Blended learning during the drafting process

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:

Principles:
– 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.

Method:

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.

Benefits:
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.

Using John Medina’s ‘Brain Rules’ to create a ‘brain friendly’ English classroom

For my professional growth plan this year I have been investigating texts on neuroscience findings and their implications for education.  One book I read was John Medina’s excellent Brain Rules. I think some of the points were more salient to my subject area (English language and literature) than others, and so I have attempted to suggest possible changes to my practice to promote a more ‘brain friendly’ environment in the class using only four of these rules. (Some of the others are more institutional in nature and out of my hands!)

In short, I have made two important immediate modifications to my planning for teaching and learning:

1) Repetition and Connections (rules 5 and 6). Our units of inquiry can be problematic, as we can fall into the trap of trying to give too much information to the students at once. To correct this, I have created ‘bridging units’ that are short, formative one or two week courses that run between larger units and revise / introduce topics that come both before and after. Also, I try to revisit concepts, language terms and texts from earlier in the year as much as possible.

2) Attention and Sensory Integration (rules 4 and 9). People don’t learn effectively if they are not interested in the topic. I have started trying to emotionally engage students to regain attention, every 10 minutes or so, with a funny anecdote that relates to the topic of study. (It is nice to have people listen to your ‘lame’ jokes and stories sometimes, so this is working out well for me!)  Also, I have started trying to employ more video clips and sound/music to teach literary concepts. (Flocabulary is a great site for this!)

I will keep thinking about more ways to create a more ‘brain friendly’ English classroom!  My summary is embedded below.