Book Review: Blended Learning in Action (Tucker)

Inspired by colleagues to pick up this book, written in 2017, and one in a series by Catlin Tucker, it is a very practical guide to Blended Learning in many ways. Written more for individual teacher and leaders in larger boards, there are many insight, charts and resources that can support a sustainable approach to blended learning for schools.

I found much in the book to answering the question: How might we weave together the best aspects of F2F and online learning to further student agency and teacher value to their learning?

The presence of technology alone does not imply any inherent value to teaching and learning. The other part of the equation is the intangibles, such as culture, mindset and true preparedness of teachers and school leaders. (pg. 3)

You would be interested in this book if you are:
1) Just getting going with blended learning in your school or classroom
2) Were ready to launch blended learning in your school or classroom
3) Looking for good communication tools, such as charts, timelines and adoption pathways
4) Looking to support a faculty journey into blended learning approaches

Responsibility of Learning

Blended learning can be viewed as a threat for some educators in taking away the control of learning from the teacher and putting it over to digital content. However, with proper stewardship and purpose, this is not the case.  This book does an excellent job of using language to frame the different roles and context for Blended Learning approaches.

In a blended learning culture, stakeholders are empowered to take greater ownership of their respective responsibilities. Students become agents and owners of their learning process…In blended learning schools, schooling does not happen to students. Students are drivers of their learning…Simultaneously, teachers become both facilitators of student learning and 21-century learners themselves. (pg. 8)

Identifying the role of the teacher and the student is so important in the “WHY” of blended learning. If faculty believe that their role in the students’ learning process is to be responsible for student learning, there is work to do. Blended learning is a way to begin this shift in understanding that students have the capability and responsibility to own their learning.

However, this doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t involved. In fact, research show significant impact on learning when high expectations are set by teachers combined with support and opportunities for personalized learning…One the greatest benefits of well integrated technology is that the traditional constraints of a classroom or teacher instruction are removed. (pg. 30)

A key task of leaders and teachers in support of Blended Learning is to determine current and potential strengths of the their current practice: “How might we incorporate blended learning approaches to your current units or activities? How might use some activities to acculturate students to new learning styles?” (pg. 18)

Preparing for Blended Learning

This occupies the bulk of the book, deep diving in to Professional Development approach, how to approach digital curriculum, and screening of digital content platform and apps. Out of each of these, comes some over-arching patterns that I think are worth noting:

1) Meeting teachers and students where they are at:
Blended Learning approaches will be new to many, expected by most and already adopted by some. It is important to understand, account for, and plan with this in mind.

By reiterating the guiding principles of blended learning professional development– As the student, so the teacher: building PD experiences that reflect the practices and tenents of a blended and 21st century classroom; and, Differentiating to cross the chasm: establishing opportunities for teachers to learn in more personalized form; — schools will integrate and create a community of learning and learners fostering sustaining practice… (Pg. 41)

2) Build Fluency in Digital Tools
From adopting a BYOD program, to launching an LMS, the “WHY” must be visible throughout. This allows students, parents and faculty to know what to do with digital tools, when to turn to asynchronous approaches to support their learning, and how to access and extend their learning. Once the “WHY” is established, leaders at all levels much be watchful for the benefits and the challenges, and support the navigation from challenge to opportunity.

3) Blended Learning is very Teacher-led:
One of the most significant patterns that I identified in this book is that the teacher is very much at the centre of the student journey.
* The role of the teacher in a Whole Group approach is to work with students in small groups or with individual students to conference with them or guide them or simply addresses issues that are getting them stuck. This is while moving in and out of digital curriculum as a whole group.
* The role of the teacher in the Station Rotation is providing direct instruction to small groups of students in a rotation while others are engaged in digital curriculum station(s) curated by the teacher.
* The role of the teacher in the Flipped approach is to provide key digital curriculum that is both differentiated and developmentally appropriate that students access outside of class. Thus, in class, engagement with that material can take on different approaches that run the spectrum of great teaching and learning practices. What the digital curriculum approach does is free up the teacher from teaching rote knowledge.

Digital curriculum helps to provide different pathways for individual learners in a personalized environment. Teachers can also build student agency through the use of digital curriculum by engaging students in the planning and data analysis process. (pg. 76)

The Role of Data

The use of data to make intentional changes to support student learning is one of the strongest pieces of a digitally enabled Blended Learning approach. Through such tools, educators and students have the ability see a more fulsome picture of how they are learning, and who they are as a learner.

The hard work in personalizing instruction is to thus correlate learning outcomes, instruction, and digital tools on a dynamic continuum in order to enable students to move at their own pace. One way to overcome this challenge and ensure evidence of learning is to leverage student data from adaptive learning software and use it to inform instruction.

I would add to this, that this data collection can inform assessments for and as learning. Having students reflect on their use of digital tools and how they inform their learning is vital to a successful Blended Learning program.

The use of data in such rich, reflective ways can empower ownership of learning when students are engaged in such a cycle of feedback. They can offer more awareness for students in their learning progress; can prepare them with more confidence in class; and, can make their interaction and relationship with their teachers more productive and generative. (Pg. 90)

There is a lot more in this book for all admin’ and teachers, regardless of where they are on the spectrum of Blended Learning implementation. I think that in reading this book I have better clarity on how Blended Learning might be implemented across the different developmental stages in our school, with our existing digital tools and platforms. I am also coming away with language and strategies to use Blended Learning approaches to deepen our digital transformation with a very human lens.

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