos
If you choose to create videos for a method of class instruction, make sure the videos are not longer than 8 minutes.  Short videos are important when it comes to holding the students' attention.  Create multiple videos and have them in a library of videos grouped accordingly for easy access.  Don't attempt to pack too much instruction into single videos.  Give students and parents clarity on what each video includes and what you want the students to take away from the video.  Utilize learning targets with the videos.

4. Workshops shared in class (direct instruction)
Break down your classes into mini-workshops.  Offer direct instruction in small segments to students who may not have comprehended material from the videos.  Offer students a different form of instruction that allows them to ask questions and maybe see the material in a different way.  Others in the class can continue to work at their own pace over the topic at hand.  Creating mini-workshops allows you to set up your classes in tiered environment where students can get the required assistance needed and also work at their own pace and personalize their learning.

5. Create peer-to-peer support system
A great method to use with a tiered classroom is a peer-to-peer support system.  Students who understand and comprehend the material can assist other students with the material.  Students are able to learn from each other; research illustrates that students comprehend more material when learned from classmates.  The peers instructors are able to stretch themselves by teaching and helping other students.  This allows the instructors to look at the material deeper and show them where others may be unclear.  It also provides a support system to the teacher who is offering mini-workshops and support to the other students in the class.

6. Use student created videos if possible
Create a project where students make videos over topics so the videos can be added to the video library.  Students could use the videos to demonstrate mastery to their teachers.  They could also use the videos to help students who miss class.  It feeds back to the peer-to-peer support system, students enjoy learning from each other and can relate to other students.  This will also help students with other classes as well.  They will learn how to use editing software or other movie making apps that will allow them to use videos they create to demonstrate mastery in other classes.

Blended learning methods are valuable in offering our students and parents another means of instruction.  Try to use some of the tips above to guide your classes towards the ultimate goal of student growth. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

10 Valuable Blog Posts from 2014

As 2014 comes to a close, I went back and looked at some of my favorite posts that I have read during the year.  I wanted to share them with others in case they had missed the posts during the year.  I used the term "valuable" instead of "best" in the title for the blog posts because I was able to grow from each of these posts.  Feel free to share your favorite posts from this past year.

Katrina discusses the “Maker Movement” with Gary Stager, co-author with Sylvia Libow Martinez of  “Invent to Learn,” a book about the Maker Movement after their presentation at the 2014 ISTE Conference in Atlanta.  The post contains great information on how to create “maker” philosophy in your school.  

Dan has many great posts but this one stuck out for me.  Its important to discuss what is working in your organization and not always drawing attention on what isn’t working.  As Dan states, “The more you focus on problems, the more problems you see.”  So true.

Angela explains that collaboration consists of three parts: team, processes, and purpose.   I completely agree with her when she points out that if collaboration is going to take place in education, it must be embedded in the culture of the school.  

I believe differentiation is one of the most vital pieces of classroom instruction.  Today, we have many different types of learners in our buildings.  As educators, we need to be able to reach each type of learner so they can grow as students.   Michelle does a good job of explaining what multiple intelligences consist of and how we can reach all of our students. 

Joe uses a backyard game that he is fond of to explain as educators we need model resiliency for our students.  Great post that teaches us things are not as always bad as we think they may be.  

Tom shares the keys to successful Next Generation leadership and the best way to move a system and city through education.

Jimmy shares great tips for any educator on welcoming new students into their new home.  A refreshing post on remembering how important a person’s first encounter is with your school.  Make it a special one for them.

Tom points out that as educators, we need to focus on communication, collaboration and creation.  A great post urging educators to stop focusing on content delivery and start getting students to utilize critical thinking skills. 

I believe that building and maintaining relationships is the key to education.  As educators, we need to build relationships with students, parents, and community members.  George does a great job explaining that while technology is amazing, we also need to remember that we are in a “people business” where technology can’t take the place of relationships.

As Eric states in his post, “Finding learning experiences that have professional value to us” is the basis of professional development for any educator.  In this post, Eric discusses the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) Principal Academy and how the academy will change PD for administrators.