In 2011, my school was awarded a grant that brought the School of One mastery-based blended learning model to MS88. School of One allows students to learn at their own pace in a totally redesigned, open classroom that can fit well over 100 students in different centers of the room. Students are assessed at the beginning of the year and given a “learning trajectory” for the entire year. Every day, each student is assigned new individualized lessons in different parts of the classroom in one of seven different learning modalities: virtual instruction/reinforcement, independent practice, small group/peer-to-peer collaboration, live investigation, and task projects. At the end of each class, we use an “exit slip” to evaluate and regroup students based on their progress. They are required to demonstrate mastery in each skill or concept before they can move onto new skills and concepts.
Number of Students: ~300 students
Number of Adults: six teachers; one Operations Technology Associate; SPED teacher(s) and/or paraprofessionals (as needed)
Length of Class Period/Learning Time: 92 minutes (divided into two 36 minute sessions)
Digital Content/Ed Tech Tools Used on a Regular Basis: proprietary web-based software; IXL, LearnZillion, VirtualNerd, Khan Academy, MangaHigh, Math XL, TenMarks, I Can Learn, Khan Academy, Engrade, Educreations, Padlet, Remind, Weebly, Google Apps for Education
Hardware Used on a Regular Basis: student laptops (1:1), iPads for teachers, SMARTboards
Key Features: competency-based; student agency;individualized learning paths; project-based; innovative use of time; innovative use of talent; co-teaching
A blended teacher’s personal mindsets shape his decisions as an educator. These mindsets influence general pedagogies, instructional approaches, and short-term decision making, alike. Check out how Aaron’s mindsets have helped to shape his blended instruction.
Daily common planning has been an essential part of the transition from a traditional to a blended classroom. In my model, I essentially co-teach with six other teachers in the large classroom, so we have valued the daily meeting very much for the first three years. We are considering scaling back on the meetings in the future. We use this time to plan logistics, review student data and lesson study.
Communicating and collaborating with both colleagues and students' families is crucial in a blended environment. This is especially true if a teacher is doing something that looks very different from other teachers at his school. Check out how Aaron communicates and collaborates with both his colleagues at school and his students' families and how his methods of communication and collaboration have evolved over time.
There are an infinite number of digital content providers and tech tools and education programs a blended teacher can choose to use in his classroom. Check out how and why Aaron uses specific digital content and ed tech tools!
My co-teachers and I use a simple set of three rules to guide our blended classroom: 1. Respect all people, property, and ideas; 2. Follow directions the first time; and 3. Be prepared. The consistency of these rules is really important for middle schoolers and creates a great culture of learning in our House. We share these rules with students at the beginning of the year in a community-wide Town Hall Meeting.
TOAST is an acronym that stands for "Time Owed After School Today." It's a very simple and non-punitive consequence that we implement for students who don't follow the rules: 1) Respect all people, property, and ideas; 2) Follow directions the first time; 3) Be prepared. I make it very clear at the beginning of the year that TOAST does not mean I'm mad at you or that you're a bad person; however, there are consequences for your actions that are not consistent with our community expectations. Paying with time and doing some community service or making a plan to change student actions have been effective ways to turn negative student behavior into a positive.
Since I work with 3 large cohorts of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students (100+ students in each cohort) my colleagues and I developed a Town Hall Meeting for the beginning of the year to explain our Rules, Routines, Procedures, and Consequences to the entire cohort at once. Having all of my students on the same system has provided tremendous consistency and stability and created a solid community foundation. Town Hall Meeting is a place where students not only hear the expectations but are encouraged to ask questions or make comments to the entire community. Delivering this presentation once to the entire cohort helps to set the culture in an efficient way.
The core ideas of my classroom are big ideas and themes that run through almost every lesson I teach. They are good math values, work values, life values. Whenever they come up during a lesson, I always explicitly make the connection. Next year, I plan on using a graphic for each value (some kind of eye graphic for core idea #1) to show, in my lessons, where the ideas come up.
A positive classroom culture promotes student engagement, efficiency, and academic growth. Culture influences how and why students learn and ties the students to the teacher on a personal level. Check out the video below to see how Aaron’s culture impacts student achievement!
School of One uses a Big Board outside of the classroom to display each student's daily assignment. The Big Board was designed to be like the TV screens in an airline terminal traveleres use to check their flight information. Each student's name is in the same place every day, so my students quickly get into a routine of checking the Big Board for their daily assignments. After checking the board, they come into the classroom to get their computers and get started in their assigned sections.
My colleagues and I use a variety of hand signals in our classroom to avoid unnecessary disruptions and maintain focus and time on task. Three common hand signals: a signal to use bathroom; a signal for needing scrap paper; and a signal for asking a presenter to speak louder. We introduce all of the hand signals to students at the beginning of the year in a community-wide Town Hall Meeting.
Formal transitions happen twice during a double-block period. My students have to move from one section of my extra-large classroom (3 classrooms merged into one) and move to another section for a new lesson with a new teacher. My students have two minutes to transition from session to session, and we play a variety of interesting music on the surround sound stereo system to keep it fun.
Planning is an essential part of a blended teacher’s practice. In blended environments, where students can be at different points in a course on various modalities, blended teachers need to be very intentional about how they plan. Check out the video below to see how Aaron plans for instruction in his blended classroom.
At the beginning of each Independent Learning Zone class session, I do a quick review of Independent Learning Zone Expectations. This strategy encourages the whole class to come together as a community with common expectations in mind before students begin working independently for the remainder of the class.
I use the School of One online dashboard on my computer to monitor real-time student progress on digital content. When I notice patterns of errors and/or clear misconceptions, I approach specific students for one-on-one Targeted Interventions. This strategy allows me to correct misconceptions in real time.
I frequently have my students play games as part of their learning sessions. Many students only want to play the games and do not think of creating a written records of the problems they are solving or notes on their learning. I ask my students to "split the difference" and go 50/50 on playing and note-taking. It's kind of a misnomer since there really is no "difference" to split, but the strategy makes it clear that my students should be splitting their time equally between playing a game and taking notes during that game.
During an Independent Learning Zone session, every student in my blended classroom is working independently on a different set of problems. It's impossible for me to be an answer key for 25 different students doing 25 different problem sets, so I print out their respective answer keys in advance and give each student his or her about 5-10 minutes into the period. This empowers them to monitor their own academic performance and self-correct as they are completing their assigned task.
The students' Digital Content Notebook is where Pencil and Paper Notetaking occurs. It is exactly what it sounds like. No frills. But it is even more essential in a blended format. My colleagues and I did a lot of note-taking style modeling at the beginning of our year to set the expectations in our blended classroom.
Like It-Love It-Gotta Have It is a strategy I use to differentiate assignments within my micro-groups in a Live Investigation. The three names are, in my opinion, a better way of saying high, medium and low. The kids really love the names. In a Live Investigation, there is usually varying levels of abillity or knowledge in that particular skill. By making a high, medium, and low activity, students have the ability to challenge themselves at their own level. I assign different parts of the room for each activity so I can physically see where the students are. Most of the time, I let the students self-assess and they move throughout the room according to which level they are. They are free to move (up or down) from one section to the next. Most of the activites I assign here are digital. I really like using Khan Academy here, as I can track students physically as well as digitally. With this strategy, I can also target the students at the Like It level and allow the Gotta Have it students to fly a bit on their own.
Once a day twice during a two-week unit, students will come back from their individualized assignments and group as cohort. This gives them opportunity to take their assessments as a class as well participate in full class discussions, mentoring, study sessions, and peer to peer advisory.
My colleagues and I have students write a Synopsis of their learning after every Independent Learning Zone period as well as after Live Investigations. The Synopsis acts as a reflective tool for both large and small concepts. I often tell my students to write what they actually learned or improved upon, not what they THINK I want them to write. I train my students to make a space for the Synopsis in their notebook headings. Occasionally, I will have my students read their Synopses out loud, but most often I walk around and do a quick check, as they are mostly a personal reflection for my students.
At the end of every class, my students must take a computer-based exit slip. This is an essential part of my blended program because these exit slips tell me whether or not my students are ready to move on to the next skill. If a student gets 4/5 or 5/5, he or she can move on. If not, he or she will be assigned a different type of lesson on that skill the next day.
The grouping algorithm employed by School of One assigns students a new lesson every day based on the student's most current learning needs. The algorithm actually learns the students' needs from the previous day's exit ticket. One of the learning styles or lesson types, Live Investigation, assigns students to me who are ready for whatever the assigned skill is. However, within that group, there are still varying levels of ability. I can see all of this on my data report and then I can group within my group. I call this micro-grouping.
Assessment and data play a crucial role in a blended teacher’s classroom. Blended learning gives teachers an opportunity to assess consistently throughout a class, in a way that drives instruction, impacts grouping, and assignments. Blended educators have to develop capacity to sift through multiple sources of data and synthesizes quickly into action. Check out how Aaron utilizes Assessment and Data here.