Rookie Mistakes: Five Lessons about Blended Learning I learned the hard way
These are the voyages of a 5th grade Latin class and their teacher who decided to implement a blended learning model – station-rotation style – during the final month of the 2013-2014 school year.
1. Password Control (or lack thereof)
This was the single most confounding aspect of my pilot. I was using three different websites that had been gradually introduced to students earlier in the year.
Rookie Status: I let students choose their usernames and passwords to create their own accounts. In addition, the site we were using did not allow teachers to have an administrative account to recover students’ lost passwords. This led to students regularly forgetting their logins and passwords, me spending valuable time helping them set up new accounts, and massive hair loss from me ripping it out of my scalp.
Amateur: The second time around I tried a new strategy! I told them all to set up their accounts in a specific way:
username: firstletteroffirstname + lastname (e.g. jsmith)
password: yourfirstname (e.g. john)
Simple! Right? All problems solved, right? NOPE. Some students followed this direction to a T – but then couldn’t remember the equation when it came to login for homework. Some did not follow the suggested pattern at all, and then had trouble logging in. Some students had typos when typing out their passwords and couldn’t tell for all the ********* in the way.
Master: Create all your students accounts and keep a master list of usernames and passwords as well as student accessible folders in the classroom. Make sure all the usernames and passwords are identical and simple.
It seems like a lot of work, but will save your tenders scalp from premature balding.
2. Unless Scotty has a problem with the transporter, you cannot be in two places at once
I was so gung-ho to get started with my pilot, and feeling rushed to accomplish all the ambitious plans in a limited amount of time that I assumed too much from my students. We had practiced with a few station-rotation models before. I’d given explicit instructions for how the new classroom would run, but often found myself stopping my small group instruction to help a student remember a password or figure out what the assignment was next on the playlist.
The solution? Spend a day (or two, maybe even three) to troubleshoot problems. Don’t try to teach a small group in this time, but practice transitions and guide the students to work more independently so that they’re able to do so smoothly without you.
3. Dear parents, this is not the Robot Apocalypse…
Be sure that parents are not just inundated with information about your new classroom, but also understand that robots are not taking over. Make sure you explain how technology and smaller group work allows you to have closer relationships with your students and follow their progress. Charts and photos are nice, simple ways to communicate the larger idea. Just be aware and prepared for parents who will worry about too much screen time, or that their child is getting less personal guidance when screen time increases, or that you are an agent of the robocalypse. Explain and show them how personalized learning works for students so they understand this is not about using tech for tech’s sake.
4. Small group instruction vs. the SCREEN
While students may be engaged with an academic game on the screen or think a video is cool and informative, they actually prefer small group instruction and the teacher’s guiding attention. During the first week of our pilot, we spent more time on the computers so students could learn how to use the programs before I started small group instruction. The feedback from my students that surprised me the most was the fact that they missed me so much!
Once we finished troubleshooting and reinstated small groups, they were much happier. They said they got to share much more with the smaller groups and felt our work was more focused on their needs (which of course, is the point of small groups).
A flexible grouping system is great as it allows you to focus on specific needs and helps students feel a sense of fluidity in their status so they are motivated to succeed. Just be careful to not be so flexible that you let any outliers fall through the cracks!
5. The look on a student’s face when…
He changes from feeling frustrated to feeling confident and successful, or when she realizes she’s ready to read an advanced passage and is eager for the challenge, or when another student gives his friend a fist bump when he joins the top tier, having worked persistently from the bottom up…
Those moments are worth all the password panics, classroom chaos, and paranoid parents.
I hope I get to see many more.