Lauren Roisman is a participant in DJLN's JBlend Miami professional learning this year. In this piece, Lauren describes the process of transforming her classroom, student reactions to blended learning, and the positive outcomes she has seen as a result of the changes.
I have been participating in JBlend Miami and learning about this new methodology this year. Every month when we meet, I always leave very eager to try something new with my students. At one of the meetings, we had a speaker, Aaron Griffin from Epstein in Atlanta, showing us pictures of the classrooms at his school and explaining how the classrooms operate and that the classroom is an open space where nobody “owns” a desk or chair. This concept struck me as an amazing idea that I decided I would bring up to my students the following day.
I gathered my 5th grade class to have a meeting regarding our classroom setup. I explained to them that there will be some changes in our routines in order to help them learn and make our room more of a community. I asked them what they feel is most important to their learning success and explained that my goal is to make sure everyone is receiving exactly what they need from me in order to excel this year. Instead of having assigned seats in class, the seats would now belong to everyone and personal materials will be kept in cubbies. Students will be able to sit wherever they learn best for each specific subject and activity. We discussed that they would be a pilot group and that I expect them to give me feedback on what is and is not helpful to them. If things do not work, we will fix what is not working and continue to push ahead with those strategies that do work. As this evolves, we will share it with other teachers. Ultimately, the students will have power and control over how and what they learn in my classroom within certain parameters.
There were many different responses to this plan. There were students who were excited and others who were nervous and apprehensive. Some were worried about whether the change would be permanent, or how long this change would be in effect. They also expressed their fear of trying something new. To lessen this fear, I planned activities that showed the students that failure can be looked at as a learning experience. We studied many famous people and their failures before they succeeded, and how they would not be where they are today if they didn’t try.
In addition to the fact that some students were apprehensive with the proposed change, I was also confronted with the concerns of other teachers. Since the 5th grade only has two teachers, we were not sure if it would be confusing to have a different environment in each classroom. I did not want to force this change on the other class without knowing how successful it would be, so we decided to wait a few weeks before implementing it fully in another room.
Reflecting on the last several months, I have seen many successes. Students have become more independent, invested in what happens in the classroom, and feel in control of their learning. They are more organized, the classroom is cleaner, and the students are happier. Students are eager to learn and are always presented with choices. I am constantly receiving feedback from the students - both positive and negative. When the students do have a negative experience, they take the initiative to present me with an alternative plan to try for the next time. They are more willing to try new things because they now realize that if they fail or fall short, they will use what they learned on the next attempt. Multiple chances for success is great motivation to try! Prior to the implementation of blended learning strategies, it was often a challenge to have students quiet down and read for 20 minutes. However, just the other day my students came into the room, took out their books, and found a comfortable place in the room to read (lying on the floor, sitting against the wall, etc). They understand that I trust them to take initiative, complete the assignments that challenge them, and always push themselves to be better. Their seating arrangement is no longer a point of contention, rather it’s a tool for students to take initiative and succeed.
I am aware that I took a chance on this, and there was a possibility that putting new systems into place mid-year would fail. I informed the students ahead of time of this possibility and explained to them that we may need to reflect, try different ways of doing this, and at the most extreme, return to “traditional” classroom teaching and learning. I truly believed that the blended learning methodologies would lead to better learning for students, otherwise I would have been hesitant to try it. I am so glad I did. So far, I am the only teacher implementing this blended learning model that is fully conducive to independent, differentiated, individualized learning in 5th grade.
It has been interesting to see the support and reactions from my fellow co-workers and administration. I was concerned about their responses because this system is not along the “norm” of the school, and I would be the only teacher with a vastly different-looking classroom.
This experience is different from any other change I have ever made in my teaching career because, although I knew the administration would support this initiative, I took the liberty to implement and innovate in my classroom. I took it upon myself to make a plan with my students and treated them as they should be treated - individuals who are capable of having ownership over their learning, thinking critically, and pacing themselves. I gave the students a chance to express their opinions and become active in the methods that help them learn. This experience has been shared with the faculty and the support has been overwhelming. There have been more positive learning conditions inside my classroom and also a positive effect with the other faculty. I am demonstrating that there are new and innovative ways to improve student learning, maintain classroom management, and individualize the curriculum to meet the needs of each student.
Lauren Roisman is in her second year of teaching 5th Grade Math and Science at Jacobson Sinai Academy, and previously taught Kindergarten for two years. She has always been interested in teaching older children and has found it a fun and rewarding experience. She received both her Bachelor of Science and Master’s Degrees in Elementary Education from the University of Florida. Teaching is her passion and she tries to be "current" with her students, constantly using technology and learning new methods to enhance their experiences.