In theory, blended learning is quite simple — blended learning is good teaching. The challenging part of blended learning is the synchronization of many moving parts, similar to a symphony orchestra coming together to make beautiful music.
Blended learning begins with an educator or group of educators across a school or district identifying the skills they wish their students to learn. Ideally these skills would be part of a larger k-12 scope and sequence, but even if the educator is looking at specific Common Core skills within one grade level or within one course, like Algebra, it’s essential for that educator(s) to identify the nuanced skills they want their students to master before blended learning can begin.
Once the skills are identified the next step is to establish what mastery of those competencies looks like. This requires creating questions to measure the competency or “look fors” that a teacher or student may observe to evaluate mastery. Ideally, students would be evaluated on a scale, say 1-5 for example, in order to measure their level of mastery, and to give students multiple attempts to improve over time.
Once educators have identified what mastery looks like they need to create both the formative assessment measures and the online content necessary to both evaluate the competency against the mastery scale, and then teach to the competency for students that need instruction.
It’s important that each competency be pre-tested so a student who has already mastered a skill or competency does not need to engage with the content again, and instead is able to move forward to higher levels of mastery or onward to the next areas of study that are predetermined in the scope and sequence.
Here is where the blended learning becomes truly differentiated instruction and it becomes crucial to have online content that educators can leverage within each of the identified skill levels that their students pre-test into. In order for the teacher to assign students work that is asynchronous and accessible from anywhere, a searchable and accessible content library must be made available to both students and teachers.
It is only through having these online mastery assessments and online content that the teacher can be freed up to do what the teacher does best, which is work in small groups or work one-on-one to isolate misconceptions in student learning, reframe challenging concepts, build relationships, and push students to levels of creation and creativity through project based instruction.
When all of these components are working together in concert is when multiple models of blended learning become possible.
Rotation Model: Teachers can create center rotation models in which students rotate through centers that contain one of the following; online content and assessments, small group instruction with a teacher, and independent or group work that requires higher-order thinking. The third center is an opportunity for students to connect and collaborate with each other. This model works exceptionally well in classroom’s that are not one-to-one, but instead have enough devices to cover at least a third of the students.
Flipped Model: This model rests upon educators posting videos & resources explaining core content online so that students can access and absorb the content of the day completely from any web-enabled device. Students can learn new content, review old content or take formative assessments online, and the leverage their teachers face to face presence in the classroom on an as needed basis during what is mostly open-ended classroom work time. Some teachers have success combining the flipped model as a homework solution and then running the station rotation model in the classroom for a double dip into online content.
Individual Rotation or Playlist Model: This model requires the most work, but also has the most payout should the educator strike symphonic gold. With this model each student in a school or classroom has their own playlist of resources that are targeted to their skill level and needs on any given day. These playlists are informed by both the student’s personal competency data and by the scope and sequence of the required content for the grade or course they are taking. The higher levels of this model break the norms of grade based groupings as students have the ability to move through an online playlist that could have content that is multiple grade-levels below a student’s age or multiple grade-levels ahead. It’s important to note that all playlist content and assessments are tagged to a competency so that like Lego blocks they can be swapped in and out of playlists and re-stacked to meet the student’s needs in any way that is necessary based upon the data.
When all of these pieces are in place you have blended learning and it’s a beautiful symphony. When any one of these pieces is not quite ready for the concert hall then the other components must overcompensate and the challenge of blended learning becomes much more difficult.