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One year on: navigating the new normal with blended learning

Navigating the stormy waters of 2020 would have been unimaginable without the assistance of edtech. Schools soon rose to the challenge of lockdown learning, rolling out remote teaching at lightning speed, while adopting blended teaching and learning models to better suit partial school closures.

Thankfully, teachers and pupils are now back where they belong: the classroom. But they’re not about to ditch the tech that got them through the past year. Far from it. 

We’re currently surveying teachers and we’re seeing that there’s so much that they want to continue to use to enhance their teaching. After all, at its simplest, blended learning means embracing the very best of in-person and online teaching. Based on our conversations with teachers, we wanted to share a few tips on how to provide effective blended learning: what’s been working for them, and what hasn’t. 

 

Flip the classroom

In summary, pupils learn the theory at home and then apply it in class. In practice, pupils consume a range of explanatory or instructional content asynchronously in the form of books, articles, videos, podcasts, and voiceover PowerPoints. 

This offers huge benefits. Teachers can delegate some of the instruction to quality online videos and the like. Or they can teach a lesson once – or record a potted explanation, write a PowerPoint presentation etc. The pupils can enjoy it many times over, in their own time, at their own pace. They can pause, rewind, rewatch, while writing notes and jotting down questions focusing on what they don’t understand.

Lesson time through a blended learning approach can then be devoted to one-to-one interaction, differentiation, hands-on practicals, relationship-building, pep talks, and so much more. This will make all the difference when supporting children with learning catch-up in the months ahead.

 

Keep your workload manageable

There’s so much wonderful stuff out there. 

Teachers and pupils can share online textbooks with Classoos, or watch educational videos courtesy of Khan Academy, YouTube, ClickView, and Planet eStream. And let’s not forget the BBC, Teachit, Tes, and Oak National Academy. 

Many teachers, of course, will continue to produce their own content, often with the help of their students. And they already have so much content from the last year to repurpose. 

 

Take best remote teaching practice into the physical classroom

It is hard for remote teaching to replicate in-person teacher-pupil interaction. That said, teachers built up a range of tricks to bring online lessons to life, and there’s no reason why they won’t work back in the classroom. 

Random student pickers complement cold calling.  

Timers concentrate young minds, create a buzz, and crank up the excitement of any lesson, as does the use of class polls. 

Seating plans which can be reshuffled at the touch of a button are enormously handy.

During remote teaching, the chat facility freed up those who lacked the confidence to participate. Back in the classroom, there’s Whiteboard.fi, Jamboard, and Microsoft Whiteboard. You can even continue the use of online forums through your LMS to keep the conversation going beyond the classroom.

 

Embrace the interactivity of tech tools

To embed new knowledge for use in the long term, it is imperative that learning is active, with regular reviewing and testing of content. With the likes of Quizlet, Quizizz, Kahoot!, and Memrise, there’s an embarrassment of riches of learning tools, and they all make for lively, interactive lessons. 

Teachers are able, in essence, to gamify learning. Better still, these proven revision methods far outstrip passive reading of notes, while making assessment easy and instantaneous. 

 

Facilitate friction-free collaboration

New technology also enables easy collaboration among pupils, and easy sharing of resources.

Compiling revision notes, creative writing in teams, organising group material for mock trials or debates? It’s all made easy with Microsoft OneNote and its Class Notebook, Google Slides, Google Docs, Jamboard, or Padlet. 

Pupils love making multimedia content for the real world, producing their own videos with iMovie, for instance.

 

Use shared docs for formative assessment and feedback 

Teachers can monitor participation and understanding by viewing pupils’ virtual whiteboards or version histories of shared work on Google Docs, or OneNote and its Class Notebook, which also provides the perfect means for teachers to offer their own ideas and timely feedback. Google Forms can be used for baseline assessment and evaluations. Firefly has its own mark book where teachers can log marks and check progress which can then be shared with parents.

Teachers are also saving a lot of time by offering feedback in the form of voice notes. And pupils find this so much more personal, memorable, and motivating. 

 

Final thoughts

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Getting just the right blend is more important than ever. While embracing the sheer variety and flexibility of blended learning, teachers need to ensure the right balance between: in-person and online teaching; the synchronous and asynchronous; theory and application; and individual, group, and whole-class activities. 

Teachers would do well to keep asking pupils about which apps, platforms, content etc. work best for them, while inviting pupils to do some of the curating and exploring. 

The new normal is opening up a brave new world, but navigation will be a concerted team effort. And a fleet is only as fast as its slowest ship. Remember, not all pupils have the same equipment (at home) or skills to access online learning. It also helps if the school’s own management information system (MIS) is seaworthy. A robust, flexible, fully integrated learning management system (LMS) ensures the best chance of surviving choppy waters. 

Want to find out more? We've put together a handy Blended Learning guide which includes 7 best practices. Download to read personal stories from teachers and discover how to make the workload manageable.

 

Further reading

Blended Learning: Taking teaching and learning to the next level (fireflylearning.com)

Getting more from distance learning with a flipped classroom (fireflylearning.com)

One year on: What have we learnt from our lockdown experience? (fireflylearning.com)

Blended learning: 8 things students say work | Tes

FLIP_handout_FNL_Web.pdf (flippedlearning.org)

Lemov, Doug: Teaching in the Online Classroom: Surviving and Thriving in the New Normal (2020), Jossey-Bass

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