Q&A: Teacher Maggie Kays Shares How Blended Learning Works in Her Classroom

Blended learning combines technology and in-person teacher interaction in the classroom. There are many kinds of blends, but there is agreement on one vital piece. Technology immersion is part of the classroom experience.

Blended learning allows students to control the time, pace and method of their own learning. Students not only consume content online, but also collaborate on projects and discuss content in a digital space. The teacher acts as facilitator, guiding their students through learning and assessment.

Teacher Maggie Kays uses blended learning in her seventh-grade, social studies class at Delhi Middle School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Kays received a Bachelor's degree from Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana and a Master's from Walden University in Minneapolis, MN.

School Outfitters talked to Kays about how blended learning works in her school, the importance of technology and what advice she'd give to anyone interested in implementing the learning strategy in their own classroom.

How do you define blended learning?

My definition of blended learning is a type of learning where students are often given control over the pace of their learning while the teacher acts as a facilitator. This is blended with traditional styles of teaching like lecturing and note-taking in class. Technology is a big component of blended learning. By utilizing technology, students can learn outside of the classroom, which allows in-class time to be used in new and different ways

How does blended learning work in your school? What is the average day like for your students?

In my classroom, I use standards based learning as a guiding philosophy and method of assessment. Using this philosophy, students earn grades based on showing what they have learned, not just completing assignments. Blended learning complements this way of assessing. Throughout a unit, I teach my students about a standard in a variety of ways. We take traditional notes, work in partners, read articles and complete in class assignments.

Once I feel that students have mastered a standard, blended learning comes into play on our assessment days. Students are expected to work on digital assessments outside of class time, so that time in class can be used for getting feedback.

Students are deepening their learning outside of class so that I have time to give them really effective, face-to-face feedback. Students are in charge of deciding how they will show what they have learned and what products they will create. They use technology to showcase their knowledge.

How long did it take to implement blended learning in your school? How did you start?

For me, implementing blended learning is an on-going process. I am always looking for new ways to flip my classroom so that I can use my in class time with students in the most effective ways possible. The great thing about blended learning is that you don't have to change everything about what you're already doing.

Teachers can continue to utilize many of the same methods and lessons that they always have, but they can also begin to incorporate ideas like encouraging students to do some learning digitally so they control the pace and style of their learning. I started with just one lesson in which students were given a digital assignment to complete. They had in-class time and were encouraged to continue working outside of class. The next day, I used our in-class time to conference with students about what they had accomplished so far. I have started adding lessons like this into each standard I teach.

What tools are needed to operate a successful blended learning program?

Technology is a big part of a blended learning environment because it allows students to take control of their learning while teachers become facilitators. Technology can also enhance the quality and timing of teacher feedback. I think flexibility in classroom design also helps a learning environment like this.

With blended learning, I think it's important to let students choose not only what they will work on, but how and where. Some students like to sit at tables, others like to stand. Some choose to collaborate and others work independently. To me, blended learning gives students the flexibility to explore various learning options to see what works best for them.

How did students initially react to the change to blended learning? Was it hectic?

I think students naturally gravitate to anything that gives them control and responsibility. Once you explain that students are going to take control of their learning, they get very excited. Students like trying new things. If you make sure to create a safe learning environment, they will be happy to try something new. Blended learning lessons have been hectic at times, but only on my end. It's hard to give up control as a teacher. In times like this, I take a deep breath and remind myself I'm teaching my students important life skills in these situations.

How do you manage classroom time to make sure each student is getting the attention he/she needs?

Technology helps a lot with this. I use Google Classroom to help give feedback to my students. I also make sure that my students have so much to work on that they are always busy. So even if they are waiting to conference with me, they have something they can be working on in the meantime. I keep a digital spreadsheet that highlights what level students are working on. This allows me to quickly see who needs me to check in with them and who might be okay to work a little more independently.

What have been some of the academic results of blended learning?

Standards based learning and blended learning have led to very positive academic results. Students definitely are more interested in what we're learning because they have more input. This has led not only to higher grades, but to deeper understandings of the standards I teach. Students also are more aware of their own meta cognition. They know where the gaps in their knowledge are and they work to correct them. They know what learning styles work best for them, and blended learning allows them to choose to learn in those ways.

I am also more aware than ever of where my students' strengths and weaknesses lie. SBL has allowed me to focus on what my students are actually learning, instead of just what they're doing. It has allowed me to the time to give students the feedback they need to grow in their learning.

Why do you think your students have responded well to this style of teaching?

Students want to learn. All people have a natural desire to learn. Blended learning allows students to be in control of their learning. When combined with SBL, it also allows students the opportunity to focus just on learning and not on playing the game of school. Students get to really learn in the way they learn best and show me what they've learned in a way that highlights their strengths. This gives students so much confidence to keep learning and growing.

What were new costs associated with implementing blended learning at your school? How did the school pay for it?

At the same time I began implementing blended learning, my school district implemented 1:1 Chromebooks in all middle schools. Each student now receives a Chromebook on their first day of 6th grade. The laptop is theirs for as long as they are a student in our district. This year, we also began letting students take their Chromebooks home - with parent permission. Having such quick and easy access to the internet is a huge gift to my students and I. It has allowed me to implement things like blended learning very easily.

What early mistakes were made, what did you learn from them?

I've just learned about better tools over the years. When I started blended learning and SBL, I didn't really know about Google Classroom. This has become a huge part of my SBL and blended learning strategy. Online assessment tools like Schoology and Edulastic have also become integral into how I incorporate both these methods into my classroom. I think it's really important to never feel "done" as a teacher. There is always room to be better, find a better tool or design a better lesson. This growth is what being a teacher is really about.

What advice would you give a principal or teacher who wants to start blended learning in their school?

My biggest piece of advice to any educator who wants to start implementing any new thing is to go for it! The worst thing that can happen is you might have to rethink things and make some changes for the next day. The best thing that can happen is that you find a better way to reach your students - which is the entire goal of teaching and learning!

There are so many wonderful resources out there about every type of strategy - from SBL to blended learning and everything in between. Read about the strategy you want to implement, reach out to other educators who are trying it and then just go for it!

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