An effective mentor can often be the difference between a student succeeding or failing in an online environment. After all, many of our online learners struggle with intrinsic motivation and staying on track with assignments and expectations. The steady hand of a caring and proactive adult is critical. The same is true for brick and mortar schools that employ blended learning. While every child will have one or more teachers in this environment, students can easily fall between the cracks when engaging on digital programs and tools. Teachers in these classrooms must pivot to that of an online mentor in order to ensure success and truly inform instruction. 


The Elements of a Blended Classroom

Depending on the ratio of devices to students, as well as the district’s goals for the program, blended learning models can vary greatly. However, some models are more common than others, such as the rotation model (station or independent). 


In this environment, teachers often use digital tools to align to their daily objectives and standards. While students engage with digital resources, the teacher is often working with others in a small group, or even conducting an individual conference. Some students may also be working on offline activities. Either way, the student is expected to be independent while working on digital content. 


The Role of the Teacher

Since the teacher is rarely standing over the shoulder of students working online in this scenario, it is imperative that he/she monitors effectively. With some tools, teachers can “live proctor” students’ screens. This allows the teacher to use direct instruction with a small group while still ensuring the students on devices are on-task. In the absence of these tools, many teachers hold students accountable while online by developing an exit ticket or graphic organizer for the child to complete. 


Best Practices for Digital Monitoring and Informing Instruction

Although teachers are always up against the clock, being able to locate the data from these digital tools is vital to everyone’s success. The information gleaned from online work can be quite useful when triangulating a student’s data points. If the data from digital content is not being leveraged to inform instruction, the whole point of blended learning is missed. Just like offline work or projects that students produce, the same feedback loop must be present. Students should always know where they stand with digital tools. If students feel that the work is not valued by the teacher, either through grading or viewing, then motivation and performance will suffer. The work done online should hold the same importance as any other work the child completes, and the data from that work should assist the teacher in knowing what his/her next steps are. 


As you can see, mentoring is a critical component of any environment that utilizes digital content. Without it, we will continue to see staggering rates of disengagement and course failure. With it, however, we can begin to bridge the distance between tradition and innovation.