Blended Learning is one of the more nebulous educational terms lately.
It ranks up there with “disruptive” and “innovative” and if completing an EDU BINGO card is not what you are in the field of education for…
you require some solid advice to get started blending your instruction.
Provide directions for ev-ery-thing.
If you add a new type of item, add directions for it. It is a large amount of work in the start of creating content to do this, however there are some redeeming qualities. You can establish a format (think how directions used to have a “look” on your board or screen in class) so the reading of them becomes automatic and predictable. You can reuse large portions of written directions and/or formatting; creating work online is a copy and paste world embrace it and use it to your advantage. You might want to keep a plain text (.txt) file of any HTML which you think you might like to replicate for instance. Are you able to add your teammates to your courses for writing purposes? Sharing the wealth and establishing team norms can go hand in hand with getting this work done!
You know what really feels great? After you make a troubleshooting module/unit and you get to use it over and over again. Other teachers will ask for a copy and you are then teaching them how to write directions for a blended environment. Go you.
Do it once, reap the rewards continually. As in for years…
Try adding items without adding directions and just “see” what participants need directions in.
*Spoiler alert* students collectively need directions for everything – each one of them encountering your content is different and you want to equalize their exposure to your content, so tell them how to do the work already.
Not only that, but just as you can train them to read directions, OR you can train students to ask you every time they encounter something new, or worse yet just every assignment. Be safe, make directions!
Be predictable. Hear me out, this is not a negative!
Students should reasonably guess what is coming next from the online portion of your blended instruction. For instance be predictable with: order/number/type of items in a module or unit, the types of items online versus face-to-face, submission guidelines, your expectations for their troubleshooting responsibilities.
If your modules or units each have a similar number of items, representing a similar amount of work, your students will learn how to pace your online work as they do your face-to-face work. If students know that labs or note taking is always face-to-face (or always online) they anticipate an upcoming activity, just because it is the “other” format. It is like the subtle difference of writing on the board or screen with a different pen color, but writing in the same format. If something appears broken to your students provide them with a list of strategies to pursue or things to check. How awful you would feel if they spent a large chunk of study time on something which was beyond their ability to overcome? Make them try, but also let them know when it is smart to move onto something else.
You want your students anticipating, but not clueless.
If you are not predictable the students will not know what to do next. That does not match the goal of a blended learning environment if your students are not able to be immersed in your content when you are not around if they do not know how to do just that.
I would suggest it is even preferable if they do not follow your directions/intentions perfectly, but still engage with your content. But if you confuse them, why would they even bother trying? Most likely their parents will email you and/or the students will be at your desk with questions before that first cup of coffee is applied.
Communicate – a lot. If you are the first or only teacher doing blended learning for your students you will probably not be able to communicate enough. Do not let that discourage you – instead – manage your own expectations at how well the first few assignments will be completed by your students. The key is getting the parents to understand what is going on; when parents understand the expectations they can back you up outside of school.
Speaking of communicating with parents, we need to talk grades. If you are using a platform as a portion of your classwork parents need to understand that, so give the message in as many ways as you can: “The grades in XYZ only represent a part of your student’s grade in this class.” If you have an official grade book, like a student information system (PowerSchool, etc.) direct them to that for the actual complete grade. I recommend a page for parents in any course and link to the portal for the official grade book from there. You cannot over communicate this message. No one likes surprises, especially around grades.
Think back to how you first learned the platform you are thinking of using to blend your instruction. Where you a student first? Maybe that is a learning opportunity for your parents? An added bonus is that you could see their progress and maybe predict who is going to need some support on understanding everything you and I already agreed you need to know about blended learning in your class this year.
Do not assume parents know what part of your class is appearing online and what part is face-to-face. Parents will tire of trying to figure out if their student really needs to be on the computer for school or is just watching his/her 99th YouTube of the evening. They would like to support you, but unless you give them a way to do so they cannot. So communicate with your parents first, or they might start communicating with you in less friendly ways.
Parents will need some cheat sheets and a little bit of training. They already think their kids are smarter than they are at anything with a screen, don’t make them feel worse. They will blame you ,not themselves. Provide parents with talking points or all they will talk about is how confusing your class is. And that is not the public relations you were hoping for.
Start with these tips and maybe a partner at your school.
The best way is to start putting all your content in your platform starting now – you do not have to turn it on, or add your students until you are ready.
If you need someone to look through it with you contact me. The first step is the scariest!