Sarah SaidChicago, ILMarch 9, 2018
We are a society that thrives on choice. We choose everything...all the time. Why not choose the way we learn and how much time we need to learn? Learners in our classrooms will be engaged in a world where decisions are at their fingertips (literally) all the time, so why not allow them to have a choice in how they are learning? Blended learning gives us choices as learners, and choice empowers. Blended learning formats empower students-- all students.
Blended learning combines face to face instruction in a facility (like a classroom) with online learning. Some educators may refer to a model of a blended learning environment as a “flipped classroom”. This post will provide examples that are based more on a flipped classroom approach to blended learning to illustrate how blended learning can empower English Learners. The online learning portion of a blended learning model gives learners some control over time, place, ways of learning, and/or speed of learning. They can then take what they learned into the classroom and authentically use the content and language to engage in learning experiences that allow for discussion, critical thinking, and creation. Blended learning is designed for all learners to equalize the playing field by giving students more time to master content and skills.
Clarifying Some Misconceptions About Blended Learning
When it comes to blended learning, there are mixed feelings in the English Learning world over the effectiveness of it on language instruction for English Learners. The misconception is that the model and the devices are going to replace the teacher and that English Learners will solely be taught within an online format and be at a disadvantage. Educators may also worry that English Learners who are new to the United States will struggle because they may not have had access to technology in their home country. But exposure to new technology will ultimately be helpful, because our English Learners need to be exposed to technology in order to be able to compete in the workplace.
Sometimes, blended learning can be confused for a one-to-one initiative where a device simply replaces a book. But in a blended learning environment, a device isn’t simply used for reading. Students can interact with each other or their teacher, innovate and create on the device, and take what they have learned online and apply it to a higher level activity within the classroom. They can also extend on learning or reflect with online learning after a classroom experience. When implemented correctly, blended learning is a powerful tool that enhances language instruction and gives students the time to master listening, reading, speaking, and writing.
Proper professional development can help teachers understand how to leverage the device as something beyond simply a replacement for a textbook. We cannot be quick to purchase devices and programs without having a plan and training for using them. Teams need time to focus on studying how to use devices for learning experiences correctly, and they need to learn models of blended learning and get examples of how it is implemented. They also need in-class coaching from experts. With the proper training, planning, data management for student plans, and knowledge of technology tools for blended learning implementation, teachers can help students grow at their own rates.
How Does Blended Learning Empower English Learners?
Time is the gift that learners receive in a classroom that applies blended learning structures. A properly prepared environment for blended learning can allow English Learners more time to build background on vocabulary, master concepts, and delve deeply into content. When teachers put appropriate content into their online classroom portals, students can benefit from using those resources at their own paces, being able to replay modules if needed.
Think of it this way: an English Learner is inundated with language all day long. At some point, listening to teachers all day long can have the student feeling like they are listening to an adult in a Charlie Brown cartoon: “Wawawa…” In a flipped or blended classroom, however, they can continue to replay and review the lesson over and over again until they understand the concepts. It is a huge advantage when students can activate prior knowledge and build background before a lesson and review the content after a lesson. This isn’t just helpful for English Learners, it is helpful for all learners.
More Face Time With Instructors - Just in A Different Way
In addition to the ability to spend more time learning a lesson, if the instructor is using a Google hangout to review content and reach more students, a student can in fact get more face time from their teacher. This is helpful in relaying understanding. Teachers can also provide different videos for different students and tier their instruction and even their face time based on a student’s level of understanding. This can be done before and after in-person classroom experiences.
Before Class Preparation
If the teacher gives students the right learning experiences before and after in person classroom meetings, the students will be more prepared for in-class encounters. Zweirs and Crawford describe ways to engage English Learners in discussion in their 2011 book Academic Conversations: the first of the key practices is having students come class prepared for the discussion before it happens. This gives English Learners an advantage when they participate in large or small group discussions.
Large or small group discussions can be challenging in the classroom-- lack of preparation means these opportunities may not be enriching for English Learners. The book Unlocking English Learners’ Potential: Strategies for Making Content Accessible by Fenner and Snyder notes that “It is unfair to expect ELs to engage in pair or small group tasks in which they feel unprepared to contribute.” Blended learning environments level the playing field because now students have resources in their online portal that they can continue to review prior to in class group work. This isn’t only for older students, but elementary and primary students can work with parents, guardians, or older siblings to review content outside of the classroom as well.
Learning experiences are also supported by the choices students can expect to have in a blended learning environment. Students can choose their pace when a classroom has a blended learning structure, but they can choose their path for pursuing content or even what elements of the content they want to learn depending on the content area or assignment. This can differentiate instruction for all learners based on their assets and interests. Some learners may want to utilize online translation as they are reviewing content. Others may want to learn through more reading rather than listening and viewing. Choice helps learners explore new avenues in learning.
Better Opportunities for In-Class Critical Thinking
When students are given more time, opportunity, and choice, not only can they learn and absorb content but they can use that content to create and compose products within the classroom. Not only that, they can extend to more thinking critically about concepts than just trying to attain them. As observed in the book ELL Frontiers: Using Technology to Enhance Instruction for English Learners, “Ultimately by flipping a classroom for English Learners, they will have more opportunity to think critically in English and to use English to connect authentically with others in order to acquire knowledge.” This is ultimately what we want, our students to engage in language and use it rather than to just struggle to decode it.
With all of this in mind, why not set sail on a journey of using a blended learning format within your school or classroom? Blended learning formats create equity for English Learners and all learners. When done appropriately, acquisition of language can increase and students can discover the content without feeling overwhelmed. Students can innovate with pride.
Now, with all this conversation about WHY blended learning formats are good for English Learners, your next question may be “How do I get started?” Start by learning about our courses for English Learners, and stay tuned for more to come...