As we move to adopt a 1-to-1 framework in Grades 6 through 12 at Sewickley Academy, we remain mindful of the importance of the teacher in inspiring students and of the centrality student-teacher relationship in achieving the best outcomes. Adopting a 1-to-1 program assures that teachers have a consistent and predictable set of tools they can use in their work with students. Just as the talented carpenter will benefit from having a range of wood-working tools, so too do teachers benefit from having a range of tools that increase the number of ways to engage a range of learners.
Teachers remain the orchestrators of the lessons they teach, but they increasingly provide more space for student autonomy within the classroom – and beyond. Combining the best teaching practices in the classroom with the best practices in the online environment, teachers can ensure more fulsome engagement on the part of students, and active engagement has been consistently shown to be correlated with better educational outcomes. (Who can be surprised by this?) Furthermore, the online environment can be accessed anytime and anyplace, freeing students and teachers from the limits of place and time that can hinder the accomplishment of educational goals.
An illustration that makes the point most effectively is this: imagine a class discussion in which students are volunteering and exchanging ideas with their teacher and with one another, but mostly with the teacher. Not all the students participate because some are reluctant to speak up in class. Now move this discussion to an online forum where all students are required to share their ideas on a particular prompt. Next, students might be called on to comment on the post of a fellow student. Now we have ensured 100% participation, as well as peer-to-peer interactions and student-teacher interactions. Furthermore, such discussion can take place beyond the limits of a particular class, freeing the valuable time when students are together with their teacher for the sorts of learning activities that require physical presence. Using digital tools gives teachers yet another way to reach every student and ensures that 100% of students are engaged and learning. Freeing students from the constraints of time and place also provides them a greater opportunity for self-efficacy and autonomy, which are also essential to life-long learning.
What is Blending Learning?
Using a combination of both online and in-class strategies to achieve educational goals is called ‘blended learning” by educators. Blended learning seeks to maximize the potential of both online and in-class learning activities and experiences through careful planning to leverage the best attributes of virtual and face-to-face interactions to increase student involvement, engagement, and input. So blended learning is not about the tools (i.e. technology) but how these tools (technology) and assets (teacher knowledge and skills) are leveraged to create a seamless and enhanced learning experience for students.
But what about the teacher? Doesn’t technology run the risk of displacing the teacher? No. While expanding the range of tools a teacher has access to, technology can’t replace the magic that a teacher can create in his or her classroom. In a recent column in The New York Times, Frank Bruni touches on the central role a teacher plays in the education of students. He writes about one teacher, in particular, who inspired him, saying:
It’s also foolish to belittle what those of us in Hall’s class got from Shakespeare and from her illumination of his work, [specifically King Lear].
“Stay a little.” She showed how that simple request harbored such grand anguish, capturing a fallen king’s hunger for connection and his tenuous hold on sanity and contentment. And thus she taught us how much weight a few syllables can carry, how powerful the muscle of language can be.
She demonstrated the rewards of close attention. And the way she did this — her eyes wild with fervor, her body aquiver with delight — was an encouragement of passion and a validation of the pleasure to be wrung from art.
In short, this teacher modeled an approach to learning and to life that stuck with Mr. Bruni, and by his own admission transformed the way he reads everything from texts to people. There is no technological substitute for this sort of inspiration and transformation, for teaching students how to think. Where technology is unbeatable, however, is in its ability to bring information to our fingertips, so that in .5 seconds, I can determine that the quoted line appears in Act V, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s play.
As Sewickley Academy continues our efforts to strengthen the educational experience for our students, we seek to enhance the range of tools our teachers have at their disposal so that they can create a seamless educational experience inspiring students to do their very best.