4 People That Benefit from Blended Learning

While the headlines champion the 1 to 1 technology initiative rolled out by Richmond Community Schools in the 2017-18 school year, the real story is the impact of the blended learning approach that has begun as a part of this plan.  While having technology is important, the computers are not the difference makers- it is what you do with that technology that impacts teaching and learning.  So how do we know if these initiatives have been effective?  I have found 4 people that have benefited from blended learning.  

Students- Students love the organization of the Canvas LMS (learning management system)- they now have access to notes, discussions, handouts, and class discussions around the clock. Losing homework is no longer an option.  They also feel the blended approach is more engaging- they cite the use of Twitter, Nearpod, and Flipgrid as examples of things they have never used in class before this year.  Communication has also improved as emailing your teacher has never been easier.  Students headed to college are happy to have experienced an LMS which will ease their transition to life after high school. 

Parents- "What did you learn in school today?" no longer has to be the opening line of after-school conversation.  Parents can now observe their students work and learning through Canvas.  Instead of just seeing grades, parents can now view the lessons, notes, work, videos, and discussions in their student's classes.  It's like being in class with the student- minus the eternal embarrassment to the student. 

 Counselors/Coaches/Club Sponsors- Communication has never been easier.  Each of these groups can quickly communicate with individuals or entire groups, without the annoyance of a group text (Why do people still send groups texts?).  Canvas has also become the place to store scholarship info, team schedules, awards programs, meeting notes, etc.  If weather causes a cancellation or delay (which happens nearly every day this spring), students know where to get the most up to date information.   

Teachers/Administrators-  Communication and feedback have never been this timely, thorough, or ongoing.   Gone are the days of passing back papers that are quickly discarded after the receiver glances at the score.  Teachers and students can now have a conversation as the work is being produced, and the conversation can continue long after the work has been returned.  Teachers can use the SpeedGrader to quickly score close-ended questions, while giving written, audio, video, and annotated feedback on other types of submissions.  Surveys and announcements are great tools to gain real-time data from both student and adult groups.  The move to a blended learning approach has also given various teachers the opportunity to lead professional development throughout the year.  As teachers and students have learned alongside one another, the culture of our building has changed as well.  Collaboration is now the norm as we work with more people than we ever have before. 

In the coming weeks I will examine ways that each of these groups can maximize their blended learning experience. 

Immerse Struggling Readers with Support- o365's Immersive Reader

Every day numerous students struggle with reading comprehension.  There are all kinds of programs and tools on the market to help.  However, funds are tight and we typically do not have time to test all of the different products offered.  Today I will highlight a tool that is free and readily available.

Microsoft o365 offers an Immersive Reader in Word, OneNote, and PowerPoint.  (The Immersive Reader is located under the View tab.)  There are 4 features that I find valuable to struggling readers: Read Aloud, Text Preference, Grammar Options, and Reading Preferences.

Read Aloud                                           

Do you have text that needs to be read to a student but you cannot find an audio copy?  Would you like to simply listen to an article?  Read Aloud (found at the bottom of the Immersive Reader) can do that for you.  Place your cursor at the beginning of the text, click the Play arrow, and the reader begins.  It is surprisingly accurate and the voice uses inflexion.  You can adjust the speed of the reading and you choose between a male or female voice. 

Text Preference

We see more and more students with vision issues across our district. Text Preferences (found at the top right of the Immersive Reader) can adjust the font, size, spacing, and theme of the text.  These options are great for making the text more visible as they not only adjust the layout, but they can improve glare issues as well.

Grammar Options

Do you have students that need extra practice with the fundamentals of language? Grammar Options (found at the top right of the Immersive Reader) allows text to be broken down by syllables.  It also can highlight (in different colors) nouns, verbs, and adjectives.  This is helpful when looking to edit for fragments and run-ons or to check word choice by looking for descriptive adjectives.

Reading Preferences

When I learned to read, my mom made sure I stayed focused on the text by moving my finger along the line as I read.  Reading Preferences (found at the top right of the Immersive Reader) makes this option available as well.  One, three, or five lines of text can be highlighted at a time in conjunction with the Read Aloud feature.

Although we have just recently begun using these features with our students, we have found that they are beneficial.  I am sure there are plenty of other applications we have not yet considered.  If you have any thoughts on additional applications, or you have questions about how we are using the tool, feel free to contact me via Twitter @Jeremy__Hill.