Working together to help children learn and grow in a complex world
Jun. 25, 2020
Canterbury launches blended learning
By Angela McCray-Hancock, Academic Dean, and Linda Bernard, Middle School Director
While Covid-19 is turning many institutions upside down, Canterbury School is seizing the opportunity to innovate and to provide our families with a best-in-class approach for the upcoming 2020-21 school year.
This fall, Canterbury will use a “blended” learning approach to allow some flexibility within the independent learning portion of each lesson. Although blended learning typically incorporates a combination of in-person and online teaching and learning, at Canterbury we are delivering all of the information central to the lesson objectives in person. The added bonus is that further teaching will be available for all students to take advantage of during the individual practice time (within the lesson). Teachers will check in with every student in every lesson during this individual practice time, and if a student needs to review the lesson or move on further with their learning, that is available to them through video or other asynchronous tutorial material.
This method will provide both a more individualized approach for students, allow teachers time to check in with students as they practice individually, and foster a more seamless transition between on-campus and distance learning in the unpredictable upcoming year. What’s more, blended learning will best prepare our students for the digital world and their future workplaces.
While on campus, a middle school math teacher might begin class with a short starter activity and then move into a mini lesson, taught as a class group activity. Afterwards, students will transition to a collaborative learning time (through Zoom break-out rooms) and then have time to work individually using their differentiated lessons prepared by the teacher in advance. The teacher will record a series of videos or online activities about a particular topic, such as fractions, that incorporates guided note-taking and embedded questions. These questions provide the teacher with instantaneous feedback about each student’s comprehension during the lesson.
After completing the lesson, the student will complete an assignment individually or in a small group, with the teacher available to answer questions and work with students on trouble spots. Students will finish the lesson with a brief “exit ticket” assessment, after which the teacher can advance them to the next lesson, if they are ready, or revisit areas of concern.
While the idea of students spending a part of the lesson learning online in the classroom with the teacher may seem counterintuitive at first, when blended with whole class teaching and collaboration, it becomes a powerful, individualized approach that meets students where they are and allows them some autonomy in how fast they are learning. It also allows for teachers to have more one-on-one time with students.
The beauty of blended learning is that a portion of students’ work is self-paced. At the independent practice stage of a lesson, students proceed at a speed that matches their understanding, with multiple touchpoints that keep the teacher apprised, as well. The teacher can intervene immediately to smooth out rough spots and provide extra practice to keep the students’ learning moving forward. Blended learning additionally allows for challenges for students who move at a faster pace. Online lessons will be divided into “must do,” “can do,” and “challenge” offerings for students to progress through, as they are able.
Blended learning will look slightly different when we compare lower and middle school classrooms. While middle school and older lower school students may often use the model just described, teachers of younger children may incorporate online learning as a station in their daily rotations. These video lessons will still be self-paced and allow for personalized instruction by the teachers, but they will be included with other hands-on learning activities.
Alternatively, some teachers may have students watch short online lessons for homework at night, and then prepare hands-on practice for their class time together during the day. The possibilities for our creative educators are endless.
If and when distance learning becomes a necessity this year, the transition to learning at home becomes practically seamless. Students will already be accustomed to the routine of moving through the recorded lessons at their own pace during the independent practice portion of the lesson. The only change is that the mini lesson at the start of the class will be delivered from the classroom through Zoom to students at home, with students working together or individually in digital breakout rooms and teachers dropping in and out to answer questions and assist. It’s kind of perfect, if you think about it.
For families who choose to keep their children at home or students who are sick and must stay at home temporarily, blended learning also provides an opportunity for them to learn in virtually the same way as their classmates on campus. Live lessons also will be streamed and recorded for students to view afterwards.
While blended learning is novel for many schools, educators have been fine-tuning it for the past two decades, since the rise of the Internet. Today, there are schools around the country that are set up completely on this concept, with their entire programs individualized for all grades. These schools transitioned smoothly from on campus to distance learning this spring as most of the country scrambled to switch gears to online. Much of Canterbury's academic leadership has experience with distance learning at previous schools, and we have all seen the exceptional success of this approach.
We are excited that blended learning will be incorporated into our traditional lesson delivery both in person and at a distance. For Canterbury, the addition of blended learning to our lesson structure (while still including whole-class instruction by the teacher) isn’t just about an easy transition to online; it’s a continuation of our commitment to know and love each student as well as we can. This innovative approach will allow teachers to partner with their students even more closely during their learning journeys, challenging their minds and nourishing their spirits each day and as the years progress.