Reluctant Truth From a Blended Learning Enthusiast
The first time I used an immersion blender, I accidentally covered the walls of my kitchen with chunky carrot soup; It was a mess. I’d like to say that my implementation of blended learning has gone more smoothly, but that would be a lie.
However, despite the mess, I remain a dedicated implementer of personalized learning. I can no longer teach whole group lessons to my 24 first grade students now that I know the potential for differentiation that blended learning provides. Much like with my carrot soup, I am willing to wipe down the counters and stovetop because I can tell the final product will be worth it.
This year I am implementing a basic station rotation model (link to other post) during my math block, where students rotate through three stations each day. Being part of new movement or shift in classroom instruction is exciting, but also isolating. I want to share some of the challenges I’ve faced in these first few months with blended learning in my classroom to help other innovators who may follow a similar path.
1. First graders need practice navigating technology. While young students have grown up with technology and are certainly confident in exploring, not all students will dig in with the same fervor. My students did not understand the necessity of logging in and out of each program, and it took a long while for them to realize why this was important. In hindsight, I wish I had provided my students with more teacher-guided time to learn how to use and practice the basic functions of the programs.
2. Keeping up with the data takes time. Easy access to data is one of the big “pluses” for blended learning. Unlike partner games or even worksheets, data from online platforms comes pre-scored and easily digestible. That doesn’t mean, however, that we always need to digest it. This is an area where I can offer little advice- most of my student data goes largely unused at this point. However, I am comforted to know that I have access to it, and there is the potential to use it well. I would love to hear how other teachers access data from blended learning and make use of it in.
3. Students get bored with technology. During the first few weeks of my students using technology it was like a magic spell had been cast on them. They were engaged, focused and committed to the task at hand. While this hasn’t completely gone away, I am starting to see more student distraction and less focus on technology. What is clear to me now is that even trying something new gets old, especially for 6 year olds. My advice here is to recognize this up front, and build in systems, as you would in any other independent work time, to keep students engaged and focused.
4. It is hard to find a perfect match. I am a teacher who creates everything from scratch—worksheets, homework, lessons, center games. Throughout my day, I like to feel connected and focused. Outsourcing my students’ time to technology forces me to give up some control and to accept that there is not always a perfect technology-based activity to follow up the lesson I taught. My advice here—accept this. It’s important for students to see information in multiple ways. Having dynamic software means that students could potentially ALWAYS be working on something that doesn’t match up. That’s life!
So while my implementation has been messy, I am still thrilled with the progress my students and I have been making. Each day I deliver substantially different lessons to my small groups, remediating and challenging students when appropriate. I tweak things constantly and try to reflect on what I have learned so I can better anticipate challenges ahead. The soup is not ready yet, but I am figuring out how to clean up the kitchen while it finishes.