Reduce Teacher Stress? Implement Blended Learning
In this age of high accountability, data-driven decisions, differentiated instruction and having to meet the needs of all learners in classrooms, high-stress environments exist for both hard-working teachers and their students. Is there a practical solution to this problem? Yes! You can implement Blended Learning to increase the efficiency of teachers, decrease their stress, and help students obtain new levels of academic achievement.
What is Blended Learning? In short, it’s a method of instruction that unites the power of computers and/or web-based learning tools with traditional forms of instruction. Through streamlining processes it saves teachers time, boosts instructional efficacy, and increases student performance through enhanced ownership—all of which reduce the amount of teacher stress in the classroom.
Feeling the pressures of our educational system, master teachers came together as a school improvement team that searched for strategies and programs that could help teachers shift their instruction and make targeting each individual student easier!
In 2010, I witnessed first-hand the stress placed on professional educators when taking the position of Principal at Howard D. Crull Elementary School. Crull was a Title I school in the state of Michigan with performance gaps in reading, math, and writing. The staff was under pressure to increase test scores with an emphasis on catch-up growth. Adding to the high-stakes accountability set forth by state requirements, teachers were working to provide instruction to a variety of students with a wide range of learning styles, while also having to plan for five subject areas, accommodate learning disabilities, and differentiate for each learner. On top of that, students began taking tests three times per year on the NWEA assessment and state MSTEP testing.
Feeling the pressures of our educational system, master teachers came together as a school improvement team that searched for strategies and programs that could help our teachers shift their instruction and make targeting each individual student easier! The team found a number of programs that could meet the needs of both teachers and learners.
Track Your Stations
When sticks, word magnets, blocks, and clocks are making castles and not being used as planned, it is lost instructional time. It is also difficult to determine if students are learning the intended outcome. Setting up a station or stations for each student to work on a monitored computer program allows the teacher to determine if time spent independently working is used effectively. Spend time developing stations that are easy to monitor and assess. Using computer-based adaptive software allows an opportunity for practice and assessment. At Crull, teachers were able to use the overhead projector, an iPad, or their smart phones to see if students were on task while they were working in a small group. Teachers could “refresh” the screen to see which students were on task and what they were working on.
Find web-based programs that generate data on student performance. Instead of “entering” your data into another system, excel spreadsheet or data warehouse, find a system that provides you “data to drive” instruction and demonstrates a combination of growth using the tool. Our staff was able to generate reports quickly to determine patterns of strengths and weakness for determining learning disabilities, run a classroom report for their teacher evaluations or bring student data to team meetings. In particular, our data team discovered that teachers who set goals for students to have 60 minutes a week in a Web-based program had the most growth on the NWEA assessment.
Plan Instructional Groups Easily
When students are using a web-based program, find a program that helps to create student grouping based on how they are performing. These groups become flexible based on skills, and teachers can use what they know about each student to further modify groups (such as by personalities, learning styles, etc.) There are many Web-based programs that will even provide lesson plans for groups struggling with the same concepts.
Match Current Curriculum with Common Core Standards
As we shifted to the Common Core Standards we wanted to find programs that made it easy for our teachers to learn the standards and still use our district approved curriculum.
Create Clear Communication with Families
Our team wanted programs to easily communicate with families. We found digital tools to add to our instruction that had the capability to keep families aware of student progress. These tools allowed us to easily print reports, create student awards (we handed them out at assemblies), permitted parent log-in capabilities, and provided several learning resources for using at home. At an early adoption point, we allowed students access to web-based programs after school hours. Soon we discovered our parents were “playing” the programs instead of allowing their children to work.
Increase Student Learning and Engagement
Not every child will do well in computer/web-based learning environments but offering the choice will increase the student’s ownership. We found that by implementing station rotations and choice boards using our blended learning platforms students were more invested in their ownership of learning. For some, it was the accomplishment of mastering a “level” or skill others enjoyed the games, and yet some always would choose to sit at the adult stations because it was the one-on-one attention they needed.