Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


308: Build an Easy Careers Unit
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123: Creative Blended Learning (Now and in the Future), with Dr. Catlin Tucker

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Dr. Catlin Tucker is having an incredibly busy year, and for good reason. She is a blended learning expert, and I’m excited to share this interview with you, so you can snag a front row seat for her ideas on blended learning station rotations, using hyperdocs and playlists in your blended classroom, tapping into project-based learning in this moment, and more. But first, let me introduce her in full style. 

Dr. Catlin Tucker is a bestselling author, international trainer, and keynote speaker. She was named Teacher of the Year in 2010 in Sonoma County, where she taught for 16 years. Catlin earned her doctorate in learning technologies from Pepperdine University. Currently, Catlin is working as a blended learning coach, education consultant, and professor in the Masters of Arts in Teaching program at Pepperdine University. Catlin has written a series of bestselling books on blended learning, which include Balance With Blended Learning, Blended Learning In Action, Power Up Blended Learning, and Blended Learning In Grades 4-12. 

Ready? Let’s roll! You can listen in on the podcast player below, or on the podcast player of your choice. Or, read on for the written highlights. 

The Station Rotation Model

In the station rotation model, as you might expect, students rotate through stations. In the standard classroom model, this usually looks like standing up and moving around the room, and that’s great. But you can still offer students variety and differentiation through stations in a blended learning model. In this model, at least one of the stations will be online, and the varied stations are different learning activities, not different locations. 

One of the nice things about the station model is that it breaks up a larger class into smaller learning communities. Teachers have a chance to connect with students in a smaller group and can more easily meet their needs. Scaffolding and differentiation are much easier in a teacher-led small group station rotation. 

As you plan blended learning stations, think about how you can balance different types of learning throughout the period. In one station, you can interact directly with your students. In the other stations, think about how you can incorporate conversation and collaboration, tactile learning (learning with physical materials), and online work. 

For example, imagine you’re working through a book with your class, and you’d like to do blended learning stations. You might plan to work with one group on how to ask and answer questions as they move through the text, have an online group researching historical context for the reading online, and a group working with pen and paper vocab or grammar exercises. As students move through the three stations, they get a variety of experiences and meet different kinds of goals. 

Flipped Learning: Tips for Creating Better Videos for Students

When it comes to creating video content for your students, focus in on what your desired outcome is. What do you hope students will understand at the end? How can you make that short, sweet, and clear? Research says shorter videos are more effective. Whether you use Loom, Screencastify, or one of the other tools out there, try to keep your videos at five minutes or less. Break up complex topics into multiple videos. 

Then, maybe more importantly, think about how to keep students engaged and not slipping into a passive role as they watch. How can you keep them thinking critically and asking questions as they consume the video? Catlin suggests having them use Ed Puzzle to drop questions in as they watch, or asking them to fill out a guided note template or guided content map. 

Hyperdocs/Playlists as Tools for Independent Learning

Hyperdocs and playlists (two very similar concepts!) are ways to organize an independent unit for students. You lay out all the materials, steps, videos, links, etc. and then let students move through the work at their own pace. 

Catlin likes to design her playlists in threes. First, she designs a middle-of-the-road playlist, putting in all the pieces that the mythical “average” student will probably need. Then she copies that and adds layers, creating a next level version, possibly with a different final product, for students who will want more challenge. Finally, she copies the first playlist again and adds more scaffolding and support, including more frequent check-ins with the teacher, for kids who might need more guidance.

Adding steps in any hyperdoc or playlist in which students have a chance to conference with you will help make the strategy more effective for everyone. These short interactions will help you to sustainably personalize the units to the students and guide kids who need more support along the way. 

While it might seem overwhelming to imagine fitting in all these quick conferences, Catlin assures us that it’s not. When she was in a physical classroom, she set up a section of her white board as a “parking lot” for students to place a post-it when they wanted to meet with her. As soon as she was available, she’d grab the post-it and call the student up. If they had to wait for a while, they’d just work on another part of the project, read a passion book, or even do work for another class for a few minutes. Not a big deal. Now if your students are fully online, you can have students send a message inside your video platform, or use a program like “Classroom Queue” to manage your conferences. 

Blended Learning Going Forward

It might be easy to finish this year and have a knee-jerk reaction to abandon online learning along with all of our hard memories of this year. After all, the education community was forced into it unprepared, and it’s been an unbelievably stressful time. But we’ve learned a lot about how to effectively use technology to help create more personalized, differentiated learning experiences, and Catlin hopes we won’t just throw that away. As we re-approach the conversation around blended learning and learning technology once we’ve moved beyond the pandemic, hopefully we can remember what we’ve learned and build on it, not with the goal of surviving, but with the goal of creating the best possible learning experiences for kids. 

Social Learning in Blended Environments

For so many students this year, one of the greatest losses has been the loss of a shared social learning community. Instead of sitting with their friends, discussing ideas as a group, they have experienced isolation as they study in their bedrooms, looking at the turned-off cameras of their classmates. So as the year comes to a close, it’s important to keep trying to include social learning elements in classes, even if it feels complicated. 

Better to have a conversation with the class about how best to make use of chat features and breakout rooms, practice with icebreakers, and accept that sometimes students may get off track or struggle along the way, than to avoid social interaction to make things feel simpler. It’s OK if things don’t go perfectly when building in that breakout room group work or fun Friday question in the chat. It’s still really important. 

Catlin’s Three Favorite Tech Tools you might not Know

MentimeterMentimeter is a great way to check on engagement and reel students back in when everyone’s video is off. You can use it for polling, live word clouds, and more. 

EdPuzzle / Play Posit – These powerful tools allow you to create engagement around video content, a big help in keeping online learning active. 

Flipgrid – The student video recording program, Flipgrid, is so versatile. You can use it for a hundred different things in your blended classroom, and that makes it really valuable. 

Connect with Catlin Tucker

Connect with Catlin through Twitter, where she is @catlin_tucker.

Explore her website. 

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