Looking back on what worked and what didn’t, I dug up an entry I penned after a few months of introducing “active” learning in my classroom. I’ll let my thoughts paint the picture for you…
“First few weeks it was adrenaline pumping, excited, feeling alive and scared all at the same time… introducing the checklists, watching them respond to it…
Then came the “Oh s*** what have I done to myself?” phase when all the prep and correcting hit the fan and I was buried and feeling overwhelmed… did I not think this through enough?
Then there were the wow moments when they were working and the system was working and they were engaged and getting it…and I loved it. I loved teaching again.
My stress – although higher when it comes to planning – is so much lower when it comes to facing my day. I actually enjoy my job again. And I feel like they are going to be better students because of it. But I am realizing that the buy-in is not there. There are many reluctant, quietly complaining students who are simply learning to work a new system but still avoiding the actual work of wrestling with and truly understanding the material.
Then there are the constant tweaks…add this type of question on the checklist… add the leadership grade… bring in the round table…make the “meet me at the round table” labels…add the concept of small groups by topics…redecorate the classroom for a nice peaceful feeling…
I need to be constantly fed a healthy diet of excitement about this… and I have a vision of where it can go but it is still hazy with the technology. How blended can I get? I don’t know. But I love this so far and even though certain kids are not fully vested I will continue to work at it until I win them over for their own sake!
Yet they still wait for me to tell them to take out their stuff. They wait to be told. I wait to see them do it on their own. Take ownership. Take the keys and drive!
How to work blended content into the class? Lab rotation? Weekly? Middle of the week? Wednesdays? Get the cart and use that? Do the Anki checks weekly then? Have them watch videos, play games…record their score…take a quick final assessment online with instant feedback…but then use that data to do something…group them, review, give remedial added practice (create it? Where does it come from?)
Can seem overwhelming with the 4 preps… Again asking myself if I bit off more than I can chew. It’s only March. This has been 2 months. Let’s regroup, keep tweaking, keep encouraging them, and make this work for them. Also ask for their suggestions. How is this working for you? How can we meet your needs?”
As you might have guessed by now, I tend to look after I leap when I get excited about an idea. Much like the LA district and it’s hefty investment in iPads, I initiated change without having done much of the reading and planning beforehand. Thankfully there were not millions of dollars at stake, but my sanity did suffer a bit. So taking some time now to slow down and look through the research has been very helpful.
Let’s start by saying that if the idea is to create choice, ownership, and voice for my students, then I now realize that I need to do away with checklists and stamps and points for completion. Where is the ownership? Yes they can pace themselves and collaborate, but ultimately they are checking off the items I chose for them. High schoolers still need extrinsic motivation to stay on task, so I will have to find a way to create accountability. But it’s too much work for me and it is not producing the independent learners I am trying to bring about. I realize that I am still very scared to release control. I allow for organized chaos but I still need to be holding the reigns. I need to re-examine my purpose and my goals – my big hairy goal – and instill more of the growth mindset into the students. If they buy-in, then they will not need to have me peeking over their shoulder or constantly checking that their work is done. They are a bright group and they learn quickly.
As far as blending, I have been successful at bringing some more technology into the regular rotation. Their homework is online, I have made some videos for them to watch and take notes on, and we use our mobile devices almost daily for some task. However some students feel it is too much and too disconnected, with too many sites and passwords being used. I don’t have a single LMS that can do everything, and the LMS we have is not their favorite (nor mine). I have introduced Google sites with their activities for the week, and so far that is the best thing I have found to help keep us all organized in this chaotic endeavor.
Using technology for listening is something new this year and I think it is going well. I need more of it, just as I need to use more of the flipgrid for speaking, but for now it is working to push them out of their comfort zone while giving them some element of control. It was encouraging to see the research on this and the very positive results it produced. When I have time (over the summer?) I will work to create a progressive program of listening activities which are self-correcting.
I have learned to use “stations” and how to plan horizontally instead of vertically. That part is going well. But there is so much I don’t know – so much I need to research more and read up on. This is much bigger than I realized – but the potential is also greater. I am as excited today as I was back in January of last year when I began this shift, although at this point I am a little wiser for the wear.
What has not been working like I expected is the time to meet with students who need extra help. I need to figure this out as it is a big selling point with the blended learning concept. If I am not lecturing and directing the whole class, I should be free to offer help and meet with those who need it most. Yet I find I am constantly walking around explaining activities, answering questions, giving pointers…and monitoring their focus on task. These are not bad things, but I am still not getting that small group lesson or one-on-one I know this system can offer my students. I need to read more to see how to make this possible.
As always I feel like the answer lies in more preparation. In all the research I read, the teachers put in a lot of time charting and laying out the course. I am laying one brick at a time, and often right before they need to step on it! I need TIME to plan it all out. But I don’t have that luxury. So I will do the best I can this year, and try to perfect it for next year over the summer when I can plan and prepare the way blended learning requires. Until then…blend on!