#128 – Unpacking Blended Learning, Part II, with Dr. Catlin Tucker

Unpacking Education November 2, 2022 34 min

This is the second part of our conversation about blended learning with Dr. Catlin Tucker. In this episode, we dig into several new blended learning topics that teachers will find relevant. We discuss how to leverage blended learning to reduce workload and improve work–life balance. Dr. Tucker says, “Let’s use blended learning to find more balance in this profession and take some of these really time-consuming workloads and shift them into the classroom as opportunities to build relationships with learners.”

Throughout this episode, we address important topics, such as rethinking assessment, improving equity and relationships, relieving classroom pain points, and getting started with blended learning.

If you missed Part I of our conversation with Dr. Tucker, be sure to go back and listen to the beginning of this insightful conversation about blended learning.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

The one-size-fits-all approach can lead to frustration, disillusionment, or boredom.

Dr. Catlin Tucker, author of The Complete Guide to Blended Learning


The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

Discovering the Benefits of Blended Learning 

Blended learning provides multiple advantages to teaching and learning. Not only can it improve relationships with students and enrich academic learning, it can also help teachers make the hard job of teaching more manageable. Dr. Tucker says, “Let’s use blended learning to find more balance in this profession and take some of these really time-consuming workloads and shift them into the classroom as opportunities to build relationships with learners.”

In this episode, we continue to explore how blended learning can benefit everyone involved in the learning process to create a win–win scenario. Here are a few highlights from this part of the conversation:

  • Early Motivations to Try Blended Learning: Dr. Tucker talks about her book, Balance With Blended Learning: Partner With Your Students to Reimagine Learning and Reclaim Your Life, including her motivation to begin her own blended learning journey. When she started, she found herself drowning in grading and started to self-assess her practices, asking, “What am I grading, and why am I grading it? And how do I build a culture in this classroom where I don’t have to use grades as this carrot to make kids do things? Instead, I want them to understand the inherent value of what we’re doing. I want them to see and appreciate their growth, so they understand why they’re here and why this is important work.”
  • Reassessing Assessment: Dr. Tucker talks about how she provides different amounts and different types of feedback depending on the purpose of the student work. If something is for review or practice, she does not give a grade or teacher feedback. Instead, students self-assess, use an answer key, or work in pairs to evaluate their work. If they get stuck, they can “ask Tucker.” If it’s work toward a finished product, then the focus is on feedback and not grades. If it’s a finished product ready for final assessment, she provides a grade with no additional feedback beyond a rubric. Because she is less burdened by grading, she has more time to allow students to redo their attempts. If students want additional feedback, they can request it and then try again.
  • Better Feedback: Dr. Tucker explains that she tries to offer students feedback in person whenever possible. Blended learning strategies enable her to be freed up to meet with students for feedback conferences on a regular basis, and students have thrived in this scenario. Many students have told her, “I’ve never gotten feedback like this. I never really felt like I knew what I was doing when I was completing assignments. Thank you.”
  • Assess in Person: Not only can teachers provide feedback during conferences, but they can also use this time to conduct assessments. Dr. Tucker has found that this can improve relationships with students because they understand why they are getting the feedback they receive. She explains how she facilitates this process in her classroom: “If I was going to assess something, I would try to do it with the student sitting next to me. So the class might be working through a rotation where I wasn’t leading a station—they might be working through a playlist, or a choice board, or an exploration activity, or a scavenger hunt—and I’d be pulling individual kids for grade conversations.”
  • Community of Inquiry: Dr. Tucker anchors much of her blended learning work in a community of inquiry approach. In this approach, there are three key components: teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence. Teaching presence is the glue that holds the other parts together and informs the teacher role. Social presence focuses on “the student’s ability to project their social and emotional selves in a classroom and online.” Cognitive presence is grounded in the inquiry cycle.
  • The 5 E’s: While not originally part of a blended learning approach, Dr. Tucker has found the 5 E’s to be a very effective and flexible way to plan and implement learning experiences. The 5 E’s includes steps where students engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. She says, “I think the 5 E’s is phenomenal for structuring inquiry across grade levels, across subject areas, and you can really blend this beautiful combination of online learning and exploration and dialogue with in-person interaction in a way that really sets inquiry up to position students as that active agent.”
  • Start With a Current Challenge: When introducing blended learning, Dr. Tucker has found that it can be helpful to identify teacher pain points and then illustrate how blended learning can be used to address and alleviate each of these.
  • Engagement: If teachers are frustrated by a perceived lack of student engagement, Dr. Tucker talks about how blended learning can provide more student agency and ownership, which will ultimately improve motivation and engagement. She explains, “Teacher engagement and student engagement are reciprocal, so when teacher engagement dips or student engagement dips, it has a negative impact on the other. If student engagement goes up, it has a positive impact on teacher engagement.” She says that we need to provide students with choice and control over their learning experience. “People need autonomy and agency to be really motivated.”
  • Differentiation: If teachers are struggling with differentiating learning for a wide variety of learners, they can use blended learning to make sure that students don’t all have to march down the same path. Teachers can offer students choice of path, pace, place, and time for their learning. Dr. Tucker talks about providing these types of choices, saying that this is “a way to remove barriers. If we’re giving them meaningful options and choices, we’re allowing them to choose the pathway that is going to work for them.”
  • Pace: When students feel that the pacing is too fast, they can get frustrated. When it’s too slow, they can get bored, and boredom can lead to behavior and classroom management issues. During remote learning, students became accustomed to increased autonomy over many parts of their learning experience, including pace. When students regain control over the pace of their learning in our face-to-face classrooms, many of the unproductive behaviors are mitigated because the pace becomes appropriate for each learner.
  • Lightening the Load: Dr. Tucker says, “It’s a tough profession, so we want to be doing things that make it more doable, and manageable, and enjoyable.” Blended learning can help accomplish this.
  • Getting Started: Dr. Tucker’s advice for teachers getting started with blended learning is the same advice that she gives for those beginning anything new. “Get excited. Think big. Start small.” She cautions teachers not to try to do it all from the start. Rather, choose one model or strategy and try that before including all the pillars of quality blended learning. She adds, “Give yourself some space to make mistakes and flounder a little bit.”
  • Being a Lead Learner: Dr. Tucker shares, “As educators, we need to see ourselves as the lead learner in the classroom. That means we’re experimenting. That means we’re hitting bumps. That means we fail sometimes. And I think the more willing we are to be vulnerable and be that lead learner, the less scary it is for students in classrooms to take risks and potentially fail.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How might blended learning strategies reduce your workload and improve your work–life balance?
  • How can blended learning help you improve relationships with your students?
  • What are the three parts of the Community of Inquiry, and why are each important?
  • What are the parts of the 5 E’s instructional model, and how might you use this in your classroom?
  • Which of these is the greatest pain point for you or your colleagues: lack of student motivation, the overwhelming task of differentiation, or classroom management?
  • How might blended learning mitigate these pain points?
  • Where would you begin with a plan to implement blended learning?

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