This post was originally posted on the Notre Dame Center for Literacy Education's blog for Teen Tech Week.
Technology has revolutionized innumerable aspects of our lives. Do you remember when you had to call someone’s home phone to ask them a question, rather than shooting off a text message? Or when a trip overseas involved a long and dangerous journey rather than a quick airplane ride with free movies and snacks? There are very few industries that remain undisrupted by radical technological innovations, but one that has not changed nearly as much as others is education.
Although I argue that education is a bit behind in technological innovation, I want to acknowledge the ways in which technology has impacted our classrooms: blackboards have become smartboards, which make it easier for teachers to display and interact with information. Notebooks have (in some cases) become laptops or iPads, which allow students to record information in new ways. Projects that would have once been done on posters are now being done on iMovie or Google Slides, providing new and exciting ways for students to demonstrate knowledge. None of these changes are bad so long as the tools are being used appropriately, but they also don’t change much about the way students learn. That’s where blended learning comes in.
Blended learning is an innovative model of education that combines the best of face-to-face instruction from the teacher with adaptive technology to give students a more personalized learning experience. Blended learning can look very different in different classrooms and contexts, so we are sharing a two-part series with you this week. Today, we are focusing on blended learning in elementary reading classrooms: what does it look like, what sorts of tools are available, and how does it work?
If you walked into a blended elementary classroom, you may not immediately realize it’s blended. Many blended classrooms at the elementary level use a station rotation model, which looks very similar to the more common centers or stations model of learning. The key, however, is what the students are doing with technology and how teachers are using the data they receive to inform their instruction. In a blended classroom, students are using online programs that continually assess their knowledge and skills, and adjust instruction accordingly, to work on material at their “just-right” level. The programs continually gather information about the students’ progress, and the teacher then uses that information to differentiate their face-to-face instruction.
A Blended, Elementary, Reading Classroom
To make it a little more tangible for you, let’s talk about what a blended learning reading class might look like in an elementary classroom. At either the beginning or the end of the class (or both), there will likely still be some whole-group activities like a mini lesson, a read aloud, or silent reading time. For the majority of the class, however, students would be split into groups and rotate between different activities. The group that is with the teacher would probably be doing guided reading—or reading texts that address the same skill at different levels—or another level-based learning activity. Students at the other stations could be working on a variety of learning activities such as writing or writers’ workshop, silent reading, phonics games or activities, etc., but they will most certainly be working on an adaptive software program at at least one station. When executed masterfully, the blended model ensures that students spend as much time engaged in meaningful work as possible throughout the course of the reading block.
To the make the technology part of this model a little more concrete, let’s talk about a few of our favorite online programs for elementary classrooms. Some of the programs that can have the biggest impact on student learning are programs that continually adapt to deliver instruction at the level that is just right for each individual student. Programs like Lexia Core5 (grades PK–5) and i-Ready Reading (grades K–8) administer a pre-test to determine a student’s level and then allow students to master lessons or levels at their own paces. Other programs like Newsela have texts rewritten at multiple different Lexile levels. This allows all students to read about the same topic and work on the same skill, but at a level that is appropriate for them. There are countless other programs that can be great resources for your classroom, but these three really illustrate the benefits of blended learning.
We have only scratched the surface of blended learning in elementary reading classrooms, but we would love to help you learn more! Check out a few posts that might help you learn more:
- Three Ways Your Small-Group Instruction May Be Failing
- Blended Learning and Guided Reading
- Protecting Purpose in the Blended Classroom