When I volunteer in my children’s elementary classrooms (1st and 3rd grade), I am struck by how frequently the teacher finds time to work directly with small groups of students to offer additional support, review concepts, assess understanding, and practice skills.
At the secondary level scenes like this are less frequent. Many middle school and high school teachers feel immense pressure to move quickly through the curriculum. As a result, students are forced to progress lockstep through a lesson without much room for individualization or differentiation.
My excitement about blended learning stemmed from the realization that learning, both inside and outside of my classroom, can take many different forms. In the physical classroom, I enjoy designing lessons that break my students into smaller groups, so I can work with small groups much like elementary teachers do. I’ve affectionately termed the group that works with me “Tucker Time.” When students are at the learning station with me, they have my undivided attention. It’s an opportunity for me to reinforce concepts, clarify confusion, and support those students who are struggling.
In the lesson pictured above, I wanted to review the concept of explicit versus implicit information in a literary text. My students were reading Of Mice and Men and attempting to complete an explicit/implicit chart. As I assessed my students initial attempts at completing this chart, I realized many were not understanding the difference between explicit and implicit information. I knew I needed to work directly with small groups to review the difference and model what it looks like to read a text and identify both explicit and implicit information.
In order to work with small groups, I designed three other stations to engage students while I worked with small groups.
Group 1 researched the Great Depression and discussed its impact on the novel.
Group 2 worked collaboratively to create a timeline of John Steinbeck’s life and discussed which events impacted his writing of the novel.
Group 3 practiced writing and critiquing theme statements on the whiteboard in the back of the room.
Group 4 was “Tucker Time” reviewing how to identify explicit and implicit information in the text.
We have a 90 minute class period, so we rotated groups every 20 minutes. Sometimes my rotations will span a couple of days depending on how much time my students need in each station. I love the flexibility of working in this model. It makes it so much easier to design tasks and challenges that foster communication and collaboration.
I can group students randomly or by ability, interests, or learning preferences. If I’m targeting the development of a particular skill, then I will group students by ability and the assignment in a particular station can be differentiated for each group that moves through that station. For example, if we are working on close reading and I have students at different reading levels in a single class, I will use an online resource with texts at different Lexile levels to ensure the text is at an appropriate level to challenge each group.
For those teachers who are frustrated by large class sizes, the wide spectrum of ability levels in a single class, or a general lack of time, I suggest experimenting with blended learning and creative lesson design using technology.