Today’s elementary students learn differently than students even fifteen years ago, but what types of teaching and technology can best be used to help them learn? There are many books and articles on the topic, and most experts agree that a combination of face-to-face learning and online learning is the format that works the best. There are a variety of blended learning models for an elementary school teacher to choose from, depending on their classroom as well as their school and their district.
The reality of technology in our schools today is that many teachers use projectors or interactive whiteboards, and that all students learn about digital safety. “We are spending so much time telling our students about what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do. Imagine that if every time you talked about the ability to write with a pencil, you only focused on telling kids not to stab one another with the tool.” (Couros, 2015, p. 7). Many experts agree that students and teachers alike see the importance of technology and want to use it for academic purposes. However, “the actual use of these devices in academics remains low,” (Dahlstrom, Brooks, Grajek, & Reeves, 2015). Although technology use is widespread, devices are not being used to their full academic potential.
As early as 2009 and continuing through 2015, the NMC Horizon Report has monitored and predicted trends in K-12 education. Even six years ago it was evident that technology was making an impact on education, and that it would continue to do so as far into the future as we can imagine. The trends that were on the horizon in 2009 included mobile devices and cloud computing, as well as collaborative environments. The specifics about these trends changed over the years and grew to include personal learning environments, deeper learning approaches, and eventually, beginning in 2014, the idea of blended learning. Johnson, Adams Becker, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman, and Ludgate stated in the 2013 report, “Institutions that embrace face-to-face / online hybrid learning models have the potential to leverage the online skills learners have already developed independent of academia. Hybrid models, when designed and implemented successfully, enable students to travel to campus for some activities, while using the network for others, taking advantage of the best of both environments.” Another common trend over the years is that it is important to rethink the role of the teacher. In the 2013 report, Johnson et al. said, “The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the internet is challenging us to revisit our roles as educators. Institutions must consider the unique value that schools add to a world in which information is everywhere, and generally free.” They propose that this can be done through blended (hybrid) models.
Blended learning is defined by Horn, Staker, and Christensen (2015, p. 54) as, “any formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.” As districts, schools, and teachers begin to think about blended learning in their classrooms, they need to use “an intentional transformation. The most successful blended learning programs are much more deliberate and generally share a common starting point: they begin by identifying the problem to solve or the goal to achieve. They start with a clear rallying cry.” (Horn et al., 2015, p. 97).
Once a school, district, or classroom defines their problem or goal, there are a variety of ways to implement blended learning. Horn et al. (2015) describe some specifics, including hybrid models and disruptive models. Implementation in elementary schools is most often done with a rotation model; either station rotation, lab rotation, or flipped classroom. A station rotation model is much more easily implemented into current traditional school settings, because station rotations are something that most elementary school teachers are already accustomed to. In a station rotation model, students might spend approximately ⅓ of their time in teacher-led instruction, ⅓ of their time in collaborative activities and projects, and ⅓ of their time in online instruction. The teachers help their students set goals and work hard to meet them. When students have specific goals to work toward, they are more motivated. “When schools get the design right from the students’ perspective, so they feel that school aligns well with the things that matter to them, students show up to school motivated and eager to learn.” (Horn et al., 2015, p. 134) This is also key in solving the problem of technology not being used to its full potential in schools. Changing the mindsets of teachers to see technology as a tool, not as the main focus, will allow them to explore new and deeper uses for it.
In Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-analyses Relating to Achievement, John Hattie is able to point to a few elements of blended learning that could help student achievement. Some practices that were found to have the desired effects include problem-solving teaching, questioning, feedback, mastery learning, goals, and interactive video methods. These methods could combine face-to-face and online learning to increase student achievement. In a station rotation model of learning, students can work on mastery learning and meeting their goals through their online learning, possibly with interactive videos. The teacher can use problem-solving methods and questioning to help students during their small group work. With this type of model, feedback will be quickly and easily provided for each student.
The idea of blended learning is to balance traditional learning with online learning. This can be difficult for teachers who did not grow up in a technology-rich environment, but is as important in today’s world as balanced literacy was 20 years ago. While occasionally students were able to explore and learn to read independently, balanced literacy provided them with direct instruction of phonemic awareness to support them in their learning. Although online learning allows the creative exploration that technology provides, it cannot be forgotten that it is also necessary to have the structure that can only be provided by direct instruction. Blended learning is the balanced literacy of a technologically-minded world.
Clayton Christensen Institute. (2014, June 5). Part 6 — Technology as a Disruptive Force in Education [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/k0ENX-GTUf4
Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
Dahlstrom, E., Brooks, D., Grajek, S., & Reeves, J. (2015, August 17). 2015 Student and Faculty Technology Research Studies | EDUCAUSE. Retrieved from https://library.educause.edu/resources/2015/8/2015-student-and-faculty-technology-research-studies
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Horn, M. B., Staker, H., & Christensen, C. M. (2015). Blended: Using disruptive innovation to improve schools [Kindle version].
Jacobs, H. H., & Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world.
Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada V., Freeman, A., and Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/publication-type/horizon-report/
Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/publication-type/horizon-report/
Meeker, M. (2016, June 1). 2016 Internet Trends Report — Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. Retrieved from http://www.kpcb.com/blog/2016-internet-trends-report