What Should Principals Look for in Blended Classrooms? by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Ian Pumpian

What Should Principals Look for in Blended Classrooms?

In this thoughtful article in Principal Leadership, Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Ian Pumpian (San Diego State University) give this definition of a blended classroom:

  • It’s part of a formal education program.
  • It takes place in a bricks-and-mortar school.
  • Student learning happens partly online and partly in the classroom.
  • Students have some choice about time, place, path, and pace.

Quality blended learning is not about the devices, say Frey, Fisher, and Pumpian – it’s about the pedagogy. They suggest seven general principles for quality instruction and say that school leaders should look for them in blended classrooms and ask the following questions of teachers after observing their classes:

What is the purpose of the lesson? When administrators walk around the classroom, students should be able to articulate what they are learning and how they can apply it.

How do you model and think aloud? “Students benefit from observing the expert thinking of their teachers and mentors,” say the authors, “because it promotes their own metacognition.” Online modeling can take place when teachers record their think-alouds and make them available to students electronically. 

What makes this task sufficiently complex for your students? It’s easy for online tasks to be low-level busywork, say Frey, Fisher, and Pumpian: “If a task lacks complexity, students will simply divide the group’s work among themselves, work on their separate pieces independently, and assemble the final product later.” One way to boost the rigor level is giving students choices so they follow a path of appropriately challenging tasks.

How do you ensure that you are communicating high expectations? Administrators should look to see that the work is standards-based, on grade level, gets students setting goals, and fosters perseverance.

How do your students receive guided instruction? This is where teachers can check for understanding, scaffold, and provide corrective feedback, but it’s harder to guide students in this way when they’re online. Frey, Fisher, and Pumpian say teachers should use various apps that provide students with prompts and cues for learning – but some kinds of guidance need to take place in person.

What academic language supports can students access? When students are working online, they can use built-in glossaries, online dictionaries, and rhetorical frames to guide reasoned arguments, citations, and summarizing.

How is assessment used by your students? “I have begun to realize that there is a big difference between editing a student’s paper and giving useful feedback,” said one teacher. “When I was getting hard copies, I did a lot more editing, but then all they did was make the changes I had designated and then turn it back in. There was no real revision.” Online mark-up and commenting tools make it more likely that students will thoughtfully revise their work, say Frey, Fisher, and Pumpian. 

“Quality in a Blended Learning Classroom” by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Ian Pumpian in Principal Leadership, October 2013 (Vol. 14, #2, p. 60-63), no free e-link available; Frey and Fisher can be reached at nfrey@mail.sdsu.edu and dfisher@mail.sdsu.edu.

From the Marshall Memo #506


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