Shifting from “computer time” to a blended learning block
As I enter year two at my school (a first in many ways—I’ve never taught the same subject to the same kids at the same school), there are a great many bright spots.
For starters, as I’ve sat in the hallway during planning time, multiple first graders have looked at me with wide eyes and asked “Are you the principal?” While I am certainly not, starting the year with students thinking that I might be isn’t a bad way to start.
But the true bright spots are in our approach to our ed tech programs—and a big push, from administration, myself, and our teachers—to shift the mindset we have around these powerful and pricey programs.
While it was never outright stated, the mindset nearly all classrooms had around these programs was that they were babysitters at worst and magical programs that you “set and forgot” and would automatically do cool things to help kids learn at best. So this became “computer time”—a loosely defined time for kids to “get on computers” and teachers to…do some other things.
While ed tech programs can indeed pretty magical, and blended learning time can look pretty serene, it actually takes a Really. Great. Teacher to get blended learning off the ground.
That’s why I spent the last week making 17 binders—one for each homeroom of my school—jam-packed with individual student data reports and individualized instruction activities, both broken down by literacy domain (vocabulary, phonics, etc.). These reports and activities are both automatically generated by our reading program, iReady, based on a short diagnostic test students take. This test also generates a playlist of content focusing on the domains that students most need to grow at to be on target for their grade level.
With these binders, and a deeper understanding of iReady, the idea of setting and forgetting anything is all but forgotten. Instead, our blended learning block is a crucial 50 or so minutes for teachers to pull small groups based on their Individualized Learning Binders, and teach them a lesson that they clearly need.
How We Moved in This Direction
Clearly, this wasn’t an overnight transition. The binders alone took a full week to complete, and I’m still badgering teachers to get the last dozen or so iReady diagnostic tests done. Getting there took a variety of levers, a significant one simply being that I now have some experience at my school.
But the biggest influence was having a few hours of face time in front of teachers for some very intentional professional development. Laying out our plan for the year, and then giving teachers time to pull up the program and complete some simple tasks they need to know to make blended learning effective, was invaluable.
In addition, aligning with my principal on our school’s schedule to ensure we had a clearly named and significant amount of time for blended learning to occur was huge. We got a lot of feedback from teachers last year that there simply wasn’t time to execute what we were trying to do.
Finally, I created a pretty beefy vision of what I wanted to see happen—from administration, teachers, families, students, and myself. Having this vision was vital to backwards plan the PD I wanted to see, the time we needed in the schedule, and the legwork I needed to do beforehand.
Obviously, it’s still early. But we have started things easily two months ahead of where we were last year, and at a much higher bar. But as teachers have told me multiple times, “Now I actually know what we’re doing and how to do it!”
Blair Mishleau, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
KIPP DC Heights Academy