How to Get Started with Blended Learning

Blended Learning image with book and tablet

Laura Collier, an Education Consultant and a former Math teacher, was invited to attend a two-day workshop with the amazing Marcia Kish, who is the expert on blended learning.  After that training, Laura has not been able to stop sharing about blended learning and has since begun to adapt her training style to embrace this model of instruction. She shares her experience with us and provides a step-by-step process that can be easily implemented into lessons. 

So, Laura, tell us, what is Blended Learning? 

Blended Learning can take on many different meanings and can look different in every classroom, so I am going to use the definition given to me by Marcia Kish. 

 Blended learning is defined as students working at their own Pace, Place, and Path. – Marcia Kish

This simple, but very clear, definition works as a guide while making decisions in your blended classroom. When in doubt, simply stop and ask, “Does this allow my students to move at their own Pace, Place, and Path?
Let’s breakdown each of these words to ensure we are all on the same page.

  1. Pace means that if a student needs to continue working on a skill or concept longer than his or her peers, your classroom provides the resources for this to occur.  No student should be forced to move on or slow down when it is not best serving their needs. Allowing students to move at their own pace increases their engagement, ownership, and overall enjoyment of their time in school. If our goal is to prepare students for the “real world”, we have to teach them how to adequately pace themselves when working on easy and difficult tasks.
  2. Place is pretty easy to define because it is a tangible piece to this trifecta of blended learning.  Place will depend on the physical limitations of your classroom but do not let those four walls hold back your creative imagination.  A simple Google search or Pinterest hunt will provide dozens of cost-effective ways to create unique seating options for you and your students.  If you are at a loss, put an “ideas box” in the classroom and let your students mastermind the plans.  Allowing students to work in a physical location where they feel comfortable and safe will free up their minds to produce higher quality work.  I do not know about you, but when I am uncomfortable it is all my mind can think about.  When I am able to stretch out a little and relax, my mind can focus on more important ideas, which result in more time being productive and less time being distracted.
  3. Path, to be honest, was the hardest for me to wrap my head around.  I’m a former math teacher, so I think about everything in very linear straight lines.  How can I possibly allow one student to venture down a path that I have not first prepared for them?  What if they learn something I have not taught yet?  What if they learn it wrong?  If I am being completely honest, what if they learn something I do not know the answer to?  This is where Marcia Kish guided me in her outstanding training.  She advised us to take it slow.  Start with stations, 10 minutes at each station including independent practice, future-ready skills, digital learning, and a teacher mini-lesson.  Now, pick your mouth up off the floor, yes she said 10 minutes!  Stop and think about it, how long is your attention span?  The fact that you have made it this far in my blog already shows me that you have an above average ability to focus.  Our brains are wired to move on if something is not interesting to us.  Our brains prefer to learn new material in small doses, so 10 minutes is the perfect fit.  However, if you are still struggling to wrap your head around it, I would suggest again, to take it slow.  Start with 2 stations 20 minutes each and ease yourself into what works for you and your kiddos.

Once you have mastered the stations and rotations, your next challenge is to move to a checklist.  Students will complete the checklist at their own Pace, Place, and Path.  Now that does not mean that a student can come into class and work on the digital learning task the entire period.  Every student, every day, has to visit the mini-lesson with the teacher at least once.  Marcia Kish was also very clear in stating that blended learning has to work within the confines of your school district testing calendar and preset curriculum expectations.  She encouraged us to spend the second day working with our district curriculum and building our stations using the materials already provided to us.  This way no one has to reinvent the wheel.

How does it work?

From what I have observed so far, the main reason this method is working has to do with the students taking ownership of their learning and the teacher not being exhausted at the end of the day.  The district I work in is pretty new to this concept so they are learning and moving forward every day.  The best part I have seen is that Marcia Kish is jumping right in the deep end with the teachers!  She coaches, guides, and moves them forward as they master each new idea!  Now if you are thinking, “how do I get a coach to support me with blended learning?”  I would suggest you check out her Blended Learning Cookbook and see how blended learning can fit into your classroom.

How do I get started?

From my experience, I would start by splitting your classroom into two groups to include the teacher mini-lesson and independent practice.  Once you have mastered these groups and your students have embraced the procedures and expectations you have set for them, add in a new station, such as digital learning.  Slowly grow your blended classroom to meet your students’ needs.  Once you feel comfortable with all four stations, it is time to bring in the DATA!  You will now begin pulling small groups to work with you in the teacher mini-lesson based on what skills they need to work on, and the rest of the class will be working to complete a checklist of tasks you have created for them.  Keep pulling small groups, based on data, until you have visited with everyone in the classroom.

A few tips when getting started:

  1. Hang a sign somewhere in the room that says Pace, Place, and Path to remind you that everyone in your room is learning, INCLUDING YOU, the way that works best for them.
  2. A small caution: when you begin implementing blended learning you will very clearly begin to see the gaps in your students learning and understanding.  This may scare you into returning to whole group instruction because you worry they are not “figuring it out on their own”.  Please give it time and keep looking back at the data.  You will find areas of improvement, even if it simply means an improvement in classroom behavior or attention span.
  3. If you are a lone wolf on your campus trying out blended learning, I would highly encourage you to reach out to a broader personal learning network and find other teachers who can share ideas and help keep you motivated.  Twitter is a great place to find your tribe, and I would highly suggest following Marcia Kish @dsdPD!
  4. Lastly, remember that you and the students are in this together.  Ask them for feedback on what is working for them and what is not working for them.  Do not take it personally but instead keep blending until you get that perfectly balanced recipe of Pace, Place, and Path.

For more information on blended learning and other classroom topics, follow Promethean.