I have undertaken an experiment with my English 4 class to go blended for the next 6-8 weeks. The first question, I suppose, because it certainly was for me, is what blended means. Here is a definition that I found useful (and to some extent confirmed my initial assumptions about blended:

  • Blended learning: is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or place.3
  • http://www.onlineprogramhowto.org/site/#blendedlearning
  • 3 Staker, Heather. et. al. (2011). The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models. Innosight Institute.

This experiment stems from that age old question of what to do with 4th quarter / 2nd semester seniors, that, as someone who has taught seniors for years now has always been faced with that sense of filling their time (and mine) with work as a way to combat their natural (and to some extent understandable) listlessness. Will the carrot of a blended classroom motivate them, with some other things in place as well, to not only work but to produce a higher quality of work?

Our classes meet six days out of an eight day cycle. Under this model, students would meet face to face for three of those days (in our case E, F, G & F, G, H for the two different sections). What about those days when we don’t meet? The student work load does not change. They are still assigned and working on the same projects and papers that they would have been in the classroom. Rather than working on them in class, however, they now choose when to work on them, i.e. they still have that class time to work on them but now can defer that work to other times as well.

More important, the not-in-class days (I’m trying to avoid using the term off days, though it is a convenient term) will be used this upcoming cycle of not-in-class days (i.e. next week) and subsequent cycles for mandatory conferences for which students sign up through Doodle. Not only must students attend the conferences but they also must turn work in prior to the conference for us to discuss (which I will read prior to the conference for efficiency’s sake).

Grading also becomes a bit tighter. One of the sticks of my blended classroom is that deadlines become much firmer; if they have the time, there is no reason work shouldn’t be getting done. Tomorrow is our first day back in class after the first cycle of not being in class. They have due two parts of a project they’re working on. These parts will be graded themselves and will not be able to made up if not completed.

Student reaction when I announced it was pleasantly varied (I was going to worry if it was overwhelmingly positive or negative): some were very excited about the prospect of having more control over their time (and some even made the connection between such control and going to college next year) while some were very concerned about their ability to manage that time (one student opined that his grade would never survive this system). I have not had much parent reaction but the two parents from whom I heard were supportive of it. We emailed a letter home explaining what it was and how it would work; you can read the letter here.

I haven’t heard much teacher reaction, though I was asked to present to the Dept. Chairs. I would think that the first assumption is that it’s time off, i.e. teachers’ first reaction would be ‘Sounds great. Another free period? Who wouldn’t want that.’ And on a base level that is partially correct: no class to plan, no time in front of the students. But in many ways the work that is required during those not-in-class days is both more difficult and more time-consuming. Next week, I will spend one to two periods per day in 8 minute conferences for each of which I will have to read and comment on material. I will be interested to see how that goes from my end of things, much less the student end of things.

But tomorrow is the first real test of how this will work / is working. If students have their work and are ready to go, it means they’re understanding and internalizing both the system and their role in it. If they don’t have their work, it means that they’re looking at it as more of a vacation from class. We’ll see….

Any thoughts on, advice about, or experience with blended would be appreciated. I’m interested to see how the experiment goes but don’t necessarily have a lot of first hand experience with it.