Search form

Hybrid Model Survival 101           

As the pandemic stretches on, many of us are hyper-aware of the long-term consequences to our educational system if we cannot find ways to get students back into buildings. Yes, virtual teaching is improving with each passing week, but we all long to be in closer contact with students, particularly those who are struggling to receive basic needs. Models that send some students to school while keeping others home, known as “hybrid” models, have begun their implementation phase in these early fall weeks. From a teaching standpoint, the biggest challenge of this setup lies in the need to essentially teach two different populations at once, sometimes at the same time: the students at home, and the students in the building. How can we serve both?

Buddy Up!

For students learning virtually as they watch their classmates live, understanding what is happening is a real struggle. For one thing, both the on-site teacher and students are likely wearing masks, which muffles sound and facial expression. Furthermore, being able to see and hear anyone through a camera aimed at a classroom is a difficult proposition, one requiring both intense and continued concentration (and that stamina is not possible for younger children in particular) as well as excellent hearing. To be blunt, staying an involved member of the class community can be close to impossible for students who aren’t physically there.

For this reason, strategic pairings or groupings are critical. Rather than house the virtual students on a screen in the back or similar, assign each virtual student an in-person peer. Schools using tablets or laptops (and that is most of them these days) can place an onscreen student on the desk of one who is sitting right there in the room, and who can act as an advocate. Suppose that Jane, a virtual student, is paired with Carly, who is sitting in the classroom. If Jane wants to raise her hand or join the conversation, she can ask Carly to bring her needs to the teacher’s attention. Likewise, if Jane cannot hear something, she can ask Carly to type what just happened into the chat. The benefit of this system is not for Jane alone, either. Carly has a learning partner, and she can maintain her relationship with someone not wearing a face mask at a farther distance. It might be a distraction, but the potential benefit outweighs any downside. And if Carly is absent, Jane can be given to a new partner, or another group.

Keep Group Work Virtual

In the age of physical distancing, group work is problematic from a health standpoint. Therefore, rethinking how we group kids is vital to keeping the collaborative energy of a classroom intact. Even when students are sitting in class, group work can be conducted on Zoom to benefit both those learning at home and those in the classroom who cannot be in proximity, and who are wearing masks. Imagine two students sitting across the room who are still part of a Zoom small group. They can see each other on the computer, and virtual students can be pulled into the process as well. In this situation, the in-person students have the advantage of being in the classroom and being able to ask for immediate help from the teacher, while the virtual students are able to work with masks off and be equal contributors to the work with the guidance of their peers.

No Double Duty

Teachers who are working with two distinct populations at one time (one here, one there) may feel the need to do twice the work, since one set of lesson plans might not work as well for a particular group. Instead of giving into the urge to do more, think strategically. For example, assigning homework in a traditional sense might contribute to the workload in a way that is not productive, while flipping the model and focusing on in-class checks for understanding can tell the teacher more about what students grasp. In an English class, students might be asked to read on their own time, which makes sense, while writing workshops and assignments are prioritized for classroom time. That way, students can conduct peer review or other conference activities virtually or in classroom pairings. In a math class, the teacher could assign an instructive video for homework, and then use class time to have students work out problems collaboratively or alone, turning in work virtually whether they are in physical proximity or not. In other words, rather than assigning more work or two sets of work, the teacher can simplify as much as possible by thinking about what work can be done individually, and what might need some support during instruction.

Focus Support Proactively and Collaboratively

For students with special education or language learning needs, there are additional factors that will have to be considered in a hybrid model. For general education teachers who do not have additional staffing support, such as in-class aides or resource teachers, a conversation with school leaders is a vital part of making sure that each class proactively addresses projected student needs. If I know that I have a virtual student who needs read-to accommodations, it is important to brainstorm possible ways to meet the need with the school and family’s help. Similarly, if a student who is acquiring language skills will be sitting in a mainstream class, the teacher might want to meet with the school’s ELL specialist to determine how to ensure that the barriers of masks and physical distancing, not to mention the virtual component of class, will not detract from the language learning process.

The process of hybrid learning is going to be bumpy, and we have to continue to meet this newest challenge with compassion for ourselves and for those we serve. As we learn more, we can do more, but it will take time. For now, we can feel a little bit better about how we do our jobs if we try to stay just one or two steps ahead of the challenges we face.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam is a Learning and Achievement Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, staff developer and department chair. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and recently earned her certification in Education Administration and Supervision. She can be followed on Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

Copyright© 2020 Education World