Professional Development

Moving on up #1: using blended learning in the classroom

Christina Cavage

Christina Cavage, professor of ESL at Savannah College of Art and Design discusses how, following her own research as part of a fellowship, she has implemented blended learning strategies in her own classroom. Christina will be discussing this subject further in her webinar on Friday.

Time is precious.  This is especially true in an academic ESL program. There never seems to be enough class time.  We have so much to accomplish; there is so much our students need to master before we let them loose on our college and university campuses. Like many, I have struggled with the balance of what I can do in the classroom, and what can be done outside of the classroom. Many years back I was fortunate enough to participate in a mid-career fellowship at Princeton University.  As part of the fellowship, I needed to choose a research area, something that I could directly apply to my own classroom.  It was then that I fell in love with the concept of blended learning. And, in the decade that has passed, I have implemented many of strategies I had researched into my own classes.  There are a few things I have learned.

First, Bloom’s taxonomy is for real.

Second, using class time to build those low level cognitive skills is not the best use of that precious time. 

Third, students need in-class support when working on those higher level cognitive skills.

Fourth, commercial materials don’t always align with Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy, so we need to create or seek out meaningful materials to extend learning.

In this article, let’s focus on the first two.  Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy works.  And, I would even go a step further, it is a necessity for any language learner. Scaffolding, and moving from receptive skills to productive skills is the foundation of any strong language classroom. Students who can move from describing something to creating with it, in a whole new context, often do well. When we don’t have enough class time to thoughtfully guide students up the pyramid, from one cognitive domain to the next, there are problems. There are gaps in their learning. They arrive in the next level, and they struggle.

Strategy #1: Construct thoughtful lessons that guide students up the taxonomy.

If you are working on what a thesis statement is, first have them find one and restate it.  Then have them apply what they know about thesis statements to a new context, before analyzing the thesis statement for its effectiveness.  Students should evaluate the statement and recommend changes, and finally create their own in a new context. It’s not enough to teach students to find a thesis statement, restate it in their own words, and then write one. We need to have time for them to analyze it, evaluate it and create. That’s exactly where lesson two comes in.

Pyramid

We generally spend a lot of class time working on those level cognitive domains.  We may spend sacred class time explaining the simple past time, showing students how to form it, and quizzing students on the forms. Then, what do we do? We ask students to go home and ‘create’ something in the past time. When we step back and look it at, it really doesn’t make any sense, does it? We spend an hour in class ‘teaching’ the past time, and 5 minutes explaining the homework they will do creating with the past time.

Strategy #2: Move those low-level skills out of the classroom, and work on those higher-level skills in the classroom.

This strategy is the foundation of the FLIPped classroom. Flippers believe that class time should be about applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating because that is where students need the most support. In my own classes, I have students watch engaging videos on how to form the past tense, or what a thesis statement is.  They come back to class having the skills of remembering and understanding.  Class time then becomes about applying what they learned. And, yes, in the beginning there is an adjustment period.  After all, this is a strong shift in the paradigm of teaching and learning. However, not long after, students see the real value in learning outside of the classroom, and applying that learning in the classroom. Class time is not only precious for teachers; it’s precious for our students as well.

Join Christina Cavage’s webinar this Friday at 12pm EST to learn more about developing academic skills while moving up Bloom’s Taxonomy by extending learning experiences for students.


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