5.2 Reasons for Blending
While there are countless reasons for blending your teaching, most reasons focus on improving one or more of the following:
- Learning—Blended classrooms can improve student learning by increasing personalization, allowing for more individual and small group instruction, making better use of classroom time, providing more ways for students to make their learning visible, improving how students and teachers communicate, and adding relevance to learning activities.
- Efficiency—Blended classrooms can help students complete learning activities in less time and with less energy, help students stay more organized (less likely to lose assignments), make it easier for teachers to share, reuse, and adapt resources at little or no cost.
- Access and Flexibility—In blended classrooms students have access to materials and learning activities anywhere and anytime. In fact, there are some resources and activities that can only be done with the online component. Teachers can also provide students with digital directions and scaffolds to help guide and support students during digital learning activities. Teachers can also use online technologies to make activities and materials more accessible to all students (especially those on individualized education plans or IEPs). For instance, digital technologies make it easier for teachers to provide students with multiple means of representation.
Oftentime teachers have multiple reasons for blending, but almost always one of these three reasons is primary in their minds. Table 1 shows some simple examples in elementary classrooms and how they might help the teacher to achieve multiple purposes simultaneously.
Examples of multiple purposes for a blended activity
|Facilitates student collaboration and feedback across the curriculum.
||Learning: Collaboration is an important aspect of learning. While facilitating meaningful student collaboration can be challenging, online technologies can help. Teachers can also provide formative feedback using text and tracked changes in documents or using screencasts showing the exact location students need to revise, making it much easier to implement the suggestions. Digital projects can also be easy for students to update and improve without students feeling like they have to “start from scratch.”
Since digital projects can be accessed by multiple people simultaneously, it becomes much easier for students to provide feedback to each other, giving them opportunities to build critical thinking and communication skills.
|Efficiency: Making physical copies of student papers increases cost and requires time and effort that could be spent elsewhere. Additionally, we as elementary school teachers spend a lot of time lugging home stacks of turned-in assignments, writing feedback, and then returning them the next day. Online projects eliminates the need to take home bags full of paperwork and allows the automatic sharing of feedback in a way that is accessible by all students and saves time in class. This feedback can be provided using text, but also through audio and video recordings which can be more efficient in many cases and for some assignments.
|Access & Flexibility: Online communication and collaboration tools allow students to continue collaborative tasks anywhere and any time they have an internet connection. When students receive virtual feedback, they can also access their feedback from anywhere with an internet connection.
|Creates a space for discussions that involve all class members.
||Learning: Many students struggle to fully participate in class discussions for a variety of reasons, while others feel so comfortable participating that they dominate the conversations. Online discussions give everyone the opportunity to participate (meaning they have time to discover what they think), creating more robust, reflective, and divergent discussions. On the flipside, lower learning students can use the responses from their peers to craft and build an understanding as a way to scaffold and build confidence in their thinking. However, online discussions can lack synergy and excitement. As a result, some of the best learning outcomes come from discussions that blend in-person and online communication.
|Efficiency: When compared to in-person discussions, online asynchronous discussions can be less efficient. However, online discussions are a more efficient way to give every student a voice.
|Access & Flexibility: Online discussions allow all students to voice their ideas. Many online platforms also allow students to communicate through speaking, writing, or drawing when sharing their ideas. As a result, students with varying abilities and skills can participate.
|Promotes differentiated instruction across the curriculum.
||Learning: Based on data, students can be assigned learning activities and material specific to their needs and weaknesses in the different areas of a given subject. Students who don’t need to work on a skill don’t have to, allowing them to work on skills that provide enrichment and deepen understanding. Students who don’t understand how to use a skill can receive instruction and activities designed to help them learn the concept. In addition, Blended Classrooms often blend curriculum areas. This allows concepts to be taught not in isolation but are practiced and learned throughout the day with multiple subjects. These data practices also provide effective information for feedback between teacher-student interactions as well as provide effective interactions between teachers and parents.
|Efficiency: Students don’t waste time working where they are already proficient. They don’t have to wait for other students to catch up or worry about being behind.
||Access & Flexibility: Students have access to instruction specifically targeted to their needs. They have the flexibility to access the content they need and which they have not already mastered.
Think about why you would like to blend your classroom. In your blended teaching workbook, write your thoughts, creating your own purpose.
Write a brief statement about why you want to blend your classroom. Which purposes and outcomes are you most interested in for your blend? If you have not already accessed your workbook, you can access it here. Make sure you save your copy where you can use it again as you go through the elementary education chapters.
5.3 Common Challenges to Teaching/Learning in the Elementary Classroom: Problems of Practice
All teachers face challenges. It's part of the nature of sharing a learning journey with a large number of young people. For many teachers, like 5th grade teacher Bridgette Joskow in the video below, blended teaching helps them address and overcome some of those challenges.
Your choice to blend will be more meaningful to you and your students if it helps to address challenges that you and your students face in the traditional non-blended classroom. We refer to these challenges as “problems of practice.”
Definition: Problem of Practice
A problem of practice is a current problem or challenge that you believe could be improved through blended teaching.
Problems of practice can fall under any of the three purposes outlined in section 1.1. However, the most meaningful and powerful problems of practice for teachers deal directly with improving learning outcomes for their students.
Fig. 1 Problems of Practice in Elementary Education
These five pathways are a powerful tool to help you think deeply about problems of practice that are relevant to you. Once you identify specific challenges in your current approach to teaching, you will be able to begin to explore what online approaches may be combined with your in-person approaches to make a better experience for your students and you alike. This process energizes you and your teaching. Teachers who choose to blend often find that they enjoy teaching in new and fulfilling ways.
Teachers who choose to blend often find that they enjoy teaching in new and fulfilling ways. Below Texas administrator Dr. Chawanna Chambers explains how blended learning helps her support teachers to prevent burnout.
Now that you have reviewed the five pathways to identifying problems of practice, it is your turn to look at your own practice and try to identify a couple of challenges that you can consider as you continue throughout these elementary education chapters. What student outcomes and teaching practices would you like to improve? What stands in the way of your teaching having the impact you would like it to have?
Identify 2-3 problems of practice (PoP) that you can use as you consider blended options for your classroom.
Note: You should identify several problems of practice (PoP) because not every PoP has a good blended learning solution.
If you haven't already opened and saved your workbook, you can access it here.