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. 

4 comments:

  1. Do you have any suggestions for how to set up the peer to peer support system? My experience with peer mentoring and peer feedback has always been a little disappointing. Some of my "mentors" see it as unfair because it is "extra" work. Others don't seem to have the discipline to stay on task when they are working with an otherwise struggling student. Some struggling students seem to refuse to engage with material whether it is me or another student working with them.

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  2. I suggest first finding out which of your students are capable of giving peer to peer assistance. That involves learning more about each student and their communication abilities with other students. I remember a class of mine where I had two students whose parents were teachers at the middle school and elementary level. These students had no intentions of becoming teachers after their schooling, but they were very good at helping others. I truly believe it is due to fact they were raised in a family with educators. The point is, I had to learn more about my students and their backgrounds to realize they were good at helping others.

    Obviously students need to know the content to be able to help students. Sometimes I have seen students who don't know the content inside and out work with others and stimulate conversations that allow both students to grow.

    Another good practice is to not have too many rules in your peer to peer support system. Don't force students to accept the collaboration or help other students on certain days. After a while, the system will run on its own without needing any rules or protocols to follow.

    Students that can't stay on task when working with others or see it as "extra" work are not ready to be in a leader in a support system. I like to have conversations with the students who are going to assist with instruction on what they are getting out of the experience. The small doses of instruction allow the students providing the support opportunity to grow and stretch themselves as learners.

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  3. After reading your post, I will NEVER refer to it as a "Flipped Classroom " again. You are exactly right with your statement, "Simply the way something is stated or what it is called can create the perception of it." Every time I would talk with parents about trying to find ways to "flip" our K/1 Fusion classrooms, I am always faced with negativity. Once I start explaining what we really want to do, they then completely change their attitudes towards the idea. If I would start with calling it "Blending Learning," I am sure parents wouldn't automatically second guess it! Thanks! Great tips!

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  4. Thanks for the comment. Communication is one of the most important aspects of blended learning. We have to communicate with our stakeholders the new methods of instruction that we use and why we use the methods.

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