Blending Learning or Blended Learning

The past half a dozen years have brought substantial discussion about blended learning – model maps, resources, strategies, personalized outcomes. I could try trashing “blended learning” by calling it what happens when all those learning resources are poured into the spout of the kitchen blender and the resulting “health food” is poured into a glass for consumption and the better good of the individual – but that is not what I mean – blended learning models are structures for supporting individual learning and providing structured opportunities for learning is perhaps the most critical role we have as educators. What I am most interested in right now is that other thing – Blending Learning…

I was talking with a school leader yesterday, (for context he was carrying a youngster for most of our conversation – estimating a kindergartner – sleeping on his shoulder, apparently in need of something warmer than a classroom chair that day) about how a decision made last fall has helped his students develop a visible improvement in numeracy skills (using a “blended learning” resource) but he is concerned that he has not seen similar progress in literacy skills, and his plans for addressing that – getting more literacy resources into the hands of students and teachers is a big concern. Then the conversation turned in another direction. If students are developing numeracy skills – and that is evident because they talk about it, show off their work, parents comment on it… aren’t those students practicing literacy skills as well? Does being able to “talk in numbers” just involve numeracy skills or does it also require literacy skills? And after a little brainstorming – maybe our students could extend their numeracy skills into literacy skills by thinking about, talking about and inventing scenarios where JiJi’s problem solving approach goes beyond numbers and patterns – a series of one act plays or skits about “What would JiJi do?” when faced with a real life challenge – taking the character students had taken to miming on the playground and creating new scenarios, creating and telling new stories – turning a learning that resulted from numeracy into building literacy.

image001This notion of blending learning across traditional boundaries is what we think of as “blended learning” – it is not a classroom design or technology systems challenge, (yeah there’s that too, but…) it is an instructional mindset based on finding opportunity in the vast maze of crossovers between our traditional content boundaries, talking about math, writing about science, illustrating the shifts of history… we have pretty much always blended learning this way – utilizing skills across boundaries, but how much farther can we go? These things are at the heart of Project Based Learning, Inquiry Based Instruction, field trips – can we make better use of “Blending Learning” by being more conscious of how and where that blending occurs and taking it farther – using our multiple literacies to build extended literacies? Recognizing that our students’ skills in blending learning may be the only context that matters.