The Power of One: How to Kickstart Your Blended Learning Classroom

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Many educators are excited about blended learning these days, but the reality is that starting a school or district-wide program can be a long process, and does not always include the individuals that it will affect the most.

My story is a bit different.

As a second grade teacher in the ICEF Public Schools charter network in Los Angeles, I was part of the first group of teachers to pilot blended learning. Soon into the implementation process, I realized that I didn’t have to wait for the organization to make all the decisions. I could take control of the implementation in my own classroom, and help lead the way myself.

What my students achieved last year was more amazing than they, or I, had realized. When we received the results of the California Standards Test (CST) last June, my students cheered in excitement as I announced, full of warmth and goose bumps, that our class had the highest scores of all 12 ICEF schools, and that every single one of them were proficient or advanced in math. 100% proficiency in mathematics and 88% in English language arts is a tremendous improvement from the year before when only 67% of second graders were proficient in math and 61% in English language arts.

But how did we get to that point?

The importance of taking ownership

You don’t have to have the latest and greatest devices and online programs for your students to be successful. Practices like small group instruction and rotation stations can be implemented with or without technology. You can always collaborate with others, troubleshoot, and figure out how to make what you have work for you and your students.

For my second year of teaching, my goal was to come up with a plan that would allow me to maximize the benefits from the technology that we had access to.

I started station rotations with language arts first semester. This enabled me to experience the true value of daily small group instruction, and the importance of incorporating online adaptive programs like Istation as key learning components. Loving this setup for language arts, my students began asking why we weren’t doing rotations during math--so I moved the model into math.

Throughout my setup, I’ve isolated five central practices that work for me. Any educator can use them to kickstart blended learning in their own classroom and beyond--specifically when they go by the following guidelines.

1. Never be afraid to fundraise

I couldn’t instantaneously purchase an adaptive math program for my students. So, I decided to fundraise in order to pay for the 26 licenses I needed. I explored options such as DonorsChoose and Adopt-A-Classroom, but needed something with a quicker turnaround. So I began selling Smencils, which are scented pencils, to the students at my school.

This got the attention of my principal, who then figured out a way to get the licenses purchased for us. Your initiative will be recognized, if you’re not afraid to put in the effort. And when in doubt, or if you have more time, consider using websites like DonorsChoose or IndieGoGo to crowdfund.

2. Include students in the decision-making and reflection process

My students were the driving force for the math rollout. During our weekly class meetings, we discussed what was working and what areas needed improvement. Together, we brainstormed what types of activities the students could engage in during independent and collaborative group work. The students helped me to troubleshoot, figure out ways to ensure that transitions were smooth, and ensure that student choice was not overlooked.

Students’ opinions are extremely valuable and must be considered, as we are ultimately here to serve their needs.

3. Don’t give up--especially if it does not go right the first time

Whenever trying something new, it is vital not to abandon the idea based on the outcome of only one or a few attempts. If the blended learning experiment is not going well, tweak an aspect, alter a component, but do not give up!

For example, I realized that not holding my students accountable at different stations led to them being off task. And worse, I felt like I had to micromanage what was going on everywhere all at once. Because I was engaged in a lesson, students had to learn how to be independent and rely on each other for assistance when they were not with me.

4. Share the wealth

Being part of the pilot program provided a laptop for every student in my class, but those devices didn’t arrive until midway through the school year. By the time they were purchased and available to us, my students were so deeply immersed in the station rotation model with our existing computers that I decided not to make an adjustment based on extra devices.

Instead, I formulated a plan to spread the laptops among other classrooms at my school. I wanted my fellow teachers to have the opportunity to incorporate technology into their classrooms as well, even if they weren’t part of the original pilot group.

Sharing the wealth! But don’t just share devices and software--share your ideas, victories, and failed attempts. For example, as the blended learning program has expanded at my school this year, I’ve offered to be a coach and help other teachers get started and benefit from what I learned last year. This has helped them also take ownership in the process of moving to an organization-wide blended learning model across all the schools in the ICEF network.

You can do this at your school by being aware of the resources that are readily available to you, and the students. Collaborate with your colleagues and figure out how what you have can be used to benefit the students.

And lastly, invite others to share the wealth, too. If you never inquire, then you can never be told yes or no. Do not be hesitant to request information, materials, or assistance.

5. Make the most of what you have

You don’t have to have the latest and greatest devices and online programs for your students to be successful. If your resources are limited, practices like small group instruction and station rotations can be implemented with or without technology. You can always collaborate with others, troubleshoot, and figure out how to make what you have work for you and your students.

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