A lot of perspective on blended learning is derived from educators. The pros and cons. The fears and successes. We think we know how edtech benefits our students within traditional classrooms, amidst the rising concerns of e-safety and student data privacy. But what about what students think?
This quote from a student sums it up: “It makes me want to be creative”.
The freedom to capitalise on their own creativity is what motivates children to learn better and have greater chances of succeeding. Creativity does not endorse mistakes; it is about the process, the learning journey. Integrating ICT forms an integral part of this creative process.
I teach primary school (mainly students ages 6 and 7) in London. A few weeks back, we learnt about the significance of glossaries in our Year 2 classroom. We looked at a plethora of books that held them and practiced writing a glossary, in our Literacy books.
The next day, I told the class that they were to work in pairs to write their own non-fiction books, which sported a glossary at the end—on a topic of their choosing—on an iPad using Book Creator.The lesson lasted over two sessions.
In fact, it lasted well into their playtime; I ultimately had to gently remove the iPads from their eager hands just to get them outside. The finished works were not only informative, well-written e-books, they were visually appealing creations that successfully embedded collaborative and deep thinking skills you wouldn’t normally expect from 6 and 7 year olds.
The perhaps rushed expectation was for them to have these books completed within the hour, instead of the two hours it really took. Had this been the expectation for their Literacy books instead, I would not only have had moans and grumps, the quality of work would have been less than extraordinary, with few infusions of pure passion. They couldn’t wait to proudly share their projects with the world that is our school.
Blended learning is a concept that a lot of us struggle with, especially with a full curriculum which threatens to burst through its seams. The challenge really lies in finding the time. But here’s where we get lucky... most children have an innate bond with technology – which means they enjoy spending time exploring, figuring things out – and they do so at a faster pace than the adults. The Book Creator project above was only the second time they had used the app in a few weeks. Yet, I merely facilitated the lesson with minimal suggestions.
As we approach the end of an academic year and start, dare I say, thinking about new possibilities for the next one, the best time to embed the basics of ICT would be the first few weeks of school. Let students have a play with their devices, apps, and blogs.
Here are three tips and tools to effectively create a blended learning environment in your classroom:
1. Math / Reading Rotations. I have a timetable set up with ability groups. While I work with one group, another group could be creating their follow-up from the previous lesson on an app such as ShowMe. Alternatively, instead of creating and photocopying a multitude of worksheets (oh, the trees!) if your school uses Google Apps for Education, create a worksheet within Google docs, and Smart Copy it to the relevant groups of students who can access and complete these on laptops.
The next step could be to publish the completed work on their blogs. I ensure that each group has an opportunity to create something using technology within these rotations in a week. A group of Year 3 students in my class once created and edited a short documentary as part of their reading follow-up. Also within the rotations, students may be facilitating their own learning through useful websites and apps such as Spelling City. A student who shuddered at the word Maths started excelling when he started on Mathletics. I had regular pleas from him, asking that I set him up with more tasks! This was a student with no access to technology at home, either.
2. Collaborate and Listen!
An individual, a pair, or a group can showcase their understanding of, say, a mathematical concept using apps such as ShowMe and Educreation. My students have used these creations to help others within their class and other classes to teach the concept themselves. By sharing their own learning, or simply having an audience, students feel empowered and begin to take ownership over their learning.
3. Blog It!
The school I taught at in New Zealand initially published student work on e-portfolios that required parents (only) to input a password. Which begged the question, why do we even bother when these e-portfolios are glanced at only every once in a while?
Once we fully integrated Google Apps for Education into our teaching and learning pedagogy, Blogger, which resides under the umbrella of GAFE, became a success story. Receiving comments, especially from students and teachers around the world, motivated our students to challenge themselves within their learning, enabling them to climb higher on the assessment ladder. This is once again integrated into their rotations.
Here is a link to some of the outstanding blog work produced by Elm Park School in Auckland, New Zealand. Check it out!
Overall, the idea is to get students to explore and create, not just rely on playing games on apps, which, in my opinion, encourages students to become somewhat passive as learners—although app games can form an integral part of their learning journey when it comes to mastering concepts such as learning basic facts and matching opposites.
In my experience as a teacher, creating a successful blended learning environment has generally created a positive attitude to learning among my students. Their notions of of e-safety, which is well and truly drilled into their psyches throughout the year, enables them to grow into informed, confident digital citizens. Here is a poster which I had laminated on my wall, and spent the better half of the first term referring to it constantly... the rest of the year was taken over by students themselves, reminding each other.