TWINSBURG — Imagine a typical classroom at Dodge Intermediate School. Movable tables of various heights set up in clusters around the classroom. Colorful chairs and stools designed for various seating arrangements and for use with tablets and laptops. Tables and chairs around the perimeter of the classroom, lined with Chromebooks and other equipment. Students working in pairs and clusters on a lesson, with teachers supervising and guiding the lessons.
This actually is not a typical classroom ... yet. But examples of this classroom setup can be seen in some classes at Wilcox Primary, Bissell Elementary and Dodge Intermediate schools.
Superintendent Kathryn Powers said the district piloted the Tiger Learning Lab the last school year, "which introduced blended learning to our classrooms in a small way."
Common traits with blended learning classrooms include technology, flexible furnishings replacing the traditional rows of desks, co-teaching, and more individualized instruction, where students and teachers work together to create a list of weekly learning goals.
So far, the approach seems to be a hit with both the students and staff.
"It's a lot different from other classrooms because the system is more independent," said sixth-grader Kennedy Platek, 12. "In a class, everyone does the same thing. Blended Learning is more efficient. We only have a certain amount of time to get things done. It teaches us how to manage our time."
Kyndall Williams, 12, also a sixth-grader, said there were four different stations: Independent study, future ready, mini lesson, and digital content.
"In future ready, you are working with connecting and collaborating with other students to learn skills that will be important later in life," Kyndall said.
Independent study, Kyndall said, was individual work on a project, for example in math or in reading. In a mini lesson, a student works with a teacher "on stuff about the lesson," perhaps going over concepts that the student doesn't grasp. Digital learning includes using the Chromebooks for video tutorials, and programs such as Freckle, which includes lessons in math, social studies and science, and Seesaw, a digital portfolio app that allows students to create videos.
"Technology is a big thing, and it really helps with the learning," Kyndall said. "If I don't understand in the independent study or the teacher, then I'll go to the digital center. Personally, I go to digital content a lot because it really helps me."
Kennedy agreed that it was "really nice to have the technology to always use."
"I use it to watch educational tutorials," Kennedy said.
Kyndall said that the blended learning classroom has "helped me grow a lot."
"Last year, I relied on my teachers a lot, but this year I think the independent learning has helped me grow as a person," Kyndall said. "When I first started, I was so scared but now that I'm here I really like it."
"The whole class was really struggling at the beginning but now we work together," Kennedy added. She said she liked working with her classmates, and the more flexible layout of the classroom, which encourages movement. "I like how we can move around."
Kyndall said the role of the teachers in her classroom, who co-teach, is to present the lesson and provide guidance, but more responsibility falls on the student.
Kennedy agreed, saying that the teachers are "always there to help us if we need it, but it's more independent."
Lauren Pfenning, the Blended Learning coach, said that students "are seeing that they have a part to play in learning, and it's provided a lot of ownership."
"We can tailor so much more of our lessons without their being aware," Pfenning said. "We are meeting the kids at where they need to be."
Another big part of the blended learning concept is the physical changes in the classroom, which includes the flexible furnishings, technology and even new paint, Pfenning said.
"We've worked very hard at changing and transforming our learning spaces," Pfenning said.
The Blended Learning classrooms also have added Chromebooks, Pfenning said.
"We're learning how to differentiate our mini lessons by gathering data with the help of our digital Chromebooks," Pfenning said. "Our Chromebooks help us to immediately get feedback from adaptive programs that we're working on, or pre-assessments that we are giving our students. We're also allowing opportunities for our students to have some control over the pace and the place that they're moving through our lessons, as well as their learning pathways. We're seeing a lot of growth in engagement student voice and student choice. It's pretty cool because we're seeing our students collaborate daily with one another. They're demonstrating their learning through these activities that we're providing. We're also seeing confidence grow as they reach or tweak their weekly goals. Our students are learning collaboration and communication skills as they gather and group together in activities that require critical thinking and creativity."
Several teachers also voiced their enthusiasm for blended learning at a February presentation during a board of education meeting. Joslyn Rohwedder, a third grade teacher at Samuel Bissell Elementary School, said this was her first year doing blended learning.
"Children need to know what they're learning, why they are learning," Rohwedder said. "That's the big whys: Why they're learning it, and how they will know when they've learned it. So that's the progression that we go through, through each of the four studios. So teachers are providing these step stones to mastery within each and every learning studio, students are clear about learning intentions because we are purposeful in exposing them to these four different modalities: the small group instruction with the teacher, independent practice, digital adaptive practice or computers, and future writing collaborative learning."
Kim Henderson, a fifth grade teacher at George G. Dodge Intermediate School, said she was "very excited to be part of the first cohort of the blended learning."
"I've learned a lot," Henderson said. "I have become more excited about what I do in the classroom and watching the kids become excited has driven my own enthusiasm for this initiative. The mini lesson is a really important key component of what we do each day. It's the time when I get to sit with my students in a small group setting of maybe four or six students at a time, and I have a lesson that I'm planning to teach that they will go to the other studios later to learn and to practice. But with me that mini lesson is really important because what I'm seeing is focused and engaged learners like I've never seen in 20-some years of teaching in a whole group setting of a class of 30 that I would teach in the past. It's easy for kids to get distracted it's easy for kids to lose their focus or become passive learners, and in that small group setting there's no room for that. They're all engaged, they're all participating and so that's been exciting. It's a safe environment for quieter, more reserved students to have a voice to feel safe to ask questions. It's OK to be wrong in that small group setting, that's important for students."
Carla Haas, a sixth grade teacher at George G. Dodge Intermediate School, said the blended learning concept "took the best of all of that we've done over 27 years and put it into one delivery system."
"I've been a teacher in this district for 27 years, and honestly in those 27 years I've been involved in a lot of new teaching strategies," Haas said. "The community and the board and the superintendents have always been very supportive of us trying new things. It took the best of what the kids needed, and put it into one manageable program."
Powers said that Pfenning and Haas were the ones who initially approached her about piloting the concept of blended learning. She added that the eventual goal is to eventually implement blended learning into all of the classrooms at all of the schools.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, email@example.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC