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7 Ways to Break Bad Blended Learning

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Today's guest blog is written by Weston Kieschnick, Senior Fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education.

What does it take to push a teacher beyond the threshold of the ordinary?

What is it that turns an educator into an innovator?

I've been privileged to participate in thousands of full-length classroom observations and coaching sessions with teachers as they transform the learning landscape across the country.

It is a gift.

In that time I've been able to co-learn with teachers as they work to masterfully integrate things like Google Apps for Education. I nurture teachers as they leverage innovative methodologies and tools so students can solve problems and cultivate new content for international consumption. I witness children who have never owned a computer, work with teachers and peers to create 3D holographic images and 3D printed materials within the confines of their school. Day after day, I marvel at the learning transformation that is underway. 

Sadly I also witness an all too common tragedy consuming blended learning initiatives across the country. As quickly as devices arrive in classrooms, some educators abandon them almost immediately in favor of the traditional pedagogies of their past. Often, not for the sake of student achievement, but for the sake of teacher comfort.

That being said, teachers shouldn't shoulder the blame for this. Devices are being distributed with little to no pedagogical training. When we roll out devices and expect technology alone to transform teaching and learning, we observe individual success in the midst of systemic failure.

That is to say, early adopters and pockets of already masterful teachers will, through grit and determination, find ways to use tech to transform their own classrooms. Systemically however, little will change for the majority of students in the school or district. So what is it then? What is it that separates transformative teachers, schools, and districts from those stuck in the routines of the past? My observations and conversations with the country's best blended teachers have uncovered the following commonalities:

Relationships - Blended experts are all about relationships. They recognize that digital tools are vehicles for achievement and engagement, but they will never substitute for the necessary bonds between teachers and students. As such, they seek new ways to use technology as a means of increasing the number of meaningful interactions they can have with students during the school day and beyond. Technology is remarkable, and with it we can accomplish amazing feats. However, tech will never be more impactful than a teacher's relationships with, and expectations of, his or her students. 

Design methodologies - The best of the best leverage transformative design methodologies and utilize research-based models and frameworks to promote success. In addition to models like SAMR, profoundly impactful blended teachers will also use elements like the Digital Learning Matrix and the Rigor and Relevance Framework to design and self-assess their instruction. These blended innovators are not content to jam technology into antiquated lesson design frames. They utilize more progressive tools to achieve success. 

Right tool - High flyers select the right tool for the job. Too often the excitement around technology leads educators to throw every digital tool they encounter at the wall in hopes that something will "stick". Exceptional blended teachers don't use every tool they can think of moderately well. They use a handful of tools masterfully. Once they feel a sense of confidence and competency with a tool, they add another to their repertoire and build a digital toolbox with pace and purpose. 

Instructional strategies - Those at the pinnacle utilize the research of John Hattie to meld high effect size instructional strategies with blended models of instruction. Being a master of blended pedagogy means retaining the instructional strategies that positively impact student achievement and utilizing digital tools to expand the reach and improve the efficiency of those strategies. 

Curate content - The greats reach beyond technology as a tool to research and report. They provide opportunities for students to cultivate new content, solve problems, create new products, and ask provocative questions. It's no longer enough to consume. Success means developing a student's ability to intelligently consume digital content and apply the subsequent knowledge to real world scenarios. 

Collaboration - Masterful blended teachers don't let a lesson go by without providing students the opportunity to engage in meaningful ways with tech tools, digital content, their peers, and the teacher. Classrooms should never be places where kids stare silently at screens. They should be platforms for meaningful engagement with a variety of human and digital resources. 

District support - The best only become the best because they have school and district leadership that allows them to do so. Innovation cannot thrive in cultures of stagnation and resistance. Expertise emerges in environments where failure in the service of progress is not something to be feared. It is encouraged, it is welcomed, it is expected. Systemic success lives where support, communication, shared decision making, and tech are omnipresent. 

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Bykst

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