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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

‘Give Yourself Grace’ as You Teach Concurrently

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 03, 2021 13 min read
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(This is the sixth post in a multipart series. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here, Part Four here, and Part Five here.)

The question-of-the-week is:

What are the do’s and don’ts of hybrid (also called concurrent) teaching?

In Part One, Amber Chandler, Tara C. Dale, and Holly Spinelli offer their hard-won experiences..

In Part Two, Deborah Gatrell, Amy Roediger, and Carina Whiteside provide their suggestions. I also include comments from readers.

In Part Three, Christina Diaz, Christina E. Cox, Erin R. Scholes, and Matt Carlstrom share their recommendations.

In Part Four, Xiomara Nygren, Virginia Lowe, Traci Vermilion, M.Ed., and Shelly Cihak, Ed.D., contribute their thoughts.

In Part Five, Elisabetta Landoni, Matt Blaser, Kyle Lawrence, and Caroline Shearer provide their ideas.

Today, Naomi Bailey, Mary Harriet Talbut, and Illiana Gonzales write their responses.

‘We Can Do This’

Naomi Bailey (@_naomibailey_ or @D34Bailey) has been teaching and learning for more than 25 years in a wide variety of capacities. She serves National Louis University (Chicago) as adjunct faculty supporting teachers in their ESL/bilingual-degree-focused work. She is also a dual-language SPED teacher in @Glenview34 school district, which serves students in P-8:

Accepting the duality of our role as educators capable of teaching simultaneously online and face to face (F2F) became crystal clear this school year when we transitioned to a hybrid learning model. I teach in a district with one strand of dual-language learners at each grade level, and the need for effective duality was more prevalent in this context. In hybrid dual language, additional staffing to instructionally support multilingual learners online was limited. We were tasked with accepting duality early in the hybrid model. What I learned in this process, after many celebrations and failures, are some great ways that this teaching model can be executed successfully while avoiding things that impede success.

To build your repertoire, first, think about the aspects of how you effectively engaged students in remote learning. What worked? What didn’t? These reflections will be of great value. They provide insight into the bank of strategies that you will rely on as you embark on your new adventure.

Second, there are useful tools. I was provided a mounting bracket for an iPad and an amplifying speaker. These gave me the ability to log into online instructional supports used in my teaching while still providing opportunities to “see” the students who were virtual. This critical support helped me concurrently connect to both environments. With these, I will share some learnings that focus on the do’s and don’ts that helped me realize successes.

  • Do set up instructional activities to create the 95 percent optimal engagement. Think about ways you provide continual support to students who are ELLs or students in special education. Every 10-15 minutes should include some instructional movement (change from direct instruction to group work, from group work to whole-group sharing, from whole-group to partner work, etc.).
  • Do pay attention to both your online and F2F students. Whether you have additional staffing support or not, have a F2F moderator to support the online cohort. Without additional staffing, inviting a student to assume this role is beneficial.
  • Do provide wait time to both cohorts but don’t let the wait time force you into calling on the F2F students because you can see them first.
  • Do pair your online cohort and F2F students in group work. Assign specific roles to each person. I recommend creative grouping based on your instructional needs and desired outcomes. In conversations, I encourage ping-pong discussions between cohorts. After someone in the F2F cohort shares, have them ping a person in the online cohort for the next response. After the online person responds, they pong it back to a student in the F2F cohort.
  • Do ensure that there is visual access to the learning environment for both cohorts to “see” their “collaborators.” This will increase engagement between groups.
  • Do set up collaborative documents and shared folders. It is incredibly helpful for whole-group work to provide documents with each student’s name already populated. These documents bring accountability to each person and help you understand how students are working in real time.
  • Do make sure both cohorts have equal access to all materials. If we have anything that is distributed in person, the online cohort should have the same materials. It is not acceptable that online would work on digital documents if you are handing out paper-based supplies to your in-person cohort. This requires preplanning. What I have done for effectiveness and efficiency is to create weekly or unit packets that are distributed in advance. Both cohorts have shared that this is helpful.
  • Don’t ignore or support one group more than another. If you spend more time with one cohort, the other will recognize this and begin to tune out. This is where the F2F moderator will be great support. They can bring forth anything coming from the online cohort so that collectivity and collaboration remain fundamental.
  • Don’t share your personal feelings about the model in which you are working. Students will internalize your feelings because they cannot contextualize that as educators, we too, have feelings.

The collective creativity among us as a body of educators is incredible. Rely on others. Give yourself grace. We have made it through what we perceived as impossible and are still standing strong. We can do this.


Dealing With Audio Problems

Mary Harriet Talbut has been the instructional designer at Southeast Missouri State University for the past 8 ½ years. Before that, she taught in the College of Education after teaching social studies at a rural high school for seven years.

Over the summer and as we began the fall 2020 semester, as an instructional designer at a regional public university, I worked with approximately 50 faculty to offer over 75 courses in a hybrid model, where the students could take the class either face to face, over Zoom, or online. The students got to choose which way they wanted to attend the class each week. In addition, all the faculty were learning how to teach in a way that could be flexible based upon the students’ needs and situations. The following is what we have learned and are continuing to learn.

You aren’t going to be able to cover as much material as you usually do in a normal class time period, especially at the beginning when you are learning and working with the technology. So, following up with reflection on the material covered will become vital for you to know what your students are getting and what they aren’t.

As you begin the semester and throughout, work to create a sense of community. This can be done with group projects or collaborative boards that center around low-stakes questions. Zoom has the breakout room that allows the larger class to be in a smaller group where conversations can happen easier.

It is important to have students reflect on what was difficult to accomplish for the week and help each other come up with solutions for upcoming assignments. Then read these reflections with an eye as to understanding what your students are dealing with and how modifications can be made to help them accomplish the learning goals for the class.

The most difficult problem to overcome in your hybrid classroom is audio quality. Work to get the sound in the classroom right. This is the hardest, but most important part of hybrid teaching. Those not in the room want and need to hear those who are in the room where it happens. Conference microphones placed in the center of the room, if not too big, can really help with this issue.

When you get the sound right, remind the classroom there is a microphone so what they say will go out to those on Zoom, a netiquette lesson.

Set up your class like you were teaching it completely online in your learning-management system. Know what your assignments are going to be, when they would be due, but most importantly, how they assess your learning goals for that class or unit regardless of the delivery. Be clear with instructions and use rubrics that are easy to understand. Make sure you communicate to the students how those assessments are connected to the overall goals for the class, the why they are doing this.

Get the students to commit to how they are going to attend class, either face to face, Zoom, or completely online each week.

If your lectures are so important to facilitate learning, then make sure your lectures are recorded. If your students can meet the course objectives without your lecture, then why are you lecturing? The best lectures are no more than 10 minutes; a student is more likely to watch 3-4 five- to 10-minute lectures than one 30-minute one.

Try not to get worried about students cheating. Use the tools in your learning-management system (timing, mixing of questions and responses), and vary your forms of assessment. It is important to ensure that students are assessed equitably regardless of the way they attend your class. An answer to a “ticket out the door” question can also be assigned to the online class. Online 3-5 question quizzes over the readings or videos to be completed in 3-5 minutes can be class starters and help encourage all the students look at the reading.

Don’t give up or be afraid to ask for help from your students, from other teachers, from people on Twitter. There are some great technology tools, which have been wonderful across many forms of delivery. If you are not familiar with Nearpod, check it out.

Try not to get overwhelmed, be flexible, and give yourself some space to make mistakes. Celebrate the failures that teach you lessons.


Acting as ‘the Bridge of Communication’

Illiana Gonzales is an 8th grade U.S. history teacher at Pieper Ranch Middle School in San Antonio:

The biggest piece of advice I was given before I stepped into a classroom was to dedicate time to create a classroom community where your students feel comfortable from day one. In a non-COVID-19 year, this is just a good teaching practice. Day one in my virtual classroom, I did just that. Make my students comfortable and our classroom as “normal” as possible. We started out each day with “fun” questions before we started that day’s lesson to get them talking. And it seemed to work. We began to cultivate this classroom community where it was normal and safe to answer silly questions and really get to know each other before we focused on the content. It was something they looked forward to, and honestly, so did I.

While things weren’t perfect those first nine weeks, they worked for us. However, anxiety started to creep in at the end of that grading period. I knew when the second nine weeks would roll around, I would have some students that would opt to return to in-person learning. How was I going to replicate the same sense of classroom community that the students and I had worked so hard to create? How would I split my attention between my in-person students and my virtual students and make things fair? I had felt that I had just gotten the hang of virtual teaching, and my biggest fear was that I was going to be a terrible hybrid teacher.

It was awkward that first day of hybrid teaching. I had students walking into my room that I “knew” but had only heard their voice but didn’t know what they looked like. I scrambled to get logged online for my now smaller virtual class all while still managing to establish my normal policy and procedures for my in-person kids. It was the first day of school all over again.

But we did the same thing we’ve always done. “Fun questions.” I’ll never forget that question that day: “Is a hot dog a taco?” Suddenly, the awkwardness disappeared. My in-person students started yelling out their answers while my virtual students started to unmute. I welcomed the chaos. They were still talking to each other despite half of the class being physically with me and the other half of the class being digital.

I knew that every other grading period that we would go through I would have more students float back and forth between being an in-person student or a virtual student. This new hybrid teaching model would be the new normal for me, so I needed to create an environment where it would be fluid for students. So we continued our daily “fun questions” before our lessons each day.

I began to act as the bridge of communication between my in-person and virtual students. If someone virtually felt more comfortable typing in the chat, I would read their response, and my in-person students would respond back. This allowed us to still have the same sense of community and level of comfort that we had established in the beginning of the year. My view on hybrid teaching changed after that. I make an intentional effort to be that bridge every single day.

As the end of the year grows closer, I’m faced with the realization that hybrid teaching will be my new normal and possibly the future. Establishing that sense of community and safety from day one has made it seem like my virtual students are seated with us in our classroom.

As hard as it has been for me to switch into different gears of teaching, I also know it is probably harder for my students. If you have any anxiety stemming from moving from a virtual classroom to a hybrid classroom, here is my advice I hope you can carry with you: Be the metaphorical bridge between in-person and virtual students to continue with the classroom community that you have already created. Keep doing what you have been doing all along.


Thanks to Naomi, Mary, and Illiana for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones won’t be available until February). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first nine years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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