The trouble with schools is we jump on to the next big thing and end out churning out the same old thing.
I’m increasingly sounding old, I realise that, but I’m sort of settling into it, now that I realise I don’t have to panic every time the latest terminology or model for education comes flying at us suddenly from a thousand different directions. And maybe I’m in danger of being complacent in my cynicism when what I see churning out of the classrooms, in the wake of the latest ideas, is still the same scenario: the teacher dominating a room full of young people, instilling information and knowledge yes, but sadly, acting more as a supportive crutch for the skills and dispositions they lack and are not yet being given the opportunity to grow.
In my last blog (https://thetroublewithschools.com/2020/06/07/the-next-steps/) I highlighted two warnings we’ve been given in relation to previous pandemic threats, one in 2003 and the other 2012. Educationalists and the press. Attempts were made to address our short-fallings in developing not only better online resources, but also in developing stronger, flexible independent learners. Unfortunately, as I highlighted all of these attempts either fizzled out or were stamped on from above. There are many reasons why. For example: it challenged some teachers, making them feel out of control or over exposed, it’s hard to set up well, it was costly (from an IT perspective) and politically it didn’t look as if it would lead to students doing well in the increasingly exam orientated system.
A colleague of mine at the time, Claire Stewart (https://www.makingstuffbetter.com/), once said to me, when I was struggling as a Deputy to manage the change with teachers, “What everyone needs to do is make a leap of faith” Her words have always stuck with me; sometimes the research isn’t out there to back it up because we are still carrying out our own active research, getting things wrong at times, but learning and making the next version better. At times we do need make allowances for a leap of faith and that’s what we perhaps need to do here in our current climate.
I’m not saying we should jump off the metaphorical educational cliff like lemmings and throw ourselves in blindly towards a ‘new normal’ (and I do mean that to sound facetious!). We need to do this in a way that is measured and manages the change for staff. At the same time, we also need to (and this is the difficult bit), come out the other side with a different emphasis on education and learning, where young people are helped to develop learning muscles (Have a look at any book by Guy Claxton and/or Graham Powell and you’ll see where I’m coming from), which will stand them in good stead and enable them to flourish independently and collaboratively, both within an educational setting and then later throughout their lives.
What is Blended Learning
So let’s have a look at Blended Learning. The term has certainly come to the fore of late and the two main some interpretations I’m seeing are variants on the following:
- based very much on the blend of digital resources and normal teaching practice, or
- where it begins to look at the structure within our current blend of home and school education, but still with strong emphasis on working out the best way for instructional teaching to take place.
In short I still haven’t seen enough emphasis on developing the way young people learn.
Let’s start by having a look at what I believe Blended learning is and then move on to the structure.
- should place the needs of the young person first
- should reorientate focus on the need to build creative, flexible, independent and resilient learning muscles enabling young people to flourish in the 21st century.
- need not be a huge shift into the unknown. The essential ingredients are all there, in our day to day practice and pedagogy.
- requires us to tweak what we do in the classroom and fully explore these ‘essential ingredients’, and their contribution towards good learning and teaching.
- is not necessarily a combination of learning in school and at home, it also can take place only in the school, but utilising different parts of the school and/or different resources (with an emphasis on digital) to enhance the learning experience and outcome
- utilises experts from around the world to enhance learning
- should take from previous practice and structure, but not try to replicate past practice. The priorities change
- is about having the confidence to let pupils go at times and not become their crutch and the panacea for all cures
- requires the teacher to accept they no longer have the monopoly on information
- Blended Learning places an emphasis on the teacher as a coach, facilitator and sometimes a curator
- requires us to have that leap of faith. Young people will will get it wrong at times (as will we), but little by little they will develop good habits of learning and we will develop a robust pedagogy
Apologies if some of these sound vague at the moment. I’m afraid this is going to be a longish article in three parts and so if you only want the outline and would rather go and interpret it yourself then now is the time to stop reading. If on the other hand you want to look more closely at the structure and examine the change required then, please do read on.
A framework within which good learning can take place in any setting
As mentioned effective learning for the 21st century using blended learning context, does not necessarily require a huge shift in practice; only tweaks and a change in emphasis here and there. Take the diagram below:
I’ve always seen this as the essential framework for any good learning experience within a school setting. Pair this with the following questions below which form the pedagogy within this framework and I believe you have the basic principles of good learning and teaching:
Educational research over the years has resulted in an ever-changing landscape, in the classroom and around the school. Thousands of educationalists have produced tens of thousands of books, papers, frameworks, practices, models mnemonics and gimmicks, mostly drawn (or at times claiming to be drawn) from the research to produce ever-changing flavour of the month, year or even decade methodologies in the classroom.
Lying beneath all of this I believe are some or all of these principles; they have altered slightly over the years, but their essence has always been utilised by every effective teacher. They don’t change and they don’t need to change. Having said that within this framework and questions above, pedagogical practices vary hugely and have very different outcomes. Whether these outcomes are deemed worthwhile is dependent upon, sadly not upon the views of the recipients (e.g. students or employers), but those of Government policy and to a lesser extent the teaching profession which has remained pretty static in this respect for a hundred or more years.
Another plug for the New Curriculum for Wales – it really does support the outcomes which meet the 21st century needs needs of students, employers as well as that of society.
Blended Learning is yet one more practice which accommodates all of these above, with one important difference: Blended learning shifts the priorities to focus on creating strong, agile, independent learners first and foremost. Ignoring this vital facet of blended learning, will result in ill prepared learners who are heavily reliant on a teacher presence to ensure sustainable learning takes place.
Effective blended learning necessitates the facilitation of extended activities as a minimum, but ideally suits Project Based Learning.
Comparing the traditional learning experience in school (One teacher with one class) with the blended learning context using Project based or extended learning tasks.
The following four diagrams show each aspect of the framework and principles above in more detail, highlighting possible elements which can be adopted in each section. The box in grey within each diagram describes the traditional model and serves to illustrate how essentially both are following the same set of principles, but with very different outcomes for the child.
Hopefully this begins to illustrate the changes that will require training and development for staff in schools, but hopefully it also draws out the comparisons with current practice and will alleviate the fears some may have. The framework and principles are essentially the same, but the pedagogy applied is different in its emphasis and it expectations on teachers to collaborate more not only with colleagues but students also.
In the next blog, I want to highlight one model of blended learning which utilises Project Based Learning and in Part 3, I want to explore how we work to develop those who are further down the trust and maturity ladder than others when it comes to working more independently.