Flipped, blended, personalized… Many of us have become familiar with these terms. While definitions may vary, the challenge often lies in their differentiation. This is because they all share a common goal: offering one-to-one instruction. One might say the three ‘blend’ together to form the ideal instruction method. We asked these flipped, blended and personalized pioneers to provide us with an insight into the world of one-to-one instruction, beyond the classroom door.
“To me, they kind of go hand in hand”, says Susan Menkel, sixth grade teacher of math and science from North Carolina. “‘Flipped’ is flipping the responsibility – going from the teacher giving all the knowledge – to teaching the students how to find the knowledge for themselves.” Susan’s district was one of the first to ‘flip their thinking’, having converted to a one-to-one environment almost seven years ago. “We have a lot of people across the country that actually come to my school district and use our model for doing a one-to-one conversion. I guess I really started dabbling in flipping the class and blended learning before it had a name. I thought: I’m working too hard, they should be working more than I am, I don’t want to tell them what project to do, why can’t they tell me what they want to do?”
“I officially jumped on the flip train last April”, says Sarah-Jane Thomas, eighth grade English Language Arts teacher from Washington D.C. “I’ve seen educators use it at all ages and in theory it should be able to work from kindergarten all the way up to university.”
Theory in Practice
The term ‘blended learning’ was established at the beginning of the 21st century in which multiple learning environments and activities were combined. It has since evolved into a range of hybrid teaching practices, challenging and transforming the traditional classroom. “I think the days of the teacher standing in front of the classroom giving the knowledge to the students has long passed, it has to go away”, says Susan. “You also have to let go of a lot of traditional ideas. Obviously we work in a school society now that’s all about achievement and growth, and this test score, and that test score, but at the end of the day, that’s not what teachers do. Teachers teach children. So for me personalized learning is having a relationship with each child, knowing each child.”
“One key benefit would be that the students are already more inclined to the digital aspect of learning, being digital natives, so I think that flipping is one way to meet them halfway”, says Sarah. “It has in-class benefits as well because it helps to increase the amount of time you can spend individually with students.”
Susan describes her personalized classroom, emphasising the need to remain open-minded. “If you walk into my classroom, nobody is ever really doing the exact same thing, which I think is difficult for teachers to imagine. You could see two kids working in partners teaching each other, you could see a group on the floor working, you could see someone working independently, you could see a few kids around me working, and that’s the whole idea… What do you need? And what do you need from me?”
Bridging the Digital Divide
As the blended and flipped craze increases in popularity, some remain skeptical due to lack of funding and resources. “A lot of people are worried about increasing the achievement gap between those who have resources and those who don’t, but there are ways”, says Sarah. “We received some of the lowest funds in the state, but we did it”, says Susan. “We haven’t bought textbooks in eight years- there’s your money right there!”
Sarah explains some of the innovative options open to educators with little resources to take advantage of the flipped learning experience (giving instruction through video), encouraging them to experiment. She suggests asking the students without wifi plans at home to find local hotspots in libraries and other locations to watch the videos. She also suggests burning DVD’s to give to the students to watch at home, or as an alternative, organizing ‘viewing parties’ at lunch time, for the students to watch the videos together. “Sometimes in different grade levels, you may not have access to the students at lunch time, so what I would suggest in that case would be setting up a centre activity where the students can go in the classroom to watch the flip there”, she says. “It is sustainable”, says Susan. “If we can pull it off, anybody can do it.”
Seeing is Believing
Sarah explains the fascinating results she has encountered since converting to a flipped learning environment, both in terms of student engagement and achievement, and her own planning and preparation. “At the beginning, when educators are starting to get into the groove, it starts to take a little bit more time on the front end. However the benefits are immense, and the more that one flips learning, the less time it ends up taking”, she says. “When I started, it took hours to create a video but now it’s to the point where I can just create a video in real-time because I have my system down… If I wanna do a five minute video, it takes me five minutes to do it.” Parents are also benefitting from the changes as they gain more of an insight into classroom activity. “I got some feedback from parents saying that they particularly enjoyed it because it makes the classroom more transparent and they can better help their children because they see exactly what’s going on in class”, says Sarah.
Where to Begin?
On the topic of advice for other educators starting out with a personalized learning environment, both encourage different approaches. “One day at a time”, says Susan. “Don’t try to learn everything at once. Pick one method and feel comfortable with that before you try to reach out and do something different, because it is overwhelming.” Sarah has a contrasting view, encouraging educators to dive in, headfirst. “A lot of the time, it’s that fear that holds us back and great things don’t get done because we don’t know how to start, or we don’t wanna look silly, but when you actually do make those moves, and take that leap, great things can happen, so I would definitely tell them to jump in with both feet!”
While differing in opinion, both educators strongly portray the positive impacts of embracing technology and adopting a personalized learning environment. Such bold attempts by educators around the world to re-evaluate teaching and learning are inspiring models for the classrooms of the future, as bustling hubs of creativity and collaboration. Whatever step an educator decides to take, these innovative advocates for change urge it to be in the right direction.
About the author:
Lorna Keane is a teacher of French, English and ESL. She specializes in language teaching and has taught in second and third-level institutions in several countries. She holds a B.A in languages and cultural studies and an M.A in French literature, theory and visual culture. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.