In Blended Learning, Combine ‘Old School’ Teaching With Modern-Day Technology

Before a crowded auditorium of eager and passionate K-12 educators, Weston Kieschnick made his message clear: The best way to teach students, he said, is to effectively leverage both old-school wisdom and modern-day technologies. 

Kieschnick, a Senior Fellow for ICLE and author of Bold School, explored this topic and others at the 26th Annual Model Schools Conference. His keynote address on the evening of Sunday, June 24 kicked off the four-day Orlando event.

“At the heart of every single discussion that we will have tonight will be children,” Kieschnick said. “It is the reason why we are here.”

Kieschnick recounted his first time student-teaching a high school lesson, which focused on the policies of President Theodore Roosevelt. He came to the classroom that day prepared with props: a big, fake tree to symbolize Roosevelt’s conservation efforts; a plastic horse to represent the Rough Riders; and a wooden stick for Big Stick Diplomacy. His goal, he said, was to make the lesson come alive.

But Kieschnick said he worried so much about the props that he hardly determined what exactly he was going to say. During the lesson, sweat poured down his face, and what he knew about Roosevelt just poured out of his mouth. His lesson was met mainly with blank stares. After that day, the teacher he was working with—who was close to retirement—coached him. Among other things, the teacher asked Kieschnick, “What was your outcome? What was the skill you wanted to cultivate in the kids? What did you hope to accomplish?”

“He said, ‘Weston, you got so focused on the stuff, that you forgot what you wanted to accomplish on behalf of children,’” Kieschnick recalled. “I think about that advice, I think about that feedback all the time. Because that advice, that feedback rings true today more than ever.” 

To further his point, Kieschnick displayed on screen a letter written in cursive from Frederick Douglass to President Abraham Lincoln during the 1860s. Students won’t be able to read it, he said, if they never learn to read and write cursive, which at many schools has been replaced with learning to type. Voice-to-text technology now looms on the educational technology horizon.

“It is a dangerous place in the name of innovation when we decide that the skills of our past have no place in our future,” Kieschnick said, adding that this analogy extends beyond Douglass’ letter. The Constitution of the U.S.—among many other significant historical documents—was also written in cursive.

“We have to in this space of blended learning start to embrace a culture of and, … not a culture of or,” Kieschnick says.

This message formed the crux of the remainder of his keynote speech; he emphasized what he refers to as a bold school approach to teaching, which implements traditional teaching methods using today’s technological innovations. This approach must continue making its way into the nation’s classrooms, Kieschnick argued. Before deciding what technological tools to use, educators should consider the outcomes they desire along with what strategies they can leverage to reach those goals.

“Great blended learning doesn’t live in the place you decide you are either old school or new school,” Kieschnick said. “Great blended learning lives in the place where you can transition back and forth from the old, new, old, new old, new.”

Kieschnick also cited the work of John Hattie, an education researcher, whose work analyzed the results of about 50,000 studies about “what works with children,” he said. Among the answers were reciprocal teaching and direct instruction—the latter of which is the most frequently used strategy in classrooms across the country, Kieschnick said.

“Direct instruction did not get a bad reputation because it is a bad strategy. Direct instruction got a bad reputation when it became our only strategy. And that’s on us. … We have to approach blended learning with as much enthusiasm about pedagogy as we do about technology,” Kieschnick said.

Kieschnick concluded his keynote address with another personal story: when his childhood home flooded and was ultimately destroyed. He was 11 years old at the time. As the water rose and conditions became more dangerous, Kieschnick’s mother told him that he could take just one item from his room before they had to leave. What he really wanted to bring was a poster from his wall, but he decided on a metal car model resting on a shelf closer by. Kieschnick didn’t know it at the time, but that car belonged to his grandfather, who played with it when he was a child.

As educators, “The days are long and the years are short, and all the while it feels like the rain keeps coming, and the rain keeps coming, and the rain keeps coming,” Kieschnick said. “And all the while all we want to do is make sure that kids leave us with things tucked under their arm that have value. And what has value for them are rigorous and relevant learning outcomes—those skills that show up in those standards; things like problem-solving … Those things have value. What doesn’t have long-term value is making sure they are experts at Flipgrid.”

He added, “We owe it to our children to make sure every child—every child—leaves us with something tucked under their arm that has value.”

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MSC 2018 has come and gone, but you can hear more from Kieschnick and other thought leaders and speakers at our Leadership Academy 2018: Leading With Vision in Atlanta from Nov. 2–4, 2018.