Blended Learning: A Classroom Catalyst
Marquis studied his computer screen and slowly raised his hand. As I head over to him he exclaims, “Ms. Mauter, I am so close to getting the answer right every time! I am getting the number in the final answer—it’s just that it has the wrong sign.”
I study the work on his paper. Instead of moving terms in the last step, he moved his equal sign resulting in a sign error. We worked through the problem together. After a minute of instruction, he could clearly articulate his mistake.
“Before I was floating the equal sign, when I needed to move the terms, instead,” Marquis says. Five minutes later I glance at his screen from two rows behind. Marquis has solved five equations in a row with 100% accuracy. This small problem-solving episode reflects the story of my ability to match the right student with the right instruction at the right time without interfering with my other students’ ability to move forward. My blended learning pilot has reconfigured the information circuit in my classroom. It has served as a catalyst for connecting students with more of what they need when they need it through one of three pathways: a computer, a fellow student or the teacher.
A typical class starts out with a short mini-lesson aligned to eighth grade common core standards. There is a short sequence of guided practice problems to follow that gives way to the most rewarding 40 minutes of my day as a teacher. Students log into Khan Academy, a computer based math program. They practice from a playlist of skills that I have created based on individual student Northwest Evaluation Assessment Measures of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP) score bands and growth targets. The playlist doubles a tracker for students to measure their progress.
My students work from one of six student playlists based on ability. Each playlist is printed on colored paper – bright reminders that authentic and efficient differentiation is happening. In the same moment when Marquis clears up a misunderstanding about solving equations with variables on both sides, fellow students continue to make forward progress by practicing one-step equations, the distributive property, understanding function notation, interpreting linear relationships, solving rational equations or other math skills.
In addition to one-on-one conversations, I seize part of this 40-minute block as an opportunity to work with small groups of five or less students struggling with a specific skill. Working with smaller groups of students proves to be a much less stressful learning configuration compared to my traditional style of whole-group teaching. I can more easily adapt my instruction to address student misunderstandings and improve the quality of interactions with a handful of students to better meet their learning needs. An added benefit is that I have the time to enjoy them more on a personal level.
Individualized playlists have dramatically improved peer-tutoring in the classroom. With more organized information about the skills individual students are working on and the skills they have mastered, I am able to make better decisions about student pairings. I reward and empower students who have demonstrated mastery by calling on them to peer-teach another student in the classroom who is still working on that same skill. In that moment, the student gains classroom recognition as an expert in a certain skill and I create more time to conference with another student. I look forward to the 40-minute block because I am managing behavior less, and more students are learning, even if not directly from me.
My blended learning pilot helps me to empower students like Marquis as learners. Students have more control over the pace at which they practice or learn new content and have different pathways to master new material.
The 40-minute block that I look forward to has room for improvement. For example, I need to increase the frequency of small group instruction because I know from experience that it’s works. I would also like for students to have more choice in the pathway they take to get help: instructional video, peer-tutor, or small group instruction.
Reconfiguring my classroom information circuit by leveraging technology, small group instruction and individual peer tutors is accelerating student achievement. Blended learning is a catalyst for invaluable teacher-to-student and student-to-student interactions that prize learning and mastery.