Written by: Marcia Kish with DSD Professional Development
Why Balanced Learning?
The world that we live in, is constantly changing from new advances in technology to the way that we buy groceries. Our classrooms also need to be changing in the direction to help students to become inventors instead of fact memorizers. In order to develop inventors, we first need to empower the educators to be ready for the learners of tomorrow. One way to start the movement is to develop a balanced learning approach. Balanced Learning provides a multiple array of learning opportunities that helps to personalize learning for all learners and prepares them for the Innovation Era.
What is Balanced Learning?
Balanced Learning explores the needs of the teacher, the student, the parents, the classroom layout, and the guidelines set forth from the school, and develops a learning environment that best works for everyone. Balanced Learning adds in a balance of the BEST of all teaching practices. It can include a mix of the following
How does Balanced Learning work?
Anyone who has ever taught, knows that not two classrooms of students are alike. They differ in personality, intellectual abilities, creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking skills, and much more. Therefore, why do some teachers send out the same copies or deliver the same content to different groups of students? Balanced Learning breaks apart all of the best practices and allows the teacher to apply the skills that best meet the needs of a group of students or even an individual student.
Click on the tabs below to see examples of Balanced Learning in action
Balanced Learning in an elementary classroom might look a little different, than in a middle or high school due to the fact that the teacher has the same students (in most cases) all day long and has the ability to mix in multiple resources for the students. Balanced Learning allows the students the chance to learn a concept through a variety of platforms, learning environments, and different choices.
While working with a team of fourth grade teachers from the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District in California, we noticed that it is important to mix in different adaptive technology programs as well as different learning choices to generate a Balanced Learning approach for the variety of learning levels. That is when we noticed that developing a checklist was key in order to give those students a voice in his/her learning paths. Below is an example of a weekly Balanced Learning checklist.
By giving the students the ability to complete the task on their own timeframe, we have seen higher levels of engagement, an increase on formative and summative test, as well as an increase in creativity. Note: The above checklist might be too much for some students. An idea would be to give them a simplified checklist for the day. Break it down into smaller parts to help the student stay organized.
The below video showcases a classroom that is allowing the students to work at his/her own pace and adding in a Balance of creation. The teacher read the book a Beautiful Oops and the students created their own Oops.
Middle School Example
Developing a Balanced Learning classroom in the Middle School takes part of the elementary checklist and adds in elements commonly found in high school settings, such as time constraints and in some cases mastery based learning. There is still a need for students to have the ability to create, collaborate, communicate, and work within small group settings to develop critical thinking skills. As a blended learning coach, we work with Middle School teachers to fit in all four parts of a blended learning lesson within a forty-five minute time block.
At the start of every school year we work with Middle School teachers to set up their room in a four rotation learning environment know as Phase 1. (See photo below) The time constraint of 45-minute classes quickly lead the teachers to moving to a checklist where the learners can move at his/her own pace. Balanced Learning plays a part of the lesson planning due to the fact that the teacher starts to add in more Project Based Learning opportunities, coding stations, and STEAM activities. The addition of multiple learning venues provides opportunity for students to design and invent formative assessment through projects. (We use forallrubics.com to help assess the outcome of the projects)
Photos of Blended Learning in a Middle School
Photos are from the start of the school year so they will be working towards developing a Balanced Learning approach as the school year progresses. Photos from David Wallace @davejwallace
High School Example
As a blended and personalized learning coach, I get a chance to work with all teachers from grades K-12+. While, I was working with a high school math teacher on how to deploy phase 3 of blended learning, she asked me if the next time I was at her school if I could spend the day with her. She wanted me to participate with the students in all five class periods, two Calculus classes and three Honors Geometry classes. The first two periods of the day were working at their own pace, place, and path to complete the weekly checklist that the students help to generate the week before. The students were highly engaged and were able to work through the content together in small groups, on their own, and in a mini lesson with the teacher. The video below showcases what the classroom looked like.
The classroom in the video worked well in a Phase 3 blended learning environment. The students were working at their own pace through the checklist, they collaborated as a small group to learn how to solve the problems, they met with the teacher for a mini lesson, and there was a lot of hands-on learning opportunities for the students to complete. On the blended learning scale this classroom would have received 27 possible points. Outstanding learning environment!
What is the blended learning scale?
The third period class walks into the classroom and right away, the teacher and I could tell that the students might not be as successful with working at their own pace, place, and path. (This is why the teacher wanted me to be with her all day. She wanted me to help her with her third period class. She did not tell me this, I figured it out as soon as they walked into the classroom)
The teacher deployed the same checklist with the ability for the students to work at their own pace, place, and path, and the problems were all differentiated based on the skill set of the individual student or small groups of students. Fifteen minutes into class, the teacher had to pull the group back together and complete sample problems as a whole group. After the sample problems, she let the students continue on their checklist. The students were successful with their task but they did not get as much work completed, they were not able to work in small group to learn from each other, and the noise level was through the roof. On the blended learning scale, I would have given this lesson a 15 out 30 points.
After school, the teacher and I sat down to talk about what we saw in the five class periods. I showcased with her the two extreme scores from the blended learning lessons and explained that this is why Balanced Learning is key. We examined the weak areas of the lesson for that group of students and generated a Balanced Learning approach for the students. The third period class is not ready to learn on their own. That class might work better in a Phase 1 learning environment where there is more control from the teacher and that the students have just 10 minutes to complete a task.
Phase 1 Overview
Adult Learning Through Professional Development Examples
Have you have sat through a Professional Development workshop and wondered the following questions...
How does Balanced Learning work in professional development workshops? It's easy, we give the learners a checklist and they complete the different task throughout the workshop. The learner has a balance of online, offline, mini lessons, different technology tools, and time to collaborate with their peers. The only difference between a classroom and our professional development workshops is that we need to be double checking with the adult learners to make sure that they are completing the task. We have come up with a system that seems to work and hold the participants accountable for his/her learning. For every task that a learner completes they earn a badge. If all the badges are collected, then they get a chance to win prizes and/or leave the workshop 20 minutes early.
What does a Balanced Learning professional development checklist look like?
The checklist looks very similar to a checklist we would handout to students. The task might be a little bit more vague where the learner might have to explore and learn on their own or in a small group. Below is a same of the Balanced Learning checklist and a video of the learners in action.
The below video is an example of a Balanced Learning checklist in action while the teachers were learning about how to implement Blended Learning into the classroom setting. Teacher to pupil ratio was 1 to 125. With the checklist, I was able to teach meaningful mini lessons to all levels of learners.
Key Take Aways from Balanced Learning
The biggest part of Balanced Learning is knowing how your students learn and knowing what type of teaching style works best for you. Over the summer, I read the book, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Students for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and it talks a lot about how education needs to stop focusing on memorizing and think more about how to get our students to invent and be creative. Balanced Learning allows for the creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and global connectedness to happen within the classroom setting.
"If you are an educator, and you view your teaching role as delivering lectures and administering multiple-choice quizzes, then you, too, are a sitting duck in the very near future. But if you offer informed guidance and support to students to help them develop skills that matter, you remain indispensable" Tony Wagner
Marcia Kish - Blended and Personalized Learning coach that designed the Three Phases of Blended Learning