Blended Learning: Changing the Classroom for the Better
The role of the teacher has changed because of the integration of technology in the classroom (Horn, 2015). This change has started a new revolution called blended learning. Blended learning is not a new term and is defined in many ways. Most would describe blended learning as the combination of face to face instruction and student-paced technology-based instruction. It must also include the student being in charge of the time, place and location of their learning (Maxwell, 2016). There are many forms and models of blended learning being used in education today, although I will not be discussing all the different models in this review. I will be focusing on the individual rotation model that I plan to implement in my classroom.
Why Blended Learning?
Many confuse a technology-rich classroom with blended learning. One main difference is that blended learning has made technology an integrated component and not a support tool. We have the opportunity to move away from the ‘one size fits all’ model toward a truly blended learning approach (Lautzenheiser & Hochleitner, 2014). Many descriptions of blended learning are too basic and should emphasize the enormous change in how students learn when it’s implemented (Maxwell, 2016). This change has been linked to blended learning, as it has allowed students the freedom to have a choice in when, where and how they receive the information to learn (Johnson, 2011). Students have been asking for this change for years now, as they show interest in having both online and in person instruction (Smith, 2009; Dahlstrom, 2014). Students also have shown to be more eager to learn, and an increased motivation for tough to reach students (Ark, 2013). Another benefit of the online side of blended learning is providing students unlimited resources at their fingertips (Singh, 2003). The benefits are not just for the students though; the ‘organization’s bottom line’ also improves. A slow and steady implementation can ensure that all involved will have a smooth transition to blended learning as well (Driscoll, n.d.).
The Individual Rotation Model
Many classrooms around the country use blended learning models. The individual rotation model allows students to rotate according to a schedule for one of their subjects (Graham, Henrie & Gibbons, 2014). Each student will have a specific playlist, and they do not always rotate to all the stations. This personalization of different schedules which “enables teachers to match the right student with the right content at the right time” is true differentiation at its best (Darrow, Ed.D., Friend, & Powell, Ed.D., 2013). Students will have a certain comfort level has already experienced a similar non-blended model of stations in the past (Thompson, 2017).
The most important thing to remember is to always start small when starting a blended model. Make sure to try one piece of technology that will help streamline your classroom. Patience is necessary as well, and the ability to learn from your mistakes to improve the model every chance possible (ASCD, 2013). Implementation over a three-year period is the normal timeline for an elementary school. A school should always know the needs of their school first. Does the school need to reach students who are below grade level or are a lot of students transient (Ark, 2013)? Recently, there have been many comparisons between the business world and education as they both have used blended learning effectively. The ease of access to learning materials online has helped to accelerate the many instances of blended learning (Bonk, 2003).
Implementation Timeline and Steps
Creating a timeline before starting an implementation should be a priority and have built-in checkpoints to check for roadblocks along the way. Starting a blended learning program at any school requires at least a small group of teachers to have complete buy-in. In addition, the number one need for a successful implementation is leadership. Without this, the blended learning model may not develop as it should. There quite a few important questions to ask when it comes to the school leadership during the planning stages. The most important question is ‘what are the year to year measurable goals of the program?’
Another important step is to implement continuous professional development for all staff involved. Schools must ask themselves what type and how professional development may take shape for teachers and administrators alike. Teachers need to believe in the model and the change that occurs in the classroom. Teachers need to be aware of this change and what the student is going to experience when this takes place. The platform and technology used during the implementation is also an integral part. The collection and analyzing of data will occur to allow for improvements when needed. How will all these changes affect the assessment requirements at the school and district level? That question may bring up some critical conversations.
Schools must also communicate with parents about the program and how it will affect their children in the classroom. The online content that students will be using is also an important piece of the puzzle. Content alignment to the required state standards is necessary as well. They also must provide guidance or possibly training for teachers in the creating or acquisition of this content. And of course, a reliable technology set up is necessary for the model to be successful and show real growth in student learning. What resources are available to teachers and students already and will there be a need for more? The answer to that question will possibly lead to issues about funding of the program (Darrow, Ed.D., Friend, & Powell, Ed.D., 2013).
Positive Results and Case Studies
There is minimal research on blended learning designs, but Stanford University and the University of Tennessee have concluded that blended learning is more effective than the traditional classroom (Singh, 2003). A promising case of the rotational model has occurred at Empower Academy (KIPP) in Los Angeles, where the students have shown a 69% increase in the percent of students that are proficient or advanced on the STEP Literacy Assessment during the first year of the program (Staker, 2011).
A case study at the New York Randolph Central School District found that the schools used online formative assessment data to place students in “fluid ability groups” in each classroom. Another study at Spring City Elementary Hybrid Learning School found that they use the station rotation model of blended learning. This model led to the percentage of students who reached the proficient and advanced level on the state assessment increase across the board; reading went up 19%, Math went up 24% and Science went up 27%. At Nolan Elementary-Middle School students work at their own pace and support the learning of their peers as well as themselves. Students take assessments four times a year and based on readiness, not their grade level they begin in separate groups. The student choice in their learning path increased engagement, and a greater understanding of the subject matter as well (Darrow, Ed.D., Friend, & Powell, Ed.D., 2013).
Personalized Blended Learning Model
Using station rotations in the classroom is not a new concept for many students; although blended learning would be a new endeavor. Some goals that should be put in place before implementation are as follows. A school culture that strives for continuous improvement and a clear goal of helping all students become owners of their learning is a very important trait. The sharing of best practices among teachers and the opportunity for professional development will be important. Data usage is one of the keys to giving students the correct learning path for them to reach mastery (Darrow, Ed.D., Friend, & Powell, Ed.D., 2013). The data from such programs as Education Galaxy allows teachers to guide students to their own personal learning playlist. This will give students guidance, but at the same time allow them to have a choice in their learning.
While blended learning is not a new concept, it is still in its infant stages of bringing true innovation and change in how the classroom functions. Technology allows for so much freedom for teachers and students and using in a productive way is necessary. Schools must always be aware of the hurdles they will run into during the start and always have a growth mindset when problems arise. This philosophy is true of many of the educational endeavors over the years. We will hope blended learning does not meet the fate of those innovative ideas that fizzled out. We must remember that blended learning is not about the technology, it is the change to personalized learning for students. The use of technology as blended learning should be transformative (Darrow, Ed.D., Friend, & Powell, Ed.D., 2013).
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ASCD. (2013, March). The basics of blended instruction. Retrieved October 28, 2018, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar13/vol70/num06/The-Basics-of-Blended-Instruction.aspx
Bonk, C. J. (2007). The handbook of blended learning: global perspectives, local designs. Pfeiffer.
Dahlstrom, Eden, & Bichsel, J. (2014) ECAR Study of undergraduate students and information technology: Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, October 2014. Available from http://www.educause.edu/ecar. Retrieved from: https://library.educause.edu/resources /2014/10/2014-student-and-faculty-technology-research-studies
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Thompson, J. (2017, August 23). 6 Blended learning models: When blended learning is what’s up for successful students. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com /6-blended-learning-models-blended-learning-successful-students