Academic journal article English Journal

Blended Learning as a Transformative Pedagogy for Equity

Academic journal article English Journal

Blended Learning as a Transformative Pedagogy for Equity

Article excerpt

If an observer were to walk into my high school English classroom during the literature circle units, that person may initially interpret the scene as "controlled" chaos. The person would see students engaged in varying activities, texts, and conversations. Some students would be talking in animated ways about the latest development in their novel, while others would be working individually, headphones in, intensely focused on analytical writing. The person may also see loose pairs of students commenting on or sharing different nonfiction articles that connect their literature circle book to what is happening in our community, state, and country. As the teacher, I would not be at the front of the room delivering direct instruction. Instead, I might be conferencing with individual students on analytical writing, listening to group conversations, or answering questions students have about the nonfiction texts they chose to read. While these activities may initially seem unrelated, the unifying element in this unit is students' agency over what they are learning and how they are learning. These varied activities fit into a pedagogical approach known as personalized, or blended, learning.

While a cursory glance in this classroom may not reveal much about the literacy practices in which students were engaging, blended learning allows teachers to incorporate students' digital literacy practices in meaningful ways. In many traditional conceptions of schooling, the teacher, district, or state has control over what students learn and, most of the time, the way students approach that curriculum. When this happens, many students feel alienated, as they have little control over how to engage in their learning, or they feel isolated, as the digital literacy practices they use outside of school are rarely addressed. Rather than reproduce these inequalities that accompany traditional conceptions of the classroom, blended learning moves the locus of control from teacher to student, allowing for potentially disruptive, transformative practices in the classroom. It allows teachers to embed the participatory, collaborative practices many students use outside school while-when paired with literature and nonfiction readings that challenge dominant narratives-allowing students to be central in the curriculum.

Students' Digital Practices in and outside of the Classroom

Often when discussing the digital divide and digital literacy in schools, the conversation is framed in terms of access to technology. Implicit in this discussion is the assumption that access to technology will create equity both in and outside of school. Although the question of access is still incredibly important in conversations about the digital divide and equity, the more pressing question is how students are engaging with media outside of school, and how teachers are asking students to use digital literacy practices within the classroom. In terms of digital practices outside of school, a 2015 Pew Research Center brief found a large majority of teens (ages 13-17) report having access to digital tools and to the Internet (Lenhart 16). Specifically, 94 percent of teens report going online daily, and 88 percent of teens report having access to a cell phone with almost three-quarters (73 percent) noting that their phone is a smartphone.

Beyond access to technology, many scholars documented that teens engage with digital media in different ways. In Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom Henry Jenkins and Wyn Kelley argue the following:

Literacy is no longer read as a set of personal skills; rather, the new media literacies are a set of social skills and cultural competencies, vitally connected to our own increasingly public lives online and to the social networks through which we operate. (48)

There are a few important ideas embedded within this new conception of literacy. First, Jenkins and Kelley and other scholars define these digital literacies as inherently collaborative, and often supported by social networks that work toward a larger, shared goal (8). …

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