When I work with teachers who are new to blended learning, there is often a knee-jerk concern about the time required to design a lesson that strategically blends active, engaged learning online with active, engaged learning offline. It is true that blended learning requires a higher level of intentionality when it comes to design.

I want teachers to think of themselves as architects of learning experiences. Sketching out blueprints that will position the students to do the “building” or the heavy cognitive work of making meaning. It requires less time to design a teacher-centered lesson where we are spending large chunks of time at the front of the room talking, instructing, and modeling. However, when we have little to no time to work directly with students during the lesson (e.g., giving them feedback or facilitating meaningful interactions among students), that translates into more work after the lesson as teachers feel pressure to take stacks of student work home.

Whole Group Rotation Model

If designing a blended lesson feels daunting, it may help to start with the whole group rotation model. This is an updated version of the original lab rotation model, which had students rotating between offline work in a classroom and online work in a computer lab. The growing number of schools that are 1:1 or have carts full of devices in classrooms means that most students do not need to leave the classroom to get online. Instead, teachers can rotate students between online and offline learning with a whole group rotation.

A whole group rotation should be designed with the following questions in mind.

  • How are we balancing the online with the offline?
  • How are we encouraging both individual and collaborative work?
  • When do students enjoy the agency to make key decisions about their learning experience?
  • How will the instruction, models, practice, or scaffolds be differentiated to ensure all students can be successful?
  • When will the teacher work directly with students to provide additional support, guidance, or feedback?

As teachers design their whole group rotations, it is important to keep the learning activities varied and build in student choice whenever possible.

Offline Learning Activities

The offline learning time in a whole group rotation should focus on those activities that benefit from human interaction and social learning.

  • Discussion
  • Feedback
  • Small group collaboration
  • Interactive modeling sessions
  • Guided practice

Online Learning Activities

By contrast, online work should be used to provide students with agency. That means they choose how they engage with information or complete a task using a range of online tools.

This time can also be used for:

  • Online research or exploration
  • Personalized practice with a computer program or adaptive software
  • Review games
  • Asynchronous online discussions
  • Updating a digital notebook or portfolio
  • Online self-assessment activity

As students work online and have a higher degree of control over the pace of that experience, teachers can pull individuals or small groups of students who need more instruction, modeling, or support. They can also use this time to provide feedback on work-in-progress instead of taking that work home.

Moving Forward with Intentionality

The pandemic presented educators with a steep learning curve. As teachers transition back into classrooms, I encourage them to retain the strategies and technology tools that worked well in the online environment. Moving forward, we should strive to blend the best aspects of face-to-face and online learning strategically and intentionally. Teachers who leverage blended learning models, like the whole group rotation, can maximize connections between themselves and their students and among students. Those connections, and the relationships that will form as a result, will make the learning more engaging and meaningful.

If you want to learn more about blended and online learning, check out my self-paced online courses! They include video lessons, templates and resources, action items to help you apply what you are learning, and connect you with a community of educators working to cultivate a skillset and toolset that allow them to thrive in any teaching and learning landscape.

19 Responses

  1. Your timing is impeccable! I literally sat down to think about how the heck I am going to plan for next week since we are in a hybrid model now (concurrent online/in-person students, live-streaming, etc.). This helps so much. Less is more, and the first two days of hybrid were overwhelming, but I can do this (as I try to figure out split screens and zoom screen sharing while using AirPlay, blah blah blah). Once I get the tech down, I am hoping I can be more effective with station rotations. All of this is to say you are a godsend. And thank you for always being generous with your forms and handouts.

    • Hi Dawn,

      I’m thrilled this post appeared at the perfect time. I love it when that happens. I’m so glad this made planning for yet another version of this school year more manageable! I so enjoy my work supporting teachers, and this note made my day. Thank you for taking the time to write me.

      Take care.

    • Hi Noor,

      Asynchronous online discussions engage students in either a video-based (FlipGrid) or text-based (learning management system) conversation. Because it is asynchronous, students post their responses and replies at different times and from different places. I write about the importance of using asynchronous discussions in the blog below if you want to read more about the rationale behind using them. They are a staple of most online and many blended learning courses.


      Take care.

      • I’m encouraged to plan for next year with all of the things I’ve learned this year in the DL environment. Do you have suggestions for bringing the class together as a whole to discuss topics? Sometimes I feel that some students have not yet had the opportunity to have exposure to lessons they have not yet attempted. Thank you!

        • Hi Cindy,

          Usually, I prefer small group discussions to whole-class conversations. In a small group, all students have the opportunity to share their ideas and ask questions. I used a simple strategy that I called 4 corner conversations. Four separate groups each went to one corner of the classroom and sat in a circle. Sometimes I provided the questions. Other times I asked them to craft their own questions. This was a great way to facilitate dynamic discussion in the whole group rotation format. I learned SO MUCH listening to and observing them in these conversations.

          Another strategy I used in a whole group rotation where we started with students individually selecting an online resource on a topic or issue (article, podcast, video) to engage with, and then we would come together for a fishbowl discussion. The fishbowl was usually how we ended the lesson and gave their conversations a nice structure. It also splits the group in half, so more students have an opportunity to share their ideas.

          I hope that is helpful! Good luck planning for next year.


  2. This breakdown of how to blend technology into the classroom is so helpful! It is hard to know when you are using too much technology or too little, this is a good balance. As a future educator, I am very interested in how I can bring technology into my classroom in a way that enhances education.

  3. This is great! It resonates really well with what I already do in my classroom. The idea of reciprocal teaching to enhance learning and create a more student-centered environment is great for my high school classroom. Being intentional in the rotation is so helpful in allowing kids to get out of their comfort zone and connect more with all of their peers.

  4. I love how this gives the children independence and chose when choosing the different activities. It also helps with planning and preparing for lessons. Thank you for the great info!!!

  5. I have seen this working in a classroom with great success. The students learned a lot and could show their knowledge when communicating with other and on written work.

  6. I love this- yes, it can be overwhelming, but with the patience, knowledge and getting the students vested….it can be done. And it obviously can be done successfully and smoothly. I plan on using this during the next school year and sharing the information with my staff. What seems like more on our plate is actually not, this make planning much more cohesive and hits the needs of each and every learner.

  7. The ideas for planning and implementing a whole group rotation model seem overwhelming but taking the first step is just what I need. I also feel that this is a process that takes time and often times as teachers we give up too soon because we want to see effectiveness right away.

    • You’re absolutely right, Christina! Designing with a new instructional model always takes some time and is a little rough out of the gates. I work with teachers who feel pressure to be perfect, but there is always a learning curve when trying something new. We must be compassionate with ourselves and kind as we continue learning and growing. It’s a wonderful example for our students!

      Take care.

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