I’m a fourth- and fifth-grade English language arts and math teacher at an urban charter school in Youngstown, Ohio. As this school year draws to a close, I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been challenging. For me, switching from in-person to remote learning and back to in-person has been the most challenging aspect of this school year, because every transition came with new duties, different expectations and more preparations.
One thing that held constant, and was an extreme asset during all these transitions and challenges, was how I used blended learning in my classroom.
The transition to remote learning
When the pandemic struck last year, I wasn’t surprised when our principal announced that we were going completely remote. However, I was shocked by the short amount of time we had to get technology and supplies in the hands of students while at the same time preparing our lessons for an online environment. I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to meet my students’ needs while remote, and I had no idea how I would get all of my worksheets formatted into online versions.
During this extremely uncertain time, we met constantly about how our school district would get the technology out, the best way for teachers to deliver lessons and the many other concerns that we had. Our principal reminded us that we had resources to help support remote teaching and learning, including the customizable Kiddom platform, which offers digital curriculum management, assessment and other tools. I decided to use Kiddom to support my lab-rotation style of blended learning.
Pre-pandemic in-class lab rotation
I already used an online component in my lab rotations before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Here’s how that version works:
With the lab rotation model, my fifth-graders begin their day in the classroom for face-to-face instruction for 90 minutes, then rotate to the lab for an online component for 90 minutes. My fourth-graders do the opposite.
Tweaking the lab rotation model for remote learning
When the decision was made to go remote, I needed to change my expectation of what my students could and couldn’t do completely on their own and I had to be more intentional about assigned lessons.
To see exactly what my students were seeing, I created a student account for myself, which helped me model concepts and do “think alouds” — verbalizing what I’m doing to help solve a problem. I let my students know from the start that remote learning was new to me as well and may not go as planned, which gave them patience and left me humbled by their ability to quickly adapt to the changes in learning. Our edtech resources helped me keep my students engaged and also enabled me to easily track their progress or determine if they were having an issue with a lesson.
I relied on technology to facilitate:
- Remote class instruction: Students work with an instructor rather than working at their own pace, with Kiddom eliminating the guesswork of figuring out how students could complete a worksheet or assessment while online.
- At-home lab: Similar to the in-person lab component, students work online on teacher-assigned lessons at their own pace. I used the activities from our curriculum to help drive what I was assigning to students during the lab.
Blended learning post-COVID-19
As the world begins returning to normal and my students have returned to in-person learning, I plan to continue using blended learning in my classroom and am eager to discover new implementation methods so I can continue improving upon how I use it. Here are my plans:
- Face-to-face instruction: Students work with an instructor, rather than working at their own pace. However, I’ve adopted a more tech-based approach and intend to leverage technology for 90% of homework and worksheets, because it boosts student engagement for each lesson.
- In-school lab: Students work online on teacher-assigned lessons at their own pace. Resources can be accessed through the lab as well as in the classroom.
- Small-group reading instruction: When social distancing rules are lifted, small-group reading time will help my students practice reading comprehension. The “mentor text” from face-to-face instruction time would be used during the small-group time, allowing students to get a second or third look at the text.
As we emerge from a challenging year, I encourage other teachers to continue their blended learning efforts. I recommend that all teachers create a student account in the tech resources they use so they can see exactly what their students see and can adjust lessons accordingly. Also, take the time to walk your students through the process of using any blended learning platforms and different tools to avoid confusion down the road.
Without the support of resources such as Kiddom, my blended learning and general instruction would have been extremely difficult to do remotely. The technology continues to help me instructionally and has succeeded at keeping my students engaged during this ever-changing time.
Mary Fultz is a founding teacher at The Brilliance School, an urban charter school in Youngstown, Ohio, and teaches fourth and fifth grade English language arts and math. She uses Kiddom in her classroom.
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