In thinking about how the landscape of blended learning has progressed in the past years there seem to be several themes that drive the innovation and change. While there are many physical manifestations of blended learning, i.e. flex models, learning Labs, cyber schools, and all other verbage that goes along with it (remixing, flipping, video tutorials, data analytics, personalized learning), the conceptual foundations seem less disparate. Reach all students!
As a teacher who has spent many years working with atypically developing students, this premise resonates loud and prominent, like the tremors I feel in the Berkeley hills from the Hayward fault. Reach All Students!!!
Early pioneers in the blended learning space, as described in tech& learning, were curiousabout the potential gains that could be made by flipping how and when the direct instruction was delivered. Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, authors of Flip Your Classroom, started creating vodcasts of their lessons in 2006-2007. This instigated alternative approaches to instruction that they felt allowed the in-class activities to “transition [ing] from the old industrial model of education to the learner centered, active class of the future.”
We know that inquiry and authentic learning opportunities, and critical thinking, and group work are all approaches that support learning and prepare students for college and beyond. We want our students to develop 21st century leadership skills and Project-Based Learning is one way that we achieve this goal. In addition, Flip Your Classroom states
“Flipping helps students of all abilities to excel. Our special education teachers love this model. Because all the direct instruction is recorded, students with special needs can watch the videos as many times as they need to learn the material.” This establishes skill development as an essential component of a students education and at the same time emphasizes individual pathways to skill mastery.
At Envision Schools we have been exploring these concepts in a couple of ways. One of our math teachers has begun to test the power of having students watch and rewatch instructional tutorials for key algorithms in mathematics. Struggling students in his classroom spend time reviewing the days lesson on educreations while others are working in small groups, and others are doing extension or reach problems. Embracing not only the technique of flipping but reintroducing a station approach has allowed the students and teacher in this algebra I class to have multiple and personalized pathways to success. Stay tuned for more exciting new from this classroom!!!
The other way that we are building our competencies in technology integration in the service of individualized learning is the work that I am doing with Learning Center staff and specific students. Leslie Wilson recently wrote a blog post about the significant role that technology can now play in the educational experience for students with Individualized Education Plans. We have learned that there are many free web-based tools that provide scaffolding to our students so that they can become more independent and successful. There are also a couple of programs that we have invested in that are worth the money we spent.
I will start by describing the tools we paid for. Each Learning Center has what we call the “Assistive Tech” laptop that the Learning Specialists can use with students. These are equipt with Co:writer, Write:Outloud, and Dragon Dictate, among all the other programs that the schools computers have. My favorite is Co:Writer by far. This program has a predictive text feature that supports students with dyslexia or low literacy skills by offering them options based on phonetic spelling information. It also reads the complete sentence back to the writer. Its great. It really helps students engage in writing as though they are having a conversation, and hear when their writing is not what they want it to sound like.
I will now mention a few of the free tools that have been successful and why we like them.
- http://freesummarizer.com/. Allows students to summarize readings so that they can ensure comprehension.
- Dragon Dictate app. This allows students to access the tool on the go without the laborious set up.
- Khan Academy. Students get to work on skills that they may not have mastered.
- Bookshare. Free audio books and reader. Allows students to access text.
- http://www.paperrater.com/. Allows students to do paper corrections and learn at the same time.
Looking ahead to next year I am certain that we will continue to find innovative ways to meet the learning needs of the diverse student body we serve. I am sure that there are many more tools that others have used, and that students access on their own. I welcome any suggestions and recommendations.