Teachers have tough jobs -- lots of kids and lots of responsibility -- and budget cuts are making things worse. They have administrators telling them to boost achievement and personalize learning, but most of them are on their own without tools. But that is beginning to change as schools are beginning to blend traditional teaching with online learning.
Blended learning is a shift to an online environment, for at least a portion of the student day, made to improve learning and operating productivity. In two important ways, this definition is different than layering computers on top of how we've always done things. First, this definition of blended learning means that technology is core to instructional delivery and it incorporates some student choice over time, location, and/or rate. Second, it requires differentiated (different levels) and distributed (different locations) staffing.
Blending the best of online and on-site learning can work better for students and teachers. Here's ten reasons that blended learning makes teaching a better job:
1. You teach students ready for your lesson. At School of One, when students participate in small group instruction, it's the right lesson, on the right day, in the right modality for each student -- and that's magical. Success for All has attempted to do something like this for twenty years with performance grouping.
Competency-based policies, dynamic scheduling, and smart recommendation engines will make it easier for more schools to incorporate these strategies. What a gift to teachers to be able to work with small groups of student that share specific instructional needs.
2. Motivate hard to reach kids. We all know that kids learn in different ways for different reasons. Blended learning makes it easier to provide multiple learning strategies. The new developmental math courses from the National Repository of Open Content feature a variety of strategies for each sub-skill including instructional videos, tutorials, voice-over-text, and games. More engaging and more personalized content will help more kids learn difficult topics.
Like Big Picture schools have done for more than a decade, blended learning is making it easier to leverage individual student interests through internships and projects.
3. Focus on deeper learning. At Rocketship Education, students spend about two hours each day doing online skill building exercises. That allows teachers to spend more class time on critical thinking and problem solving.
Blended learning makes it easier to 'flip the classroom' and send home a playlist of instructional resources that deliver content so that class time can be spent solving problems
4. Extend the day. Rocketship features an eight-hour student day -- something they could only do by incorporating a two-hour learning lab. Another option is an after-school blended learning partnership with a community-based organization.
5. Extend the year. Blended learning can help extend the school calendar. If a school operates with two fewer teachers and spreads pay over the other 18 teachers, they may be able to shift to a 195-day school year. They can also extend the school calendar and add more breaks that become periods for extra academic time and/or enrichment -- some of which can be provided by community-based organizations.
The After School Consortium (TASC) is hosting a conference in New York on the 27th to explore how community based organizations can help extend the day and the year. The combination of CBO extensions and blended learning have the potential to double productive learning time for the students that need it most.
6. Achievement analytics. Teachers that have signed up for MangaHigh can assign free middle grade math games as homework and review a full achievement dashboard in the morning. Students that Write to Learn get instant writing feedback and the teacher gets a standards-based gradebook full of evidence. In addition to extended access and more variety, the shift from print to digital curriculum will includes embedded assessments and powerful dashboards that will allow teachers to more easily monitor student progress.
7. Advanced diagnostics. Adaptive testing, like NWEA's MAP, can quickly zero in on
learning levels. Scantron can turn a quick math diagnostic into a customized tutorial. Aided by lots of content-embedded assessment, comprehensive portable learner profiles will share information with everyone involved in promoting an individual student's growth -- providing similar benefits to electronic health record in medicine.
8. Teaching in teams. Blended learning is a team sport. It allows an instructional team to work together to support 1000 math students moving at their own pace. It allows a great physics teacher to reach hundreds, perhaps thousands of students. Blended learning can make learning more social and more transparent.
9. Earn more. New staffing patterns, new roles, and extended learning time will allow many teachers to earn more.
10. Work at home. In some cases, teachers will be able to work remotely. My friend Mike Shumake teaches English online to kids in North Carolina and Washington State. The first online teacher of the year, Teresa Dove, lives in Virginia and teaches kids in Florida. Speech therapists for Connections Academy can live anywhere and work when they want.
Teachers appreciate that blended learning makes a difficult job more doable.