I’ve worked as a technology integrator and teacher for fourteen years. We’ve adopted a proficiency based philosophy for five of those years. It’s been a monumental shift, but one that is so important for students. No longer is it okay for them to know just 65 percent of the material as evidenced by an averaged grade.
As a teacher, I’ve had to learn to differentiate instruction and scaffold learning for each individual student. Most importantly, I’ve had to learn to let go of what works best for me and focus on what works best for each student.
The switch to a proficiency-based model means that teachers have to be much more intentional in their teaching. It’s no longer a matter of turning to the planbook and seeing what you are teaching that day. You may be teaching pieces of three, four, or five days (or weeks) of your planbook at once. Proficiency-based teaching and learning hinges on the premise that the student determines the pace at which they will work and the means by which they will learn. They expect to have access to learning materials, resources, and interventions as close to 24/7 as possible.
We all recognized early on that technology could be a crucial tool in supporting students in this new model. How well it is used remains a factor.
In technology integration, we have a tool called SAMR. It’s a model that we use to determine the value added to learning by the use of technology. It was developed by Dr. Reuben Puentadura in 2010 and has been used worldwide to move the use of technology in the classroom from simply replacing what we are already doing to transforming the kinds of tasks that students can do.
When we add technology to proficiency-based learning, we move into the realm of blended learning. Blended learning is the use of technology to provide learning opportunities that move outside of the classroom. It is not a delivery method. It is a teaching and learning model. It does not replace classroom practice—students most often still come to class during regularly scheduled blocks—but it does provide students the ability to move through content at their own pace, choosing resources that fit their learning needs. It provides an opportunity to give students quick, quality feedback to guide their work and offer choices. It also provides them the opportunity to monitor their progress as they move through their content. How well blended learning works depends greatly on the way it is structured. SAMR is a model that can help design blended learning opportunities that work.
SAMR is most often used to look at individual learning tasks or tools that you’d use as part of your classroom activities. In this article, we’ll look at how you can use the SAMR model to evaluate your blended learning offerings.
In a nutshell, SAMR is a four-part continuum that seeks to move technology use to a level where the educational results are maximized, improving rigor and depth. There’s a great video that explains the four SAMR levels in 120 seconds.
It might be easier to think of SAMR as a learning taxonomy. As you improve the quality of your blended learning opportunities, you’ll see a natural increase in the rigor and depth of learning for your students. Well-designed blended learning opportunities lend themselves to learning that involves content creation, data analysis, and the opportunity to apply new knowledge in real world situations. What follows are some very basic examples of what blended learning might look like at each of the SAMR levels.
You’ll notice that there are no suggestions of tools to use. The tools are only as good as the design of the task they are used in. Design will remain the focus of this article.
A typical classroom website falls into this category. It may be a part of your grading software package or be a standalone site you created. In any case, it serves mainly as a bulletin board. It holds, in digital form, the racks of folders you have in your classroom containing student assignments, worksheets, and assessments. Students can go to the site, find the document they need, download it, and begin their work. They may be able to email it back to you or upload it to the site for review when they are finished. There’s not a lot of value added over what you did pre-technology—perhaps a bit of convenience because the materials are always available, and students can access them whether they are in school or not, but the educational gain is limited. The actual learning would be the same with or without the use of the technology.
Augmentation offers some extra value to the learning. There are a broad range of ways to enter the augmentation phase. This is the place to begin adding some differentiation for students. It’s easy to provide resources in a variety of media formats to suit your learner needs, allowing them to choose what works best for them. It can be as simple as providing links within your project handouts to sites that bring clarity to different concepts or videos that show a process.
Simple collaborative tools also fit here. Remember having to wait until the next class to get your papers back with suggestions and corrections? Collaborative tools that allow document sharing allow you and the student to ask questions and provide quick feedback (in either audio or written form) in real time. These frequent formative assessments can help reduce the time it takes students to get to the mastery level in their content standards. They can help you see where students as groups may be missing some key concepts. This will allow you to group them and target further instruction to keep them moving forward.
Basic flipped classroom techniques (providing the direct instruction in video form) allows students to watch the main content on their own and bring questions to class for clarification. These flipped videos can also provide review opportunities for those students who need to hear or see something more than once. These may be brief lectures, demonstrations, or presentations created by you or your students. You may also include outside resources.
Augmentation often improves student choice of both format and time by providing simple interventions that keep learning moving forward.
Here’s where the rubber really meets the road. Modification requires significant re-design of how we ask students to address their learning. There is no student passivity in the modification phase! Students have flexibility in choice of who to work with, where and when the learning takes place, and how they will show mastery of their learning. Teams of students can work collaboratively on text documents, graphics, presentations, and/or video projects without having to come together into one physical space. These works can be shared with the teacher so he or she can monitor progress and make sure that the work is addressing the standards and not getting off track.
Students begin to explore communities of learners outside of their classrooms. The audience widens from just the teacher to a group of peers/coaches inside and outside of the classroom. At this level, students are encouraged to share their work outside of their peer group.
Frequent formative assessment is found during the modification phase and may be available from an authentic audience within your school or from outside viewers. This could take the form of photo essays, public service announcements, blogs, or threaded discussions. Other assessments could include using self-grading quizzes for both readings and videos. These tools provide instant feedback to students and allow them to see where their learning is concrete and where they need to go back and review.
Because they are exposed to the work of others, students begin to see more possibilities in not only how they can learn content but also how they can show mastery of that learning. This encourages more ownership of learning by the student.
Redefinition moves your students into areas that could not be replicated without technology. Your redifined blended learning tool may end up looking a lot like social media. The flow between in-class and out-of-class work becomes more seamless because the role of teacher and student has become more like that of facilitator and participant. The tools you and your students choose offer opportunities for more global learning. At this level, students are encouraged to develop personal learning networks and will need to have the skills to work safely in a more independent venue. Students will be finding, creating, and sharing resources with both you and their peers and may work in teams with students/experts in remote locations. Discussions are often reflective; students are asked to participate in activities that require application of the knowledge they have accrued. You may find that you become one of a student-chosen team of teachers for the standards covered in your classes, and that the learning becomes interdisciplinary as students see connections between standards in different content areas.
At this level, students will have a strong knowledge of what standards they are working on and the tasks that can be accomplished to master them. They’ll also work with you to develop assessments to show that knowledge, often in a way that applies it to real world issues.
Overwhelming? Not really. The key is to gauge where you are right now. You would not expect your students to jump from a comprehension level of knowledge to an application of that knowledge overnight. Give yourself the same latitude.
Look at the standards you are responsible for teaching. Look at how your current teaching and technology use mesh using the SAMR model. Include your students in the conversation. Where are you right now? Can you improve within that level? If the answer is yes, figure out how.
Then look one level higher. How can you take one standard and move into the next level?
The goal is gradual movement forward. Take time to evaluate, reflect, and adjust until blended learning works for you and your students.
A self-proclaimed “competent problem solver with a large dose of curiosity and stubbornness to find solutions,” Lydia held her first teaching job at Hall-Dale High School as a computer teacher. She is now the K-12 Technology Integrationist for all three Hall-Dale schools. In this venue she is tasked with finding ways to leverage technology to improve teaching, learning, and student achievement.
Lydia recently finished a second Master’s degree – this time in Instructional Design and Technology from Emporia State University. She enjoys collaborating with others and relishes the opportunity to expand her personal learning network. She can be contacted via email at [email protected], Twitter as @lleimbach, and Google+ as Lydia Leimbach.