A few weeks ago, as many schools nationwide returned to the physical classroom for the first time in a year, I was asked by educator and ed writer Larry Ferlazzo, who blogs at EdWeek, to write a piece advising teachers who've been remote on how to return to class in a hybrid model. It started with a response to Larry's tweet asking for advice on online and hybrid learning. My comment was "You can't recreate the physical classroom online; don't even try." My response piece on advice about hybrid learning is below for anyone who doesn't have access to EdWeek:
Do’s & Don’ts of Hybrid Learning
If we’ve learned anything during the past year of remote learning, it’s this: you cannot replicate the physical classroom in an online setting. Don’t even try.
A quick bell starter in an actual classroom might be a statement or question followed by a whip-around with a few students commenting or responding. The teacher can assess a great deal through the comments, responses, facial expressions, nods, and even by walking the classroom to peer over shoulders at who wrote down what. Last spring many of us mistakenly tried to recreate that experience online with discussion boards on Schoology or Canvas. Big mistake. What takes a couple minutes in class with natural, fluid responses could easily become hours of forced work online.
The pandemic has given educators many unexpected lessons about kids and content, pedagogy and learning. Online learning was conceived, intended, and designed for self-directed, intrinsically motivated, independent learners. It was never meant to be a pandemic response or health crisis safety valve. Yet, out of necessity we’ve developed tools and techniques we’ll hold on to even in more normal times.
Now, as many schools that have been on remote learning for most of the year head back to the classroom in various forms of hybrid learning, it’s important to think about what works and what doesn’t. Most importantly, remember that we physically go to school for human connection and to be a part of a learning community. We miss each other. Our kids miss each other. This will be their only class time to directly interact with classmates, so let students connect with us and each other. Encourage it. Plan for it. Expect it.
Let them talk, chat, collaborate, engage, share and use their peers for learning and support. Pre-plan how you will group kids, and stick with standard groups so time is not lost daily pairing up. Collaboration can be very tough online, and let’s face it, kids don’t like breakout rooms and don’t talk when we’re not checking in. Since time together is limited in person, plan and use discussion protocols to keep kids on track and maximize class time. However, don’t micromanage the time you give them. Plan for interaction but also let the connections be organic and natural.
A colleague summed up the in-person approach well for me: “I’m a teacher, so when the kids are actually in front of me, I’m going to teach.” Don’t waste any precious class time with tasks or materials that can be handled online. Thus, don’t spend time on announcements or review, and it should go without saying, but don’t show videos in class. Any tech or media use should have little-to-no set-up time. Make sure students know the lesson plan and objectives before they arrive, but POST IT ANYWAY everyday.
Direct instruction is fine, but remember the lessons of books like No More Teaching as Telling by Cris Tovani and Elizabeth Birr Moje, and don’t use the time to be a simple presenter of information. For many teachers doing hybrid all year, it’s now a natural instinct to front load and frame the week’s lessons with an intro video and resources. In any part of instruction, allow time for questions. Present then query, question, reframe, and follow up. Call on kids, but rethink how you question. It’s subtle but effective to shift from asking whether they have questions to querying, “What questions do you have?” And set realistic goals and timelines for classroom instruction because depending on the hybrid schedule, you likely can’t just plan to go over or pick it up the next day. In checking for understanding, another teacher told me, “All my assessments are online and virtual.” We can't afford to use class time watching kids take tests.
As always, listen to the kids and be responsive to their needs. My fifteen-year-old daughter candidly said, “I actually kinda like the hybrid schedule.” While she expressed uncertainty about learning enough and being prepared for next year, she’s actually grown comfortable with two days in person and a couple others to do the work, study, review, and get help during office hours. Her most important advice for teachers was to plan carefully so it didn’t feel like two separate classes, one online and another in-person. “Don’t have due dates for online work the night of the synchronous class,” she urged me.
Finally, when kids are in your physical presence, don’t sacrifice the social-emotional elements and the classroom culture. Take advantage of the simple but easily overlooked detail of eye contact. Ultimately, we need to be honest and candid in identifying and planning for our non-negotiables, our learning targets, and our exit standards.