What Does Blended Learning Look Like Anyway?

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by Gary Hartstein for the DigitalJLearning Network

This is one of the questions I'm asked most often. And my answer is usually the same: it is different in every class. Let me give you a few examples.

At the Ida Crown Academy in Chicago, a physics teacher puts some of his content online. Students in this flipped-blended learning model get do some independent learning before class. In class, they have opportunities to apply the concepts in small groups. The instructor circulates among the groups checking for understanding, and Socratic questions to prompt students into reasoning through the process rather than just telling them the answers. This also gives him opportunities for formative assessment. He is able to stop and redirect the lesson on the fly, a major component of what we call agile teaching. You’ll be able to learn more about this on a soon-to-be released video that will be published on the DigitalJLearning web site.

Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco has instructors blending learning in a variety of subjects and in different ways.  And student-directed learning is taking shape.  As you'll see in a future interview to be posted on the DigitalJLearning web site, students created collaboration and sharing structures independently, without any prompting from the teacher, to support their work on class projects. The fact is the teacher did an outstanding job of balancing online and face to face whole-class learning. To her, the technology wasn't a separate component she somehow had to “fit in.” It was simply a collection of media that gave students access to learn. This created an environment that allowed students to take reasoned chances with less fear of failure while tapping into their own intrinsic motivations to learn.

Now you're probably saying, "That's all well and good with science. You can't teach Talmud that way.”  If I had a dime for every time I heard that, well let's just say I'd have one heck of a tall pile if dimes! Back at Ida Crown there's a Gemara teacher who has created his own online video content - and it's more than just a talking head or text on a screen. I've observed the depth of engagement among his students as they worked independently, with headphones of course. He is able to maximize class time working with individual students, small groups or whatever his ongoing formative assessment drives. His parting comment to me was that for the first time in his years of teaching, he’s getting to know his students better as individuals and feels like he's really teaching ALL of them.

These are just a few of many examples of how blending learning can effectively support differentiating instruction, learning while learning how to learn, and developing practices that will serve them well beyond their days in school.

And did anyone happen to notice the one constant that was the key component in every example above? In case you missed it, each scenario had a committed teacher who understands that technology integration on any level isn't at all about the technology. It's about the learning.