Planning Lessons for an In-Person Blended Learning Environment
The concept of blended learning was around long before the pandemic. Blended learning combines both engaging in-person and online lessons and activities that often allow students more control over pace, duration, location, and ultimately their path of learning (Tucker, 2019). Educational technology experts advocate for blended learning because it has the potential to transform the learning process from a passive and teacher-directed approach to a more student-centered and personalized approach.
Today more than ever, the traditional classroom lacks flexibility, which can hinder our ability to meet the ever-changing needs our learners are facing. This is the time to take another look at blended learning and what it can offer for today’s classrooms. Let’s review some of the models of blended learning, along with how to get started with designing lessons to meet the needs of students.
4 Common Blended Learning Models
Before we explore ways to plan, let’s review four models that are commonly used for blended learning:
- Station Rotation Model
- Whole Group Rotation Model
In the Station Rotation model, a teacher creates smaller groups or “learning communities” working at stations through which students rotate. This model takes inspiration from the learning centers found in many elementary classrooms since they include different tasks and expose students to various modalities for learning (Tucker, 2015). The Station Rotation model can also be integrated into any subject area and grade level.
With the Whole Group model, an entire class rotates from in-class to online activities at the same time. Since many classrooms now have access to devices, students can do this within the same classroom environment (Tucker, Wycoff & Green, 2017).
In a Flipped Classroom, information and content are presented digitally and usually assigned at home or outside of class. Then, the time spent in class is dedicated to the application of information and collaboration between students. Teachers can also take advantage of class time to offer support to students and administer formative assessments (Tucker, Wycoff & Green, 2017). This inverted approach to traditional teaching places more focus, not only on the application of knowledge but also the creative process.
The Playlist model involves the teacher creating an individualized list of online and in-person activities that target specific tasks or objectives. A Playlist can be used for assignments or projects and offer opportunities for scaffolding or enrichment (Tucker, 2018). One benefit of the Playlist is that it can be assigned simultaneously as a whole class or be included as a station in the Station Rotation model.
When it comes to blended learning teachers are not always sure how to begin.. The idea of meshing technology with in-person instruction can be a daunting task in itself. So now, we will look specifically at where to start designing lessons for the Whole Group model, Station Rotation model, and the Playlist.
How to Plan for the Whole Group Model
Planning for the Whole Group model closely mirrors planning for the traditional classroom, since they are both very similar in their formats. With the Whole Group Model, the idea is to have the whole class transition from in-person to virtual activities at the same time and in the same space. As is done in the traditional classroom, teachers in the blended learning classroom must first identify the learning objectives and skills they want to target and select which activities will address them best.
At this point, teachers must also decide how long students will spend completing each activity. For example, in an elementary setting, teachers may have more time and flexibility to spend on activities, whereas secondary teachers may be limited due to constraints to their daily schedule.
The final step is to determine how to integrate technology into the lesson in a way that will allow students to pace themselves (Tucker, Wycoff & Green, 2017). When looking at technology integration, it is important to select tools and resources that will enrich the learning experience as well as offer some level of personalization for the student (Tucker, Wycoff & Green, 2017). Below is a brief step-by-step process of planning a Whole Group Instruction lesson:
- Determine target skills and learning objectives for the lesson.
- Provide differentiated instruction.
- Design activities to practice the skill for the lesson.
- Select technology tools and resources that will enrich and personalize the learning experience for students.
Adapted from: Tucker, Wycoff & Green, 2017
To read more about how to plan for a Whole Group Model, check out Catlin Tucker’s blog post on how she uses StudySync for blended learning. In this post, she walks readers through how to plan her lesson and also offers a whole group lesson template to assist.
How to Plan for a Station Rotation Model
The Station Rotation model is reflective of the learning centers used in an elementary setting, so planning for it is similar in approach. There are a few steps to take into account when planning lessons for the Station Rotation model. Before you plan your stations or activities, Tucker (2015) suggests teachers ask the following questions:
- Learning Objectives: What are your learning objectives, and will each station meet those? Will students need to create anything at each station?
- Duration: How long will each student spend at each station? What will be the time needed for transitions?
- Materials: Will students need devices or other technology to complete their station? Will they need access to online platforms, apps, or other programs?
- Transitions: How will you signal that it is time to move to the next station?
- Instructions: What directions will need to be provided ahead of time to complete the station? Will these be provided in written or video format?
Each of these questions encourages teachers to think about how to organize learning stations that will work for their specific classroom. Something else to consider is access to devices; because this can alter your plans if you are planning to integrate technology into one or more stations. And finally, adding technology does not automatically make the resource engaging or even worthwhile. Instead, teachers must be selective with the technology and resources that they bring in to enhance learning for students (Christensen, 2018).
Presenting blended learning in your lesson plans can be as simple or as detailed as you need it to be. One simplified approach to planning a Station Rotation lesson is to think of stations as learning centers. Christensen (2018) suggests that teachers explicitly list and categorize their blended learning centers or activities in their lesson plans. She presents the idea of differentiating each part of your lesson by face-to-face and online components. Teachers can make it as simple as adding a column to an existing lesson plan that is dedicated to explaining the blended—or online—portion of the lesson. Another approach is to present a more detailed step-by-step outline as shown in the templates shared by Mount Mourne School. Amelia County Public Schools also present weekly schedules and lesson plan templates for blended learning that differentiate between in-person teaching and computer-based activities.
How to Utilize the Playlist
While the Playlist isn’t technically its own model, it can easily be used during station rotations. With the Playlist, the idea is to create an individualized list of both virtual and in-person activities that can target specific skills or learning outcomes. This Playlist can be created in your learning management system (LMS) and include hyperlinks with instructions to each task. The Playlist also offers students the opportunity to self-pace and apply skills on their own, which then allows the teacher more time for small group or one-on-one support. Playlists can be used for practice activities, assignments, and even longer projects.
Tucker also suggests that teachers embed stopping points within the playlist to allow students to check in with the teacher if reinforcement is required (Tucker, 2018). Those stopping points can also be used as formative assessment checking points, where the teacher can grade or provide feedback on parts of an assignment or larger project (Tucker, 2018).
- Some elements to consider for a playlist can include:
- Video explanations or instructions for students to follow
- Online quizzes that students can complete on their own
- Peer and/or self-evaluations where students can check their understanding
- Virtual activities that students can complete on their own for practice
- Conferencing with the teacher to receive feedback on an assignment or project (Tucker, 2018)
Finally, Tucker presents a detailed example of a playlist that reinforces argumentative writing in the secondary classroom.
An alternative for a Playlist would be to use Hyperdocs for blended learning. Hyperdocs are a way of presenting digital content to support learning through the use of a Google Doc with embedded hyperlinks. Hyperdocs can be easily adapted for any grade level and subject since they use a specific format. This format includes:
- Explain - The section that builds background knowledge and introduces content through different media (usually videos)
- Apply - This section explains the product or assignment that students are to create or work on in order to apply the information learned
- Share - This section includes instructions on how students can share their products or work with their teacher or an authentic audience (Hyperdocs, 2020).
This format helps keep the Hyperdoc organized and easy for students to follow along. The Hyperdocs blog offers courses to learn more about Hyperdocs, a Facebook and Twitter Community(where teachers can connect with others who are using Hyperdocs), and samples of Hyperdocs that teachers can modify for use.
In summary, blended learning offers models that can help differentiate and personalize learning for today’s students. While there are many models for blended learning, the Whole Group, Station Rotation, and Playlists introduced in this article are ideal for those who are just getting started. These specific models offer a more seamless transition from the traditional classroom. Tips on how to plan lessons and activities for these models are also offered along with resources to get teachers started in their path towards blended learning. The key is to change our approach from designing teacher-directed lessons and activities to more student-centered approaches that can offer a personalized learning path to help students grow.
Amelia Public Schools (2020). Samples of Blended Learning Lesson Plans. Retrieved from http://www.amelia.k12.va.us/news/c_o_v_i_d-19_reopening_of_schools/a_c_e_s_reopening/blended_learning_lesson_plans
Christensen, P. (2016, November 18). Blended Learning Lesson Plans. Retrieved from https://www.hotlunchtray.com/translate-blended-learning-classroom-lesson-plan/
Hyperdocs. (2020). Hyperdocs. Retrieved from https://hyperdocs.co/find
Mount Mourne School (n.d.). Mount Mourne School Early Release Professional Development. Retrieved from http://mmserpd.weebly.com/blended-learning-lesson-plan.html
Tucker, C. (2015, July 20). Create Small Learning Communities with the Station Rotation Model [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://catlintucker.com/2015/07/creating-small-learning-communities-with-the-station-rotation-model/
Tucker, C. (2018, May 13). Playlists: A Path to Personalizing Learning [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://catlintucker.com/2018/05/playlists/
Tucker, C. (2018, August 29). Blended Learning: Designing a Whole Group Rotation with StudySync [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://catlintucker.com/2018/08/whole-group-rotation-studysync/
Tucker, C. (2019, February 1). Blended Learning: A Bridge to Personalization [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://catlintucker.com/2019/02/blended-learning-a-bridge-to-personalization/
Tucker, C., Wycoff, T. & Green, J.T. (2017). Blended Learning in Action: A Practical Guide Toward Sustainable Change. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.