Sunday, February 3, 2019

Blending with Playlists

In an effort to personalize learning more and more educators are turning to blended learning strategies. Before getting into the specifics of this post, it is important to flesh out each concept to ensure the efficacy of these shifts in pedagogy.  When it comes to personalized learning, the “personal” should be emphasized.  Putting all kids in front of a device and having them engaged in an adaptive learning tool all at the same time is not personalized.  Here is my take on the strategy:
Personalized learning represents a movement from the “what” to the “who” as a means to facilitate student ownership of the learning process.  It considers the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum, and environments by or for learners to meet their different learning needs and passions. In many cases, but not all, technology is a catalyst to facilitate the personalization of the learning environment.
The lofty outcomes listed above can be accomplished using a variety of innovative strategies.  The key is to shift the balance of power and time from instruction (what the teacher does) to learning (what the kid does).  Blended learning, as a means to personalize, is one way to accomplish this. However, there still seems to be a great deal of confusion as to what this really entails.  Many times, blended instruction is confused with blended learning. Here is the difference. 

See the difference? The transfer of power and time is apparent as the learner is in the driver’s seat. This is not to say that a teacher using a variety of tools as part of daily instruction isn’t effective, but this is not blended learning.  Content and process matter if the goal is to move to a more personalized approach through increased student agency. Wells Elementary School in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (CFISD) is one of the best examples I have seen when it comes to effective blended learning at school. Up until recently station rotation and choice boards where preferred strategies utilized by the teachers here. However, during my recent coaching visit, I began to see the implementation of playlists across all grade levels. 

So what is a playlist exactly? I pulled the following from the blog of Jennifer Gonzalez, who profiled the work of Tracy Enos in this area:
A playlist, an individualized digital assignment chart that students work through at their own pace. With playlists, the responsibility for executing the learning plan shifts: Students are given the unit plan, including access to all the lessons (in text or video form), ahead of time. With the learning plan in hand, students work through the lessons and assignments at their own pace. And because each student has their own digital copy of the playlist (delivered through a system like Google Classroom), the teacher can customize the list to meet each student’s needs.
As I visited classrooms, I saw many different versions of the playlist, but the overall goals associated with path, pace, and place remained the same. Andrew Huckeba created a playlist for his 5th-grade math students where they worked through various activities on multiplying and diving fractions.  As they finished a task, they colored in the corresponding box next to their name.  While the majority of the class progressed through the playlist, Andrew worked one-on-one with students that needed the most assistance. Herein lies one of the most essential elements of any personalized experience – kids getting help who need it the most.

First-grade teacher Anna Fisher has also implemented playlists in her classroom along with many of her colleagues. After hearing about how she improved the strategy following feedback I provided as part of the coaching process I asked her to share what she was doing.  Below is her take on the use of a playlist for reading (you can see the entire activity HERE).
Here’s how it works.  Each 'village' is one of my reading groups that are grouped by reading/skill level. The barrels at the bottom, fish and steak, go along with corresponding reading task cards that are grouped by skill level/skills being targeted. I'm currently working on how to make it even more differentiated. They fill in their responses in their reading journals which they take to partner reading to share. I got these cards from Teachers Pay Teachers and added some of my own. The student looks at how many of each barrel they need to complete that day and then fill in that amount with snowballs on their igloo. The barrel in the back is a work in progress.  On a rotation, one group each day completes one task on the Lego board I showed you. The students have the opportunity throughout the week to record their responses on Class Dojo and share with me during group time. 
Playlists can provide a true path to personalization.  Michael Putman provides this take:
Imagine a school where students arrive at their classroom and start their day by using their mobile device to scan a unique QR code posted on the door. The QR code points the students to a website that includes a series of activities aligned with their individual learning needs. As the teacher enters the room a short time later, she briefly conferences with each student regarding his or her progress, while the rest of the class continues to engage with their tasks.
Ownership of learning requires a more personal approach. From differentiating instruction to maximizing the impact of flexible learning spaces, the use of playlists aligned to sound pedagogy can add more purpose in the eyes of kids as they engage in tasks while developing independence and self-management competencies. 

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