Sunday, May 6, 2018

Tic Tack Toe in the Blended Classroom

The other day I was conducting some learning walks with the administrative team at Wells Elementary School in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (CFISD). Throughout the school year, I have been assisting them with digital pedagogy as it relates to blended learning and the use of flex spaces.  The primary goal has been to take a critical lens to instructional design with a focus on increasing the level of questioning, imparting relevance through authentic contexts and interdisciplinary connections, creating rigorous performance tasks, innovating assessment, and improving learner feedback. I cannot overstate the importance of getting the instructional design right first before throwing technology into the mix.  

A secondary goal has been facilitating a transition from blended instruction to blended learning. This is not to say that the former is bad or ineffective, but it can be depending on whether or not the technology is just a direct substitute for low-level tasks or use is more passive as opposed to active. With this aside, there is a difference between the two, and it all has to with how the technology is being used and by whom.  Blended instruction is what the teacher does with technology. Blended learning is where students use tech to have control over path, place, and pace. Herein lies the key to the practical use of flex spaces in education. The dynamic combination of pedagogically-sound blended learning and choice in either seating or moving around in flex spaces results in an environment where all kids can flourish and want to learn. 

Over the course of the year, I have seen some much growth and improvement since the work began in August.  My visits to this school have been inspiring as I have seen the future of education in the present.  This is one of the main reasons that my daughter loves being a student here. Unlike our learning walks in the past, the teachers at Wells Elementary did not know I was going to be in the building on this particular day.  The idea was to see if the goals for digital pedagogy and blended learning in flex spaces were well on their way to being accomplished. 

I saw so many activities that warmed my heart where kids were authentically engaged in meaningful learning. However, stepping into Zaina Hussein’s 4th-grade classroom provided a perfect example of how the entire Wells community has evolved together to deliver fantastic learning opportunities for kids.  As we walked in a Tic Tac Toe grid was displayed on the interactive whiteboard.  Word on the street is that she “borrowed” this idea from Kendre Millburn, my daughter’s 5th-grade science teacher.  If you are not familiar with this type of learning activity here is a description from the IRIS Center out of Vanderbilt University:
Tic-tac-toe sometimes referred to as Think-tac-toe, is a method of offering students choices in the type of products they complete to demonstrate their knowledge. As in a traditional tic-tac-toe game, students are presented with a nine-cell table of options. The teacher should make sure that all options address the key concept or skill being learned. There are several variations on this method: 1. Students choose three product options that form a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line. 2. Students choose one product choice from each row or from each column (without forming a straight line). 3. The teacher can create two or more versions to address the different readiness levels. To learn how to create an acnhor activity using a Tic Tack Toe board click HERE.
I loved this activity for so many reasons. It incorporated choice, formative assessment, purposeful use of technology, and differentiation. All learners had to complete the middle box with the gold star emoji.  The flame icons represented activities that were more difficult.  

I was so mesmerized by the structure of the lesson and the engagement of the learners that I almost missed what possibly could have been the best part of the class – an opportunity to reflect.  Costa & Kallick (2008) share why reflection is a critical component of the learning process:
Reflection has many facets. For example, reflecting on work enhances its meaning. Reflecting on experiences encourages insight and complex learning. We foster our growth when we control our learning, so some reflection is best done alone. Reflection is also enhanced, however, when we ponder our learning with others. 
Reflection involves linking a current experience to previous learnings (a process called scaffolding). Reflection also involves drawing forth cognitive and emotional information from several sources: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. To reflect, we must act upon and process the information, synthesizing and evaluating the data. In the end, reflecting also means applying what we've learned to contexts beyond the original situations in which we learned something.

It is important to understand the convergence of so many elements present in the examples above that align with sound instructional design and real blended learning.  Learners had a certain amount of control over path, pace, and place thanks to using flex spaces and the Tic Tac Toe activity that incorporated blended elements.  Student agency was also evident.  This is a hallmark of a well-structured blended learning activity, which is why I was so pleased to see choice (Tic Tac Toe activity, flex seating) and voice (reflection) incorporated.  

Over the course of the school year, I have seen so many exemplary blended learning activities implemented by Wells Elementary teachers across all grade levels during my time there as an instructional and leadership coach.  I cannot commend their progress and success enough, but I would be remiss if I did not add how helpful the entire administrative team has been.  They all have provided unwavering support to their teachers while also learning alongside them. When an entire school believes in different and better, takes collective action, grows together, and has the evidence to show improvement the result is efficacy. 

Follow the learning adventures at Wells Elementary on Twitter at #ExploreWells


  1. I think you are using the phrase “blended lnstruction” in the way some might use “technology integration?” Or is there a nuance you are implying?

    1. I suppose any type of lesson or activity where technology is being used by the teacher or learner could be referred to as integration. The nuance here is "how" tech was blended in a way where learners has a certain amount of control over path, pace, and place.

  2. Thank you for a thoughtful and instructive look at blended instruction/Learning!