A few months into the new blended learning model at Rossland Secondary School and we are able to take some time to reflect on the successes, as well as discuss the adjustments we need to make. We know it takes time to implement change and for the students and teachers to adjust to the new system and realize that the program is still in its infancy.
So this past Friday, a group of teachers from RSS, accompanied by principal Karen Lavender, were able to catapult into the future: the future of blended learning. Our visit to Thomas Haney Secondary in Maple Ridge, BC provided us with a glimpse into what blended learning looks like after twenty years.
What we discovered is a student focused learning environment built on personalized learning, flexibility and trust. At THSS it is all about the students.
Principal Sean Nosek provided us with a student led guided tour of the facilities. The two grade 12 students who spent the morningwalking us through the beautiful building, designed specifically for a blended learning environment, were able to provide us with an honest look at self-directed learning. Both girls have been at THSS since grade 8 and share a common language; they spoke of strong student teacher bonds, mutual trust, self-directed learning, learning outcomes, flexible learning, negotiating and responsibility.
This is the language that blended learning promotes. With more student teacher contact time, relationships are built on more than just curricular outcomes. In the past three months alone I have come to know more about my students than in last three years.
Thinking back to your high school days, it is the teacher you remember not necessarily the course content. Our student tour guide echoed this sentiment when asked what she thought of self-directed learning, “I know my teachers care about me.” Teachers inspire, guide, facilitate and support students. Both the RSS and THSS learning models provide students with an increase of one on one time with teachers to personalize their learning and discuss ways of meeting learning outcomes in diverse ways, as well as explaining outcomes and getting assistance when needed.
Walking through the Great Halls at THSS, provided us with a clear vision of where RSS is headed in the future. The similarities between the two schools are remarkable in terms of Teacher Advisory, scheduled seminar times and flexible learning blocks.
It was also reassuring, as well as quite humorous, to realize that no matter the school, teenagers will be teenagers. The group of students surrounded with laptops, texting on smartphones and chatting happens at all schools but when we talked to them about their learning they were able to share the blog they created about their pet lizards and demonstrate it was meeting the learning outcomes for part of their biology class.
Similar to RSS, the students are responsible for planning their day, outlining their short and long term goals and meeting with their advisor each morning to make sure they are on track.
Staying on pace has been a challenge for some of our students who are used to having to meet deadlines. Although our courses have suggested timelines we can learn from THSS as they found that implementing more specific deadlines benefitted all students. Sean was clear in making the distinction between self-directed and self-paced learning. Students are still able to work at their own pace and my move ahead in their learning but should be able to complete a course within the allotted time. Our students are beginning to see the benefits of creating daily and weekly goals in order to complete courses by semester’s end. They are learning valuable skills in time management and goal setting.
Our visit to THSS provided us with a boost of confidence knowing that we are on the right track, understanding that we can learn from the experiences of others, and leaving us with proof that blended learning provides an environment for student centered learning.
Our entire visit was focused on the students; the administration and teachers took a backseat in order to showcase powerful learning. From our private concert with a young woman who writes and sings her own songs, to our gourmet lunch prepared by grade 9 students in the Chef’s cooking course, and our student tour guides, as well as the students we spoke with around the school, there was no doubt that if you give blended learning a chance students will flourish.
Nicola Kuhn is the teacher librarian at RSS. This column originally appeared in her blog, Seven Summits Librarian.