Bold School: Becoming a Blended Learning Master

Pablo was easily Socrates' number one fan. He routinely used Socratic seminars as a strategy with his sixth grade English students. As a blended learning instructional coach, I had the pleasure of observing Pablo and his students engage in a few fun, enthusiastic Socratic seminars. There was just one issue: almost all of the questions he asked were in the lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, keeping his students stuck in simple thinking that demanded little more than recall.

Pablo loved the Socratic seminar, as did his kids. In terms of passion, interest, and engagement, I wasn't about to take that away from him or his students. As his coach, it was my job to help him implement technologies to make him more effective and efficient in the classroom. But my ultimate job is to help students achieve and gain the competencies needed in the 21st century.

With that in mind, what good would it have done to tell Pablo to stop doing what he loved and instead try something he didn't enjoy? That would have pushed him, and all his experience and wisdom, out of the blended learning equation.

Herein lies an all too common problem with blended learning. Too often, technologies are forced into instruction in a haphazard way. In many blended learning initiatives, the focus has become the technology itself, not academic outcomes.

To a large extent, this happened because we got a little too excited and moved a little too fast. We got excited because even as many of us are familiarizing ourselves with educational technologies, we've come to understand their power to improve instruction.

We moved too fast because of the pressure to correct the alleged wrongs of our education system by innovating it into something almost entirely new. With the best of intentions, many of us cobbled together blended learning initiatives and rolled them out as quickly as possible to reassure several constituencies. But then what? In too many cases, we planned only to the point of putting the technologies in the classroom. You could say that when it came to this first wave of blended learning, we leapt before we looked.

Good for you for leaping at all! To many, the introduction of technology represents the departure of everything they love about teaching. While I'm here to tell you that is not true, I'm also here to thank you. Once again, you put your students first. Once again, you attempted to adapt your instruction to fit a changing world. Once again, you embraced something beyond your comfort zone for the sake of your students.

I'm also here to tell you it's time to put yourselves—with all your knowledge, training, experience, and wisdom about what works in the classroom—back into the blended learning equation. We know the truth: we have to layer technologies on top of our instruction. But here's another truth: we must do so with strategy, pedagogy, and purpose. That comes from educators—not from the technologies themselves.

I taught my first blended learning class back in 2003, when my high school students each sat with their own laptops as we moved through my instruction. Since that time, I've studied blended learning and all the different kinds of technologies it now includes. I've worked to improve the effectiveness of technology integration in my own classroom. And now as a blended learning instructional coach, I travel the world to coach educators on how to do blended learning so that it moves the needle of learner achievement.

From my own experience and observing that of others, I have seen the integration of technologies into instruction make teachers more effective. Time and time again, I have witnessed technologies unlock differentiated, individualized, and personalized instruction to meet the needs of every last student in the classroom. And I've seen technologies give students more control over the pace, the when, and the how of their learning so both its rigor and relevance can be elevated.

Technology is awesome. Teachers are better.

Throughout my years of working with teachers to devise blended learning instructional plans, I've developed a process that guides you through first identifying desired academic outcomes, and then selecting a high effect size instructional strategy that will help kids achieve those outcomes. Then and only then do you choose the technologies to layer onto instruction. Finally, the blended instructional plan is vetted to ensure learning will be cognitively challenging and applicable to the world beyond school.

This is exactly what Pablo and I did. We tripled down on Pablo's natural talents and love of questioning and layered it with strategic planning and technology use. By incorporating technologies like Nearpod and Kahoot! Pablo uploaded his pre-planned, cognitively challenging questions into these tools and used them to guide his students through a much more rigorous Socratic seminar. With just a few simple shifts, Pablo did become a "bold school," blended learning master of his beloved Socratic seminars.

You, too, can become a blended learning master, all while tripling down on what you love most about teaching. Technology does not mean sacrificing what excites you about your job. It means finding ways to fold technology tools into instruction such that you become more effective and efficient at what you enjoy, while enhancing your students' learning.

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Want to learn more about implementing technology-supported learning to drive outcomes for all students? Join Weston Kieschnick, Senior Fellow for ICLE—a division of HMH—for a one-day institute in Denver, Colorado, on September 13, 2019. Register here.