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In the age of COVID, many schools and classrooms have transitioned to a blended learning model, in which students spend only part of their educational time in the classroom, and also take classes virtually and do assignments online. This isn’t a new strategy; teachers have been using blended learning techniques since digital tools for the classroom first became available in the 80s and 90s. Blended learning models simply combine periods of teacher-led instruction with online learning and digital tools that allow for some self-directed learning and more individualized instruction.
How can you make sure that students stay engaged in a blended learning model? Don’t make the mistake of spending your classroom time lecturing. A flipped classroom model in which students engage with material independently and asynchronously and use class time (in brick-and-mortar as well as virtual) classrooms to practice applying what they’ve learned and problem-solve with help from a teacher works best.
Use Asynchronous Tools to Teach Theory
Blended learning models take full advantage of the rich digital tools students have available to them today. How you adapt a blended learning strategy to your classroom will depend on the specifics of your situation — perhaps you have face time in the brick-and-mortar classroom with half of your students on some days, and the other half on other days, for example. You can record your lectures for students learning at home to watch and review on their own time (and for students learning at school to access during home study sessions). But recording lectures is only the tip of the iceberg.
There are so many different ways students can use digital tools to learn. They can practice researching on the internet and evaluating the veracity and validity of sources. They can use ereading tools to hone their close reading skills by annotating texts digitally. They can do quizzes and play games that teach them key concepts. And, of course, they can complete assignments online.
You can use digital tools for both real-time lessons and asynchronous learning. If you have students in the classroom some days a week, it may be best for everyone if you use asynchronous digital tools for lessons and assignments that kids can engage with on their own at home. This will allow you to focus on helping the kids you have in the brick-and-mortar classroom with problem-solving and practical application.
Use Synchronous Learning Time to Teach Practice
Students can engage with the material on their own, but most kids will have questions and need guidance in applying what they’ve learned. The time you have together — whether it’s in a virtual classroom or a brick-and-mortar one — would be best used helping students put what they’ve learned into practice. You can be there to answer student questions, guide them through procedures, and address any issues that arise in the process. Students will essentially be using their online time to prepare for classroom work and discussion, so that the classroom time can be devoted, not to lecturing or presenting new information, but to processing and digesting that information and learning how to apply it.
One of the benefits of a blended learning model is that it allows you to individualize content to some extent. Some students may not necessarily need to complete every section of a module. Others may need additional materials to help them grasp concepts. Blended learning allows you to more effectively target lessons to student needs so that they can remain engaged and learn more. And it amplifies opportunities for collaboration, so students in the same rotational groups can help each other, or even reach across rotational groups to share what they learned during practical application lessons and break-out groups with the teacher and peers. You can even tailor modules for kids who need to quarantine and engage them in virtual classroom sessions.
Blended learning can be a lifesaver for classes that can’t always be in the same place at the same time. It allows the kids who have stayed home to access materials and learn at their own pace, while kids who come into the classroom have the valuable opportunity to ask questions, problem-solve, and work out the kinks in how they apply knowledge under the direction of an instructor. In the end, everyone will benefit from increased engagement, individualization, and the emphasis on practical application.