Down The Rabbit Hole

Down The Rabbit Hole

All teachers work really hard trying to customizing learning for students, and too often without the supports we would all want for them. Traditional teachers are creating curriculum, finding resources from their peers and networks, organizing student projects, making the best of static textbook tools, grading, assessing, grouping, and if they are lucky, they might get to manage some online content supports of their kids, too. They are also doing yard duty, connecting with families at all hours, managing bathroom passes for kids, organizing assemblies, leading clubs and all the myriad tasks that make up their complex day. The choreography required by teachers is awe-inspiring.

In a highly-functioning blended environment, teachers still work really hard, but now they are one step closer to having the support they need to truly personalize learning for unique kids. Teachers still have many hats to wear, it’s just that when it comes to the part of a teacher’s day where they actually ‘teach’, a blended teacher is set-up to be more targeted, focused, and purposeful without bending over backwards to do so. Blended teachers let the computers do for kids what computers do best and save their own precious time for the teaching and relationship-building that only a human teacher can do. Right now, computers tend to be good at practice and assessment of skills that show up lower down on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Computers are great at helping kids become fluent in their math facts, but are not always fabulous in organizing a small group to collaboratively work through a chunky problem asking them to argue for one cell phone plan or another. (There are online tools, though, that are increasingly better at helping students develop critical thinking skills and creative problem solving.) While students are well occupied with their computer, practicing skills at their personalized skill level (or perhaps building background knowledge by previewing an upcoming skill, concept or standard), teachers are finally enabled to:

1) look at data in real-time right in the middle of class (particularly if their classroom is 1:1). This is incredibly important if we are to help teachers be more sustained in their work. The data flow is huge in a blended classroom and we cannot expect teachers to keep it all in their heads.

2) use that data to pull a meaningful small group. This is a homogeneous group of learners for a specific skill or concept for whom the computers did not succeed in teaching to mastery. A human teacher’s intervention at this point is often the key to helping students passed their particular learning obstacle.

3) organize and facilitate collaborative small groups of students to move through chunkier problems and projects, often times higher up on Bloom’s Taxonomy. These are often the projects and problems one hears teachers saying they wish they had time for, but instead are too often ‘catching up’ kids on the basics.

Becoming a blended teacher is not easy. It takes a huge investment of time and energy by the teacher and can be frustrating at times, particularly when they learn of a best-case-scenario solution that may not work given their current technology status. After teachers and students experience the ‘shiny’ phase of new computers and online content, many hit a wall. All of a sudden there may be new types of classroom misbehaviors, technology may need maintaining, some of these ‘digital natives’ may not actually be the tech savants they were made out to be, etc. It’s at this critical point in time (which is slightly different for each teacher — personalized even, one might say), that teachers either back-track into the solutions they know and have experience with, or dive deeper down the blended learning rabbit hole to find new solutions. Teachers who take the dive rarely come back up. They go deeper and deeper, adapting, trying new ideas with kids and enjoying the journey along the way.

I am lucky enough right now to be helping teachers at this critical juncture in their blended transition, and I am inspired by their determination to get good at all of these new skills and techniques. Blended learning doesn’t take away teachers’ responsibility to problem-solve and be creative. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, supporting and empowering teachers to problem-solve both old and new issues and find solutions that work for kids.

Written by Greg Klein

Director of Blended Learning at Rogers Family Foundation. Greg is on the ground, supporting principals, teachers and students at four Oakland district public schools as they make their transitions to blended classrooms. You can follow him @gregdklein.

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