Recently I tried an alternative approach to a series of essay drafting lessons in English class. After reading a novel, students were asked to show their understanding of themes and symbols in the literary work by crafting a five paragraph essay. With a range of abilities in the class, it was clear that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach (e.g. same deadlines) was not entirely appropriate. I redesigned the series of lessons (2-3) with some principles of blended learning in mind:
– Student paced – with a ‘playlist’ of activities, students would work through the editing process at their own pace. Having a ‘soft’ deadline, rather than the same date helps with this.
– Mastery (progressive) – students were not allowed to advance until the next stage until the previous had been completed.
– Dynamic grouping – break out sessions to help students struggling with particular aspects of the essay.
The step-by-step process was as follows:
1. Draft essay (after scaffolding and brainstorming work #1 and #2)
2. Learn about editing vs. proofing –> check in with me about definitions
3. Self-edit using checklist
4. Peer edit using same checklist
5. Conference with peer – discuss feedback
6. Reflection – students took ideas into account and made suggestions for their own work
7. Teacher edit –> check in with me about these suggestions; give own feedback
8. Start final draft
There were a couple of occasions where students were idle (e.g. when waiting for a peer or me to check work). During these times students were encouraged to participate in anchor activities (activities to stop them ‘floating away’), including ongoing vocabulary, reading and grammar work with the iPad iTooch software or DEAR reading.
These were really excellent lessons and I want to adopt this approach more frequently in the future. I noticed the following benefits:
– more time in class to formatively assess (free to roam and ask questions)
– more one-on-one conversations (from check ins, could correct misunderstandings quicker)
– students not frustrated by slow or fast pace (time for slower students, anchor activities for faster students)
– decreased stress for slower students (more time, deadline fair)
– more student ownership over pace of lessons
– and best of all: marking and feedback time for me was vastly reduced in terms of intensity – marking was more ‘spaced out’, which meant that I could get feedback to the students more quickly as well.