During my time in the education profession, I’ve repeatedly encountered the misconception that blended and personalized learning is a type of teaching and learning reserved only for new or fresh-out-of-college educators. However, Yolanda Johnson, a 20-year DCPS educator teaching at Cleveland Elementary School, is disproving this misconception daily.
Prior to observing her classroom pilot, I knew very little information about Yolanda—just that she was a veteran public school teacher and a current CityBridge Education Innovation Fellow. And as part of this Fellowship experience, I also knew she was piloting a new station rotation blended learning model. What I didn’t know then was how dynamically talented she is as a teacher.
During my first meeting with Yolanda, I couldn’t help noticing how anxious she was to start her pilot—and how nervous she was for things to “go well.” This type of reflective thinking is undoubtedly a byproduct of her experience and ability. After about a 30-minute discussion, we’d made a plan for me to visit again and see her class in action.
During this second visit, I was immediately impressed with Yolanda’s class. (In addition to their stellar work, her rising 4th graders are undoubtedly among DCPS’ most adorable students!) After Yolanda greeted each student at the door, they entered the classroom. Doing their best to ignore my presence (but with curious eyes and faint smiles), each student placed their book bag in the designated area, located and sat in their assigned seats, diligently pulled out their journals, and quietly began to work on the Problem of the Day.
While the students focused on solving this problem, Yolanda constantly circulated around the classroom to discuss misconceptions and ask questions. After about 20 minutes, she instructed the students to leave their assigned seats and reassemble on a rug in the front of the classroom to discuss the problem they’d been working on.
As a student volunteer wrote her answer on the whiteboard, Yolanda posed higher-order questions to the other students. Then, once the student volunteer finished writing her response, she explained her choices to the class.
Following this group session, Yolanda asked for everyone’s attention and explained the station rotation expectations and schedule. Once she confirmed her students’ understanding, she released them—and like clockwork, each student knew exactly where to go, what to bring, and how to begin.It was truly a thing of beauty; in fact, I couldn’t help but stay an extra 30 minutes beyond my scheduled time there. I cannot underscore Yolanda’s skill as a teacher enough.
Similar to her colleagues in the Fellowship, Yolanda employs a station rotation learning model. Her students, depending on their data-informed pathway, move between two to three primary station options: 1) the teacher-led, small group station, 2) the computer station, where students work on different math-based educational sites, and 3) an option to work independently, while sitting with classmate.
Technology and educational websites are exciting, and they often dominate the dialogue about blended learning. How the best byproduct of blended models is that they enable the teacher—in this case, Yolanda—to maximize instruction, direct or guided, with a targeted small group. In fact, all of the CityBridge Education Innovation Fellows that I’ve observed during their summer piloting experience use a station rotation blended learning model. Moreover, they all incorporate a small-group, teacher-led station as well.
And this is precisely where I tip my hat to Yolanda. As a successful veteran teacher, she could easily have passed on the opportunity to apply for the Fellowship and try something new. Yes, Yolanda’s academic background includes a master’s degree in education technology, but, as she has admitted, she had only applied most of that knowledge sparingly. Now, her renewed interest and passion for teaching is on full display in her classroom.
I can genuinely say Yolanda’s class is one of the best classes I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing. Her talent is clear; her testimony is nothing short of inspirational. She is proof positive that it’s never too late, indeed, to try something new.
Off for now…
Angel Cintron Jr., Contributing Blogger and 2014 Education Innovation Fellow