Here’s what you missed at BPLC18, the Blended & Personalized Learning Conference


We need to create classrooms that allow students to defend and explain their ideas. So how do we make this shift?

Earlier this month, the Highlander Institute, the Christensen Institute, and the Learning Accelerator held a three-day event called the 2018 Blended & Personalized Learning Conference. Attendees saw blended and personalized learning in action and collaborated with other practitioners to see these ideas in practice.

Unlike many conferences I attended this year, this event was a chance for educators and leaders to discuss blended learning in action with people who are already doing it. Topics included the day-to-day implementation of blended learning, strategies and systems that have effectively supported replication, and how to scale blended and personalized learning across schools and districts.

Defining blended and personalized learning

The first question participants wrestled with was to develop a consistent understand of blended and personalized learning. Some common themes that emerged:

  • Personalized learning is instruction that offers pedagogy, curriculum, and learning environments to meet the individual student’s needs.
  • The experience is tailored to learning preferences and the specific interests of different learners.
  • Personalization also encompasses differentiated instruction that supports student progress based on subject matter mastery.

Designing blended and personalized-learning environments

We brainstormed how to provide access to appropriate technology, while detailing supports for teachers to give students flexibility around physical space, learning time, and instructional methods. Once we started talking, the ideas about instructional design structure kept flowing.

Common design ideas were:

  • Small group work
  • Presentations
  • Journaling
  • Role playing
  • Learning games
  • Field experiences
  • Case studies
  • Class discussions
  • Concept maps
  • Role playing, simulations
  • Group quizzing
  • Generate lists
  • Cooperative learning
  • Project-based learning
  • Debates

These design ideas provided the avenue to increase students working in several different activities or centers, including whole-group instruction, small group instruction, peer-to-peer activities, pencil-and-paper assignments, as well as individual work on laptop or tablet.

My favorite sessions

  • Creating a Questioning Culture: Erica DeVoe (@Mrs_DeVoe) and Amanda Murphy (@abmurphy22) shared wonderful suggestions about student voice through questioning techniques.
  • Tiffany Ott (@TechieTeachOtt) shared how she uses Learning Mastery Grid planning and instructing to increase voice and choice in learning.
  • Elizabeth Gencarelli ran a classroom simulation with eight of her students to model how she uses data, elements of student agency, and the station-rotation model to personalize learning.
  • Jason Appel (@Jason_appel) and Sam Schachter showed how they use playlists in their high school math classes. They demonstrated the way they use Screencastify. I had never seen this tool in action and I saw how it enhances learning. You can record your screen activity for creating tutorials or projects, and it runs entirely in Chrome. My district has 3,000 student Chromebooks, and this tool opens the possibility of screencasting on personal devices.

8 strategies all educators can take from this event

  1. Redesign lessons. Share with your students how you normally teach a topic and invite them to help you come up with a new way to teach it. Tell students you want them to have a say in redesigning your role, how they learn, and what the classroom will look like. Provide a way both in class and online for them to ask questions, ask for help, give feedback, and help their peers.
  2. Brainstorm together. Brainstorm questions about the topic with the whole group. You can project your computer and use programs like Google Docs or Mindmeister. Start with one big question focused on the standard or objective. Encourage students to use “how” and “why” questions to dig deeper.
  3. Flexible grouping. Ask students to work in pairs or small groups to select a big question about the topic they want to explore. Students can choose a group based on the question they want to investigate.
  4. Technology is a tool, not a teacher. One way to take student-centered learning down the wrong path is to introduce technology in a way that fails to make learning more meaningful than it was without the technology. No matter how you are implementing blended learning  (i.e., flipped classroom, station rotation, or whole-group rotation), be purposeful in the way you use tech to enhance learning.
  5. Design ongoing projects. The key with projects is to provide real-world choices that enable students to demonstrate what they are learning. Many standalone objectives or state standards can be met in one well-crafted project that allows students to decide what the final product looks like. Ongoing projects stimulate collaboration, the environment upon which the student-centered classroom is built.
  6. Always ask challenging questions. Discovery learning engages learners by asking them to solve a problem or create a solution. The next step is to ask probing questions to spark further discovery learning. Some that I like to use are:
    • Could you elaborate further on that point?
    • Can you create sketch notes of that speech?
    • Can you show your thinking in a graphic design?
    • Could you give me an illustration?
    • Could you research more details?
  7. Offer feedback. When you have more discussions in your classroom, you’ll be listening to what students say. Students’ understanding of the content and current knowledge will take center stage. You will see how many students participate and you’ll realize how much they are interested in the concepts. You’ll have a chance to give more daily feedback and inspire them to go deeper into the research process.
  8. Explore online resources for personalization. The internet is a source of endless knowledge and information. As a teacher, you have an opportunity to teach students how to search content efficiently and make sure they are reading up-to-date, reliable information. When you increase discovery learning, students will add their voices to online content through reports, presentations, and blogs.

Next steps

One of the Highlander Institute’s educators said, “Our conference continues to grow every year. Even with this growth, we hope to continue to emphasize that teacher practitioners are at the heart of this work. That’s why all our sessions aim to be action based, with conversations around where to start, and tangible next steps that you could bring to classrooms/schools/districts right away.”

This goal rang true the entire event and I have already cleared my calendar for BPLC19 next April. Check out #BPLC18 on Twitter to see even more of what happened.

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