Sunday, February 5, 2012

Adventures in blended learning 1

This week was the big move. Not only did my two English classes embark on their use of the LMS Desire 2 Learn, but we physically moved our classroom into our large school library. On the surface this was simply to take advantage of enough computers. If the students were paired they could each share a machine, either a new desktop or an ancient laptop. However, what I have observed about the use of space this week has truly been transformational.
The library has a back area with the desktops computers, and a pod of 10 desks. Sheila, our EA who works with one of my classes, volunteered to move furniture with me on the PD day and so we also have 2 round tables in that space now. In the middle area are 5 comfy chairs around a coffee table, and an alcove with another round table. The laptop cart plugs in in this area. At the front is a really big conference style table in three sections plus one desktop computer to one side.
The combination of a bit of structure through the LMS assignments, and the choices of workspace had an amazing impact on my classes. And on my role.
I had read a fair bit about other teachers in classes where students worked quite independently, or at stations, and the teacher acts more as a facilitator. But I never expected to be able to see this come true for me immediately.
Here is a short list of what the students and I were able to do together using this new model.
The program at present consists of enriched Social Justice themed Book Clubs, with grade 8s looking at black history and grade 7s looking at child labour.
Grade 7 class
1 When asked to partner up, they did not differentiate between the students with SEA laptops and others. I had assumed the SEA kids would keep their own. But no, they all partnered based on friendship or interests, giving me four more computers, incidentally. Left on their own they made fantastic social choices, a model of integration.
Similarly, two students with their personal net books did not hesitate to form a pair. I had not even suggested this.
2 We have two students with multiple hearing-based difficulties. They sat at the big table at the front and were assisted by the teacher of the deaf one day and by Sheila on the other. Finally. There was enough peace and quiet to work productively with these students. Everyone else was so engaged that I could sit with one boy there and read his novel to him, and then discuss his journal with him. A first, since he joined us in early December.
3 One girl was sitting by herself at the coffee table using her iPhone. I politely asked her to get to work instead, and she looked up and said, "I am." She was writing her reading journal using her own device.
4 On the way out after 100 minutes, one of our real livewires asked me, "Can we write on the computers every day?"
Grade 8 class
1 I was sorting out some of the inevitable tech problems and then walked towards the front of the library. What did I see but Sheila who was unexpectedly in our class and was leading an impromptu guided reading group sitting in the comfy chairs with four boys reading hi-lo books. They had felt comfortable enough to ask her to do this. It brought tears to my eyes. It would never in a million years have happened in a structured classroom even with desks grouped and a spare table. 
2 Having the whole library to give sound buffers and physical distance seemed to give the students confidence to do things that I have read about but never been able to achieve  in my classes. For example, I observed three pairs of students reading their novels aloud to one another, sitting or lying on  the carpet, and one pair with a gifted student helping her friend with her journal at a desktop computer.
3 Two other boys admitted they were way behind on their reading, gave the computers to their partners and sat in a secluded corner on the floor to get caught up for today's quiz. I felt this was a great interaction with me and quite mature of them.
4 Again when students were asked to pair up on the school computers, kids with their own netbooks took on others as their partners without this being suggested.
In neither class did my worst fear come true- out of control noise or wild shenanigans! The students seemed to accept the new space for what it is, a new place to learn.

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