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Terrible Twos? Year Two of a Blended Learning Classroom

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toddler tantrum

Last year was a humbling year for me. After teaching 13 very successful years (at least successful as determined by standardized testing), I decided to I needed to try a new approach to my teaching. I could not and still cannot shake the idea that the way most of our students are learning today are the same ways in which students were taught 20, 30, 40 years ago. I felt like my students deserved more from me. I felt like my teaching needed to be more student-centered and more about their future, rather than mine. I felt like they deserved more of a purpose in their education. So, I attempted to run a blended learning classroom in my 6th grade math and science classrooms.

I spent last year blogging about my experiences and the ups and downs I had with a blended learning classroom. With all of the ups and downs, it did felt like being a first year teacher again. I took a risk, a big, year-long risk. It made me feel uncomfortable and unsure of myself. It took me out of my comfort zone. And if you are one who puts a lot of stock in standardized test scores and curious how they turned out as a result of running a blended learning classroom, the scores indicated that it was not nearly as successful as my previous years. 

So, after all that, where am I now? Did I give up on blended learning? Did I lose the support of my administration? Do I still have a teaching job? I am finding my way in year two of a blended learning classroom with the support of my administration, and I am having a much better understanding of the purpose of blended learning. While test scores might indicate that last year was a failure, I do not view it as such. It would be a failure if I did not learn from my mistakes. It would be a failure if I just gave up and said, "Blended learning does not work. The students can't do it. I can't do it." Truth is, I learned more about teaching last year, than in any other year I taught. Blogging was a big part of my learning as I reflected on my struggles and successes. My blogging and reflecting turned into a very unexpected yet very powerful personalized learning experience for me. 

This year with my 6th grade math, science, and social studies classes, I am focusing my blended learning classrooms building an online learning community where the students and myself can learn from each other using Google Classroom as the platform. I am avoiding using canned programs. I am creating my own content, that directly relates to the standards, and I am focusing on the 4C's in making the content relevant and meaningful to my students. I am slowly building a solid foundation of online learning with my students in the early months, instead of rushing into things. I am not close to running a station-rotation model, which is what I ran last year. Instead I am using the teacher design blend, as discussed in Catlin R. Tucker's book, Blended Learning in Grades 4-12. I do intend to use the station-rotation model and other ideas from last year this year, but in more efficient ways.  

As a result of last year, I know where I want my students to be by the end of the year, and I know what to do, but more importantly what not to do, to make sure they get there. So it turned out that last year was a success, regardless of what the scores said, because it taught me the purpose of blended learning, which is not any one model or any one program. Blended learning's purpose is to allow students to find meaning, relevance, and themselves in their learning in a way that fits their time in school, not ours, and their future in life. Terrible two's, I don't think so. 

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William Madden holds a B.S. in Elementary Education and a Master's in Educational Leadership. His professional backgrounds includes over 16 years in education as an intermediate school teacher, an elementary school principal, instructional technology coach, and Google for Education Certified Trainer. In addition, his experience includes online course design, technology integration, ELA and mathematics curriculum mapping, being on his school's technology and building improvment committees, and conducting professional development. He blogs to reflect on his practice, share with others, and to continue to grow and learn as an educator to meet the needs of today's students. 

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Guest Sunday, 19 May 2019