Blended Learning: An Effective Model for English Language Learners

Thursday, March 20, 2014 -- Shari Rios

Blended learning combines offline learning with online learning. Offline learning can include teacher-led whole-class instruction, 1:1 instruction, and collaborative group learning. Online learning can be individual or group, but it involves the use of online programs and resources to deliver the learning experience for students.

Blended learning is meant not to replace the teacher but rather to extend learning.

The key idea behind blended learning is that students have some control over time, pace, path, and place. Allowing students to take some control of their learning increases their motivation to learn and allows them the time needed to work through the material.

Now that we have defined what blended learning is and what it is not, let’s delve into some best practices for implementing blended learning.

Effective preparation leads to effective implementation. Once you decide you want to implement a blended learning environment, here are the next steps:

  • Ensure that you have the appropriate resources to support the technical components of your program. You don’t want the lack of technology to hinder the process, so ensure your components are properly set up and ready before you get started.
  • Define your expectations and desired outcomes. Just like we use rubrics for students for content, we want to use a similar concept in a blended learning classroom. What are your expectations, and what do you want to accomplish? Clear definitions for your students provide them with a roadmap to ensure that they stay on track.

Once you implement blended learning, use the following best practices to stay on track:

  • Stay focused (make sure offline and online content support one another and your expectations/outcomes).
  • Provide clear expectations and instructions (ELLs need step-by-step instructions, simply stated).
  • Use engaging material.
  • Provide effective and frequent feedback. Feedback will ensure that your students stay on track and allow you to determine if they are off track.

There are various models of blended learning: the Rotation Model, the Flex Model, the Self-Blend Model, and the Enriched-Virtual Model.

The Rotation Model is more teacher-led, and it is the model I would recommend as a starting point when working in blended learning for the first time or when working with English Language Learners.

Setting up stations for online learning in the classroom or, based on your technology accessibility, possibly a computer lab setting, allows students to work in various contexts to enhance their learning.

For a practical example, we will use the Rotation Model in the following scenario:

Mr. Davis is working with his class on the parts of speech. He introduces this objective as a whole-class lesson, and students work through various activities and discuss. After the initial whole-class instruction, Mr. Davis evaluates how the students performed on the class activities. With this data, he splits the class into various groups and has the students rotate through three stations to extend their learning on this topic.

One station is a collaborative group station. Mr. Davis creates the groups and provides reading passages and activities for the group to work on together. He also provides step-by-step instructions for the group to ensure the directions are clearly understood by the group.

Another station is for Online Learning. In this station, students are working in an online program on a lesson in parts of speech. After they complete that lesson, they go back to their individual paths in the program to continue learning and reinforcing additional concepts they have worked on in class.

The third station is a Group and 1:1 station for students to work directly with Mr. Davis. Based on the performance on the whole-class activity and other data Mr. Davis has compiled, he groups students on similar needs so that he can work on extension activities and guide them as needed in a small group or 1:1 setting.

The Rotation Model is easy to implement into virtually any schedule because it doesn’t require a lot of additional pieces to make it work. You can utilize your existing classroom and resources by just moving things around a bit. Having this model allows students to work in various contexts, leading to higher retention. It also allows the teacher to differentiate instruction in an effective way.

This is just one example of how to use the Rotation Model in your blended learning classroom. As you begin your journey and work out the details, you will be able to tweak the process to best suit the needs of your campus/classroom.

Have you already implemented blended learning? As you reflect on your own experience, what do you find is working well? Have you clearly defined your expectations and outcomes and provided that information to your students? Are you providing effective and frequent feedback to ensure that your students are on track? Remember, planning and preparation lead to successful implementation.