Alyssa Pilarcik | June 2019
The Benefits of Blended Learning
You may not think it, but connecting social issues and art is a fantastic way to engage your students. Recently, I had my students pick a social issue and create an artwork to raise awareness or communicate a solution. As they worked, I walked around the class asking students what topic they chose and why. And I have to admit, I was taken back by some of their responses! So many of my students wanted to create an artwork that communicates a message about the lack of personalization and creativity within the school system. I decided to dig deeper. Students had comments such as “I already know something but they still want me to do a practice worksheet because other students don’t know it” and “we are all being forced to do the same exact thing.”
We all know that differentiating instruction is important in order to meet the needs of each individual learner. However, we also know that with the amount of work teachers have on their plate, it is easy to feel overwhelmed when thinking about so many different ways to reach your students. This is where I have found the blended learning approach to be extremely helpful and impactful. “Blended learning is any formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace”. There are many models to the blended learning approach. Ultimately you want to pick a model that fits the needs of your class. I, however, want to talk about playlists which can be considered its own model or fit into any of the other models.
What is a Playlist?
A playlist is an individualized list of tasks for students to complete in order to meet specific learning goals. Catlin Tucker, who has written 4 books on blended learning, says playlists “allow students some control over the pace and path of their learning”. This tool can be used within a station or all students can be working on the playlist throughout the unit. Playlists can be customized for groups of students or individual students.
Where do I start?
I would recommend always starting with a template. If you do not want to create your own, no problem! There are several websites listed below to help you find one you like. Once you have a template, adapt it to fit specific learning objectives. You can even break it down by sections based on major tasks or steps you want students to complete such as research, presentation, feedback, reflection, and assessment. Once you have your basic template laid out, you can start to customize it based on individual students. When creating my playlist, I like to provide a variety of activities for each step to give my students options. I also like to provide my students with a “student choice” option. This gives them the opportunity to come up with how they want to demonstrate a specific skill or learning goal.
Ideas to consider
There are several different elements to a playlist that you may want to think about. How will you make your playlist more personalized? How is your playlist allowing students some control of their learning? Which activities, assignments, and tasks to include in your playlist and how will you determine that? Here are some things you may want to consider when developing your playlists to help answer these questions.
One thing I do to help create my playlist is pre-assessments. The pre-assessments allow me to see where each of my students are at in terms of knowledge and skill level. I can then personalize the playlist for students based on the information they already know and what they still need to learn. You can also personalize playlists by having a list of must-dos and a list of may-dos. If there are activities or assignments you believe are essential for students, place them under the must-do category. If you think certain students might need extra practice or guidance, place those activities in the may do category.
Another element to consider is the stop sign or checkpoint. If you want your students to check in with you after completing specific tasks, add a stop sign to the playlist. This will indicate to students that they should not move on to the next task until they have met with the teacher. This will also help the teacher determine who might need some more one-on-one time. If a student has not checked in, it may mean they are moving through the playlist slowly and need some additional support.
You want to make sure you are providing a variety of activities. True blended learning includes both online and offline learning. Some of your students may already be familiar with certain programs or skills. For students that are less familiar, it may be a good idea to include modules, tutorials, and practice activities as may do’s in the playlist.
Although deadlines are helpful to make sure you are meeting grade requirements, once you create deadlines, students no longer have control of the pace. Consider where deadlines are absolutely necessary. Rather than putting a deadline on every task in the playlist, you could put them at checkpoints or even just have one deadline for the entire playlist.
You can include links to resources within your playlist. Ideally, your students should be able to get to any document or resource they need from the playlist. Links to videos, tutorials, modules, documents, websites, and everything else will all be in one place for your students. Jason Appel, a math teacher in Rhode Island who has been presenting on playlists since 2015 suggests providing alternatives to some resources. For example, some students do not like learning from videos so it is important to provide “the option to ask for a mini-lesson instead”.
Playlists are also great for arts integration and STEAM. Teachers can build in a variety of tasks and assessments from the core content and the arts. Students can access the playlist from anywhere so even if you do not have the opportunity to co-teach, the playlist can still be used in multiple classes.
Ultimately, playlists give your students more control of their own learning. They help make learning more personal, meaningful, and relevant. The use of a playlist will also allow you more one on one time with your students. You will be able to work with your students closely to give real-time feedback and focus on the areas the students are struggling with. Playlists are a flexible tool that can be adapted to fit any class, content, and/or student.
For more information, be sure to check out Susan’s book list with a great suggestion on blended learning! For playlists, and to explore some templates, visit these websites: