Thursday, August 3, 2017

Jumpstart the Year with #Agency: Designing the #BLinAction Learning Environment

In Blended Learning in Action, the hallmarks of effective practice are outlined by The PAACC: Personalization, Agency, Audience, Creativity, and Connectivity. One way to ensure we hit the mark in personalizing learning is to focus on agency from the start. A great way to empower students with agency and build a positive blended learning culture is to engage them in the design of their learning environment. 

As July’s long days come to an end, teachers begin to really focus on the school year ahead, anxious to set in motion the gems from summer learning and PD. A good portion of this energy goes into setting up the classroom, a huge task and one teachers feel must be done perfectly to warmly welcome their students for the new year. In a blended environment, teachers also ponder how to account for stations and flexibility in movement between learning activities. Recently on our #BLinAction chat, a participant asked just this question. My answer was to let the students co-create it alongside the teacher. Here’s how it could look in action:

Atmosphere & Decorations:
  • Voice: Instead a room filled with positive messages, students find headings that set the tone for the environment but leave space for their contributions. Ex: We believe… (students fill in the wall of beliefs about the way friends should learn and interact together)
  • Inspiration: On tables, they find magazines where they cut out pictures that inspire them to learn. They add these to inspiration corners or stations for choice-based discovery. Teachers use these to build an inspiration wall or sort them to create learning centers aligned with those inspirations. (Ex: adventurous pictures for Explore areas of the room; cozy pictures for Reading nooks). 

Seating/Learning Spaces:
  • BYOC: Instead of spending a lot of money on cozy, flexible seating, there is an invitation to students to BYOC, or Bring Your Own Chair. Teachers review guidelines with students and student bring in a cozy chair that fits the guidelines if they choose to. 
  • Centers: Teachers lead a discussion on which centers will be part of the basic setup and ask for suggestions on other centers. Students receive a blank paper on which to suggest seating clusters and room arrangement. 
  • Choice: One corner of the room could be assigned to students to design on a rotation. They choose the learning activity there, bring in the decorations and teach the class about the purpose of the station for the weeks it is there. 

Routines/Expectations:
  • Models: Teachers can explain the blended models which will be used in student language. Starting with just one (ex: Station Rotation) may help build understanding in a scaffolded manner. Teachers can engage students in the setting of rules/expectations for each station, from how it should look/feel/sound to how to get help if not at the teacher station. 
  • Peer Support: Teachers can engage students in thinking about what types of class jobs would help make sure learning is consistently the focus in class. These can range from a Tech Desk help to Chief Cheerleader. Students can apply for jobs listing their qualifications and contribute to thinking on length of term and how the jobs should rotate. 
  • Digital Contract: Guiding students through the creation of a digital contract is an essential component of Blended Learning success. Rather than have an honorable use policy already in place, teachers can facilitate the collaborative creation of one. 
  • Transitions/Choice: In blended learning, there are a lot of transitions to plan for: coming into the class, rotating on/off devices, moving between stations. Sometimes these are dictated by routines and timers, which other times the movements is more flexible by choice. Teachers can engage students in creating the expectations for transitions and a way to show accountability for choice where agency is high. For example, you may design a system where all stations are listen on a wall and students put a clothes pin with their name where they are moving.  

Even choosing one strategy for building agency in classroom design is a significant opportunity to teach students about 21st century learning, set expectations for the class environment, and build agency. By setting the standard for agency at the start of the year, we create a culture of personal accountability for self and class community. We also gain back some valuable time before the doors open to shift planning energy to maximizing personalization and engagement in learning. 

For more reading on getting ready for the school year, check out my #BLinAction coauthor, Catlin Tucker's great post on how to get the most out of the first day of school: "Don't Waste the First Day of School."

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