We began to pilot blended learning three years ago starting with K-2. So our 3rd grade students have had three years of blended learning and we have a solidified understanding of what works. At Aspire Titan Academy, we use a rotational model in both math and ELA, which provides students 90 to 120 minutes of individual computer time daily. In both math and ELA, students are divided into two group, each spending half their time in teacher-led instruction and the remainder of working on the computers. While they’re on the computers, students use either DreamBox Learning (math), i-Ready or myON (reading), or an enrichment program, such as a typing software program.
Number of Students: 26 students
Number of Adults: one teacher; various other adults support during specific times (e.g., Blended Learning Coordinator, Special Education Teachers, etc.)
Length of Class Period/Learning Time: 120 minutes (Reading and Writing Block)
Digital Content/Ed Tech Tools Used on a Regular Basis: MyOn; i-Ready
Hardware Used on a Regular Basis: Lenovo ThinkPads (1:2 ratio); SMARTboard; Document Camera; iPad (for teacher)
Key Features: station rotation; student agency
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 Mark’s mindsets have helped to shape his blended instruction.
At our blended school, we value data in all forms, whereby we seek to meet both the academic and behavioral needs of our students. In the elementary school setting, where we assess reading levels every six weeks, we also assess student growth and mastery in each student’s blended learning every quarter and assess behavioral trends on a monthly basis.
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 Mark 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.
Council is a time for my students to share their highs and lows related to academics, and to share what's successful and struggling for them in the class. It is a non-hierarchical forum for discussion. This is important in my classroom because it gives us a powerful practice to understand more fully and appreciate the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and opinions of our classroom. It is a process that continually evolves with each group and in each time in our own developments.
Students communicate nonverbally through their hands that they agree, disagree, or want to add onto what someone previously said. Just think for a minute the amount of time we as teachers stop for interruptions. This strategy shows us that there are ways to effectively communicate with each other silently.
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 Mark’s culture impacts student achievement!
I use "call and response" strategies for a variety of purposes in my blended classroom, most of which involve getting my students' attention and reinforcing core concepts of the day's lesson or our school's mission. I use the Focusing Call and Response strategy, which consists of using more than one call and response chant, whenever I need to signal a major change in the mode of instruction or any other time I need to get my students' attention quickly and respectfully. The strategy engages my students and helps them work together to achieve 100% compliance with any instructions I may give. This strategy is especially important because there are so many transitions in my school's blended learning model.
Computer Captains for Transitions is a routine I have developed that allows my students to take on an important peer leadership role that, at the same time, helps minimize the amount of time that my students spend in transition from working independently on a computer to joining their group on the rug for direct instruction or vice versa. Using the Computer Captains for Transitions strategy, which involves designated students alerting their peers to the timing of routinized whole-class transitions, allows my students to develop more ownership over their own learning and the culture of the class. Used in combination with timing transitions and re-doing unsuccessful transitions, this strategy has helped me re-capture critical learning time in my blended learning classroom.
I ask Student Scouts to identify peers who demonstrate the three class standards/rules (showing respect, solving problems, and making good decisions) to reinforce the idea that good behavior is rewarded both intrinsically and extrinsically. Student Scouts identify their peers who are showing these standards at various pausing points throughout the lesson and give out Literacy Awards. Pausing points are planned purposefully and serve as opportunities for students to practice monitoring and assessing their own behavior.
Station transitions occur multiple times in a blended classroom. During station transitions, the team or group that’s coming out of the computers lines up and collects the materials ready to go into the whole group lesson on the rug. At the same time, the group that was just on the rug is now going to the computers and collecting their materials for the computers. We give each students 30 seconds to transition, after which we positively praise 3-4 students for making good transitions.
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 Mark plans for instruction in his blended classroom.
Explicitly stating the Goal of the Day is a deliberate strategy I employ at the beginning of my lessons to ensure that my students understand the purpose (both short- and long-term) of the work we will be doing together. Reviewing the Goal of the Day clarifies for my students the larger meaning behind the smaller and more discrete pieces of learning they do every day. It also helps us all remain focused on my students' larger dreams and aspirations.
My students generate questions before their computer-based blended learning sessions in order to guide their reading of a text through the virtual library, MyOn. They will use these class-generated questions as a reading strategy ("asking questions") in order to increase their comprehension and will give more explicit purpose to their reading. This simple strategy has helped my students be more focused and successful when they're reading independently on My On.
One way we bring authenticity to our lessons is by making explicit connections or real world hooks to what we're learning. What I particularly enjoyed about our persuasive writing unit is that we were able to identify real problems in our own school community and to think of solutions. It then brought about real change in our school, and in this case brought about getting more magazines into the classroom which was an identified need of our class.
In my class, we go over one word a day from the unit we’re learning. The first step is to ask the class how many have heard of the word before. After I tally the number, those students predict its meaning (without giving any contexts). I ask them to justify why they make that prediction (e..g, where have they heard that word before? What clues are they drawing their information from?). After they share their predictions, I then share with them the signal or physical movement attached to word. It then becomes the signal word of the day.
One of the most powerful benefits of my school's blended learning model is the amount of time it creates for me to work individually with my students on their literacy development. One strategy I use often is a Writer's Workshop Conference, which consists of my having a targeted conversation with each student during which I am able to give feedback about his or her writing. I work hard at the beginning of the year to establish a classroom culture in which all students, regardless of the activity they are involved with at any given moment, understand how important it is that I be able to provide focused, uninterrupted support to each of them. This makes it possible for me to focus on one student's writing for three to five minutes every day while other students are working individually or in small groups.
Buddy Reading is a research-based fluency strategy I use with readers who lack fluency. In this strategy, my students read aloud to each other. More fluent readers can be paired with less fluent readers, or students who read at the same level can be paired to together. Buddy Reading can be used with any book since students can take turns reading by sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter.
Writing partners are two students working together to collaboratively complete a task by reading together, asking questions to each other, and responding in written form together. Writing partners work together in every reading lesson as well as during writer’s workshop when they collaboratively read each other’s papers and ask for suggestions during the share portion.
Mentor Reading is a researched-based fluency strategy used with readers who lack fluency. In this strategy, my students read aloud to each other. When using partners, my more fluent readers are paired with less fluent readers, which in this case a 3rd grader is paired with kindergartener. My students read a story that they have already read or read a story from their Kinder buddy's book box. When done purposefully and consistently, my students have become very fluent readers and enjoy reading more.
In my class, students are allowed to offer peer support on the computers. My students identify what is a problem or a need they have and it is my job to identify who might be their support. This has helped my students offer guidance and help in a structured way. Peer support on the computers has helped with increasing academic discourse and social interactions as well as give a structured place for students to provide assistance to each other. Cooperative learning and reciprocal teaching are benefits to this strategy as well.
Observation charts are a type of inquiry chart that stimulate students’ curiosity. They build background information while providing teachers with a diagnostic tool. And they provide opportunities for language support from peers. During an observation chart, I use real pictures or paintings attached to white poster paper or butcher paper that contain a theme (e.g., food from a culture, ways of transportation, games a culture plays, etc.). My students walk around from observation chart to observation chart and write down either a question they're wondering about, a comment they'd like to make, or just an observation (i.e., statement of fact).
Students use their dry erase markers and white boards to jot down notes and work though problems while they work online. This simple strategy supports students in actually working through problems that they may otherwise try to solve in their heads. It also helps students stay engaged on computers for longer periods of time.
Computer support hand signals are a way for students to nonverbally communicate a need while on the computers. It may be that they have tech issues or perhaps they need help with a lesson. Students hold two fingers up in the air and they wait for either the computer captain, which is a student role, the teacher, or the blended learning coordinator to offer assistance.
Many teachers--myself included--utilize a version of the Think Pair Share strategy to give students opportunities for social learning and to build a culture of classroom community that includes respectful academic discourse. I use the Main Idea Think Pair Share strategy to ensure that my students are able to identify and articulate the main ideas of texts we are reading, which is one of the most foundational literacy skills that all effective readers must develop. I find that it can be helpful to use scaffolds like sentence stems and a variety of starting approaches (e.g., "the student with the longest hair speaks first") to ensure that this strategy remains fresh and accessible to my students, many of whom are English Language Learners.
The Learning Journey Review is taking an essential question or a big idea from a content unit and making it visual for the students, usually in a chart or poster. The chart, illustrating a timeline or taxonomy chart, is created at the beginning of an ELA unit and is constantly referred to at the beginning of each week and at the end of the week, thereby helping to connect the week's lessons together.
Students self-monitor their understanding by using the Fluid Mastery Rubric. They monitor their level of understanding of the lesson on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 being least mastered to 4 being most). Because my students are given the opportunity to reflect and self-monitor their level of understanding of the lesson, I get real-time data on which students need targeted interventions and supports.
As a blended school, sometimes there is an overwhelming amount of data. Knowing how to use it and when is critical in making sure that the data is both purposeful and useful. Included is both offline (DRA, RAZ, and Interim Benchmark assessments) and online (iReady) assessments to inform instruction and make groups (guided reading, computer groups, and skills-based groups).
Our students take several online assessments which gives us more data on each student's reading development, their gaps in reading, and their strengths. These online assessments help give a more holistic approach to a child's reading development since we are using multiple assessments. Included are the assessments in iReady, the STAR Enterprise, and My On.
The "Making Our Brains Grow Bigger" Rubric is a kid-friendly rubric that supports and aids students in self-monitoring how quicky and efficiently they are working in their learning modality. Students use this rubric as a guide for what behaviors are expected during their blended rotation and also use it to self-rate themselves. "Superhero Brains" are celebrated in the class and can act as "peer supports" on the computer.
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 period, 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 Mark utilizes Assessment and Data here.
I use weekly Data Chats with my students as a powerful way to motivate and encourage them. The strategy allows us to celebrate successes and identify challenges. When analyzing data from the blended programs, I work hard to identify what my students should know (i.e., what data to pull out and share with students) and to give my students the appropriate next steps for improving their scores. In each Data Chat, I try to gather student input on what's challenging them and to have my students articulate the strategies that work for them.