Have you ever gotten so caught up in doing something that you forget to look up and see what is around you? I have been guilty of that this year as I have attempted to make my classroom a blended learning environment. The challenge of changing how I create and present content to my students has been overwhelming at times and I have frequently forgotten about a rich resource I have right in front of me all day long: my students!
My middle school students are, I have realized, the key to my success. Of course there are many days when I am sure they are also going to drive me into an early retirement! In previous years I have used their enthusiasm to help foster inquiry and engagement about what we were learning. This was an integral part of how I taught and it worked well for me. This year, however, I lost sight of that important facet of my teaching. I was focusing on the “how” and not the “why” of what I was doing in my classes and content areas. Becoming so caught up in finding new and slicker resources and managing the inconsistent availability of technology resources became my number one consideration and I have often felt like I was just barely keeping my head above water. It has not been a happy time for me as an educator. I have often felt lost and inept this year; feelings no one ever enjoys.
Now that I have more of a feeling of control over the technology end of things and a more thorough understanding of the how and why of the apps that are out there to use, I can lift my head and take a look around me a bit. My students are still there and still have so much to offer.
I have started a list of ways I can capitalize on their innate enthusiasm in a blended learning environment. While some of these techniques are very similar to what happened in a more traditional model, some take on an new twist in the area of technology, some are new, and all will make a big difference in my outcomes with blended learning.
- Student as “guide on the side” – I have begun to leverage the knowledge and aptitude some of my students have shown in the area of technology (both hardware and software) to expand the amount of guidance there is available to struggling students. I clearly cannot be everywhere at once and it is very likely that a student isn’t “ready” for some information until they are at that step in the process. As much as I try to front load my instructions, that is not always helpful to everyone. In order to have help available at the right time for learning, my students who find technology pretty straightforward and understandable have become my trusted co-guiders! This is good for both the helper and the helpee because in order to be respected as a helper, they need to display certain behaviors and trustworthiness. This role has proven to be important to some of my students improved self-image. They appreciate the level of trust I have placed in them and they like helping their fellow students. I plan to work on formalizing the skills and characteristics I want to celebrate with the class so this becomes a coveted designation.
- Student as expert – I cannot know everything all of time – no one can. We are very hard on ourselves as teachers and often hold ourselves to an impossibly high standard. How wonderful it has been to periodically hand over the role of expert to my students! I have seen them step up to take on this challenge for some portion of content and the pride they have in themselves when they provide the class with something they all need. While this is not practical for everything we study, I am incorporating it more and more and even see students seeking this opportunity. What an opportunity for growth! Again, I need to build some further structure around this, but so far so good.
- Making learning public – Technology is a huge asset here and there are countless options for how students can show what they know, reflect on their process and what they have learned. This can take the form of a quick-write on a shared class Padlet or similar app, the creation of a new product like a PowToon, or a video or podcast. There are so many options, the biggest problem is deciding which one to use! The real power of asking students to make their learning public is the increase in the accountability and engagement – I have seen a huge increase in both of these. I love seeing pride on their faces.
- Creating classroom lists of “go-to” apps and tools – We are compiling a list of our favorites with reasons and this is sort of evolving into a list of “look for’s” in new apps. It is a very backwards, organic process but the creating as we go nature of it has grabbed their attention and the fact that they have true input is powerful. I would like to try using apps to collect some of this data through polling and google forms but I have not formalized it to that point yet. I have info in a few different places and need to pull that together – add that to the to-do list!
This has been a year of tremendous learning and growth for me as a professional and I owe so much to my students who have put up with all of the changes and experimentation and changes in direction I have thrown at them. I love my kids!