After reading Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools this summer for professional development, I decided to expand on 1.5 years of experimentation in my English classroom with edtech and Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and take a more structured approach to building a blended learning environment. This post offers a brief overview of my classroom efforts after week 2 of the 2015-2016 school year.
Equipment & Physical Infrastructure
In my classroom I have 5 Chromebooks and 2 PCs (running Windows 7), for a total of 7 computers for student use (average class size is in the low-20s). The classroom is fairly deep and large.
Blended Learning Model
In the first 2 weeks of school, I’ve implemented a Station Rotation Blended Learning model, with the 7 classroom computers forming Station 1 and Station 2 comprised of independent work in student desks. After beginning the class with whole-group instruction, we break out into Stations. I eventually intend to implement a 3rd Station, Small Group, with students clustered around my desk for small group lessons.
The main challenge to date has been the learning-curve my students have had to overcome to adapt to logging in and working independently on assignments. This is an issue of internalizing the steps of logging in, opening assignments, etc. that in effect can be considered to be classroom ‘routines’, albeit routines of a nature a bit different that we are used to thinking of them. This challenge was anticipated, and I am already beginning to see students taking on a more independent role.
Another challenge discovered along the way has been determining when it’s best to use what I’ll refer to as Time-based Station Rotation and Task-based Station Rotation.
I originally planned to follow only a Time-based Station Rotation, where students work at their given station on the task at hand for a predetermined amount of time (typically 15-20 minutes). I have been able to implement this approach a few times, and it has worked quite well. I’ve used an online timer that plays a gentle-sounding alarm to announce the time for station rotation.
However, given the specific task(s) of the day, it has often made more sense to make use of a Task-based Station Rotation, essentially meaning that individual students will use the computers for the amount of time it takes them to complete a given task (whether that be shorter or longer than the amount of time for a Time-based Station Rotation) and when they are finished, individually rotate back to the other station. This approach often allows for a more efficient use of the limited classroom computer resources, as they are freed-up as soon as students complete the task.
Efficient use of the Time-based Station Rotation model requires that students have secondary, on-going tasks that they can work on to fill the time remaining once they complete primary tasks.
In addition to the 7 classroom computers, our building will soon have a Chromebox lab. Before the year began, I assumed that 7 computers would be enough to manage, and that they would allow me to eliminate or at least minimize the regular use of the weekly Lab Rotations I used in previous years. However, I’m quickly seeing that students would benefit from having one day a week in a Chromebox lab as a ‘catch-up / move ahead’ day. I look forward to working in a weekly Lab Rotation, along with the existing daily Station Rotations, into my implementation of Blended Learning.
A Final Note
I do realize that I have said little in this post about specific technology (hardware, software, web sites, etc.). This has been deliberate and in keeping with the emphasis placed by the authors of Blended on focusing on how technology is used, and how it can best complement face-to-face teacher-student interactions.
The key to the Blended Learning approach is that it allows students to experience a more student-centered learning experience, defined in Blended as moving in the direction of Personalized and Competency-based learning tasks. The use of technology helps to provide this directly in the work students use it to accomplish, and also indirectly in the fact that it can free up the teacher to work one-on-one or with small groups to give students the personalized assistance and feedback that is most relevant and useful for their learning.