Noticing a trend toward online teaching in the languages, Elizabeth Allen, chair of the upper school World Languages department, created a blended course for her upper level Spanish V students. She did not transfer traditional coursework to the web, but redesigned her course so that the online and face-to-face learning complemented each other. She created a student-centered environment and structured the course to allow for research, writing, reflection, and collaboration during the students’ “independent day.” (On the independent day, students are required to check in with Mrs. Allen, but are on their own after signing in.)
Mrs. Allen’s blended learning class mixes online, face-to-face, and independent research and allows for a variety of individual, partner, and group projects as well as inquiry based assignments. Below are two classroom projects that demonstrate how blended learning occurs and offer examples of some of the software used.
Students researched modern Latin American countries and created Glogsters (online posters) of their countries.
During the course of this two-week assignment, Mrs. Allen held three face-to-face classes and two independent research days. During the face-to-face classes, students worked in small groups to discuss what they had learned, observe how their peers were approaching their research, and share information in smaller groups. In the final class, the students competed to sell a trip to their country using the Glogster and a prepared sales pitch.
In another project, students examined the immigration issue and created projects using VoiceThread. During the project, Mrs. Allen used two class periods for students to watch a documentary that juxtaposed the journey of immigrants from Nicaragua with the situation at the U.S.-Mexican border. Simultaneously, each student created a VoiceThread project in which she told her own family’s immigration story in Spanish (or interviewed someone she knew and shared that person’s immigration story) in a small group, listening and responding to others’ stories as homework.
On subsequent independent research days, students stopped by class for an individual interview with Mrs. Allen to discuss their reactions to the film and the questions it raised. Meanwhile, Mrs. Allen followed the students’ research progress by having them keep their notes and bibliographical references in NoodleTools. Mrs. Allen left comments and questions on their notecards.
Another part of the immigration project included a formal debate between two teams. Mrs. Allen gave students independent time to meet with their teams and to work on individual position papers that they shared with her in Google Docs.
For Mrs. Allen, the blended learning course has provided many benefits for students. By providing independent days for research and online learning, students come to class more engaged and speaking more Spanish. Also, more is generally demanded of students who attend a blended course. The course’s online component requires students to become more responsible. Online discussions can be as lively as face-to-face discussions. All students must reflect and comment on one another’s online posts, and that gives them time to prepare thoughtful responses to discussion topics.
Students must also have strong time-management skills and be self-motivated, says Mrs. Allen. A blended learning course allows them freedom to make choices. On their independent day, they might need to study for a test in another class, and then have to complete their Spanish work on their own at another time. There are consequences, such as grade penalties and the disappointment of partners or peers, if they fall behind. Students say they like the flexibility of the schedule in a blended learning course, knowing that they are learning to work independently and to manage their time—both valuable life skills.
Harpeth Hall School
Nashville, TN 37215-2233
Laptop/access to a computer