In our journey to explore ways a school can expand the impact of great teaching, I saw a unique opportunity this year to revamp the way I was teaching, enabling me to better connect it with blended learning. Here is pretty much how it came about:
- Thanks to blended learning, we had access to a lot more information on what each of our students were truly learning and with what they needed the most help.
- We also had time slots during the day during which groups of students were online working on their own learning paths while their teachers were instructing in a small group setting.
- As a Multi-Classroom Leader, I had the opportunity to set-up my schedule in a way allowing me to reach specific students during this online learning time to provide them with personalized support.
- If it had to happen, my gut feeling was that it should be in small groups of 6-8 students maximum, for a portion of their lab learning time (25-30 minutes) to break with the traditional classroom model and give them a lot more chances to receive feedback and interact with me and their peers.
We just had to find a catchy name for this new process. I had seen in an early article about blended learning the term “genius bar” being utilized for flexible teaching time in connection with online learning (I wish I could credit this article here but I completely forget:(…). The Ranson IB Math Genius Bar was born! I have been running it for a semester now in 6th and 7th grade and we are starting to see the promising potential of this process as well as ways we could make it even better.
Early encouraging signs
It all starts and ends with students. At first I was a bit nervous about their reaction. Would they want to leave their computer and come work with me and a small group of students for 25-30 minutes? After all, this generation was born with a laptop in their hands…
Quickly, I realized that they would love it. As soon as they see me entering the lab or the classroom, they stand up, gather their stuff and walk out happily to come to the Genius Bar. They truly enjoy having a small structure dedicated to their growth. They are always a bit surprised to see that I know so well what they may be currently struggling with. They often leave feeling re-energized and more confident in their ability to overcome their difficulties. I had to be out for 2 weeks at the beginning of January for some painful back issues. Students would send me messages through Edmodo, asking me when I would be able to work with them again. It sure made me want to recover quickly.
My teams’ feedback on their work and behavior in class after having joined the Genius Bar has been constantly positive. They tell me that students often come out of their shell to participate more. They exhibit more confidence. We also track their growth from one common assessment to another and most of them benefit from the process.
The key for me is to keep the rigor and pace of instruction high during that time. One of my mottos is that nobody should feel overwhelmed but nobody should have to wait or be bored either. I always prepare tiered remediation tracks for this 30 minute time and I make sure to differentiate my support within the group so that everybody feels challenged and supported appropriately. As a result, they often tell me before leaving that they are surprised to see the number of problems they were able to solve in a short period of time. They also often cannot believe 30 minutes have gone by. That is music to a teacher’s ears.
Working on making it better
Now that the foundation is there, this semester will be dedicated to continuously improving the structure to better serve our scholars’ needs. Here are a few areas of growth we have been focusing on:
- Our 7th grade Assistant Principal, who is also my instructional coach, gave me great feedback this week during our weekly coaching meeting: While we try to focus on students who struggle the most with a concept we currently teach or re-teach, there is a huge opportunity to also use this process to push our “high flyers” even further. We already use their online learning time to offer them a playlist of more challenging activities. However, there would be huge value in supporting them in small groups while they push themselves online. We are going to experiment with this soon and we will keep you posted.
- Connections between what they do online, in class and in the Genius Bar can also be improved. Instead of (or in addition to) a data tracker, I really need to keep a Google drive journal of all my observations on each student and share it with the team so that we can better collaborate on what these groups need daily, may that be online or during the face to face time with their teachers. The only challenge is that I work with 180 students a week through this process. But with my Ipad and the right tool, it should be do-able.
- I am working on ways to be even more reactive to their needs than I am now. Outside of the time I work with them weekly, I want to use Edmodo and our Ranson IB blended learning blog as a platform to constantly communicate with them and respond to their feedback faster.
I hope you will find this post helpful as you are potentially exploring ways to use the Multi-Classroom Leadership model in connection with blended learning in your own schools or districts. Opportunity Culture models open brand new doors when it comes to the way teachers can lead their teams using a multitude of actions ranging from real time coaching to direct teaching. The sky is the limit. The path is ours to trail blaze. Meanwhile, every second of this ride is so much fun. I go to work every morning thinking I am blessed to have a chance to do what I love for a living. That is priceless.