Monday, February 22, 2016

Drop the Textbooks and Blend Language Learning

The 2016 is going to be a very exciting year form the Language Department of the Kenai Peninsula School District (KPBSD). Indeed we are going to see a drastic change in how students learn all the World Language classrooms since all World Languages teachers will have to implement a blended format. KPBSD has indeed recently completed the curriculum review for the World Languages courses offered within the district, and the committee has opted with an unanimous and strong decision in favor of adopting a digital curricula for ALL the language courses offered in the district. This decision is aligned with the vision of the district administration to move toward digital content for the classrooms.

The revision process has been rigorous, evaluating traditional and web-based curricula side by side following a rubric based on the standards defined by the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the national leader organization in the teaching of world languages.
This was the first time I was participating in the curriculum review process and the experience has been very interesting and instructive. Being an online teacher, the only online foreign language teacher in the district, I was pleased in having the opportunity to bring to the table my different prospective, and collaborate with other WL teachers in finding the best fit for our students.

The adoption of an online based curriculum requires some structural changes in the traditional classrooms and how the learning is going to happen, and some of them were welcomed by some teachers. First of all WL classrooms will receive a class set of Chrome-books for allow students to access to the online content. Second the teachers will have to implement a Blended Learning format for their classroom. This specific step does require a specific, timed, well planned and delivered professional development (PD) for the classroom teachers, who will need to learn what Blended Learning is, what are the various ways in which it can be implemented, and finally being able to identify the format that would better fit their teaching style, their classroom needs, and what they want to achieve.

It is definitely an ambitious goal that will require time for being perfected, and I am expecting trials and errors along the way, which is normal in a learning process. Last year I had the opportunity to experiment a similar learning progress when I had to start a traditional classroom French program in one of the KPBSD high schools. Coming from a 100% online teaching experience, I found a natural fit in the use of the Flipped Classroom approach from my classroom courses. One of the most interesting observations in the roll-out of this plan was looking at the switch in the student behavior  from the beginning of the year when they were very passive and they needed to "hold their hand", to the point in which for the most part they knew what to do and were able to proceed independently in their learning in and outside of the classroom.

The transformation of a traditional classroom to a blended format requires a very well made plan and also a lot patience and determination from the teacher, especially at the beginning, when the students  used to be mostly passive learners in their classrooms, will find themselves pushed in uncomfortable  new learning territories, in which they are required to become actively participants in their education.

I have an invested interest in following the process of implementation of the Blended Learning in my WL department, since I would like to collect data for a research paper focused on this case study. My goal is to monitor the effectiveness (positive or negative) of this switch in the increase language acquisition in the students enrolled in these blended courses.

More will come....

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