Opinion Blog

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

We ‘Can Lower Expectations and Still Have High Standards’ in Hybrid Teaching

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 08, 2021 16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."

(This is the eighth post in a multipart series. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here, Part Four here, Part Five here, Part Six here, and Part Seven 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.

In Part Six, Naomi Bailey, Mary Harriet Talbut, and Illiana Gonzales write their responses.

In Part Seven, it was the turn of Jane Russell Valezy, Ann Radefeld, Theresa Gaetjens, and Donna Martinez to discuss what they have learned over the past several months.

Today, Meredith White, Sara Sparks, Kyla King, and Stephen Capone continue this series with their observations.

‘Pack the Right Umbrella’

Meredith White is a Spanish teacher in Gwinnett County, Ga., and the 2020 Georgia Foreign Language Teacher of the Year:

To say that this school year has been a very different one for those of us in the classroom would be a gross understatement. Stakeholders, administration, students, and policymakers all seem to have steadily increasing opinions about what should and shouldn’t be happening in schools right now.

These schools, much like the opinions surrounding them, are also buried in innumerable shades of nuance: physical school building use, internet access, device availability, teacher/administrator experience, substitute obtainability, to name but a few. Now, with spring on the horizon, many of these communities that have been mired in decisionmaking, decision-changing, protests, and heated school board meetings are looking to shift gears once again, from virtual to a form of in-person and/or hybrid classes. So, how the heck—or perhaps more appropriately—how the tech do we do this?

Organization: In our physical classrooms, teachers decide on systems and procedures for the things they deem important: turning in work, physically being in the space together at the same time, storing and using supplies, and going about the daily business of classroom teaching.

Online teaching is no different; there are now links to turn in work, expectations for being present on video calls, class resources and their join codes/log-ins, and procedural pieces like assigning work and taking online attendance. If it was working in the online setting, it will translate into the hybrid setting. And, I would add here, if students are used to it by now from a class having been virtual, why change it? My virtual and in-person students complete the same lesson plan at the same time with the same locations for everything so that there isn’t a difference or advantage/disadvantage in delivery or accessibility.

Planning: Along the same lines as organization, if it was working for virtual classes, it will also work for in-person/hybrid classes with the added bonus of transparency. Confession #1: My planning has never been more intentional than it has been this year because I’ve had to take a hard look at whether or not I focus more on teaching or learning. (Spoiler: It should be the latter.) Online students don’t necessarily have the luxury of time with so many trying circumstances surrounding them and us: Hybrid students also want their time and productivity maximized and considered. If an activity or game is just “extra” since now they’re in-person/hybrid but 1) it excludes the virtual students and 2) wouldn’t have been feasible when completely online, it may not be one we pressure ourselves to include this year, like many other things. We can adjust or even lower our expectations and still have high standards, for ourselves and for our students; the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Grading/Feedback: Speaking from experience, here: A lack of systems and schedules for giving frequent, relevant feedback is only amplified by having in-person students. Confession #2: Because the majority of my students are online, I’m giving more personalized, timely formative and summative feedback than I ever have in my career. My students are hearing from me about their work every single day in the form of a score, a comment, a .gif, or a Bitmoji sticker. With in-person classes of 35+ before this year, that was impossible, and I therefore didn’t have any expectation for myself to provide that for them.

Bethanie Drew, a Spanish teacher in Wake County, N.C., says, “Summative assessments are like an autopsy: an in-depth look at what happened and what had been happening over time. Formatives, on the other hand, are check-ups to check in: How is everything going? How do you feel? What do we need to adjust? This pedagogy is the same whether we’re face to face, virtual, or hybrid: Good teaching is the same and good teaching actually focuses on learning.

As many teachers transition to hybrid teaching this spring, it’s important to keep in mind: Habits and behaviors transfer, so if it was working before, it will likely still work. If it wasn’t working before, it isn’t too late to scrap it and simplify. This is a difficult year, indeed, but luckily, every storm eventually runs out of rain. While we can’t control the weather, we can help each other to look around and pack the right umbrella.

thisisdifficultyear

Working Collaboratively in Stations

Sara Sparks is a secondary ESL specialist for the Hays CISD in Kyle, Texas. She is passionate about pedagogy and strives to provide instructional strategies that benefit all students:

This year has certainly been unlike any other in education. Teachers have been swept into a current of swift decisionmaking, monitoring, adjusting, and adjusting again as they redefine and reimagine classroom instruction. As this year has unfolded, many teachers have had to acclimate to a concurrent teaching model, teaching both in-person learners and virtual learners simultaneously. Virtual learners, in the present state of education, are faced with several disadvantages: isolation, limited socialization, lack of collaboration, and minimal engagement. It is our job as educators to provide instructional strategies to overcome the hurdles this year has imposed.

In a concurrent learning environment, stations afford opportunities for in-person learners and virtual learners to work together.

Planning

Properly planning the stations is critical. First, the teacher should determine the content standards to be taught. For example, a middle school English/language arts teacher who is targeting the standards’ author’s purpose, making inferences, reading comprehension, and text structure can create stations accordingly. Next, the teacher must group the students. Each station will include a blend of in-person and virtual learners. These groups can be of mixed ability or same ability. Once the standards and groupings are determined, the teacher will then assign the appropriate activities for each station.

Structure

Setting up stations requires thoughtful and intentional planning. Establishing and communicating clear expectations for the students is imperative. Desks can be clustered as long as they are socially distant and abide by CDC guidelines. Using the aforementioned English/language arts example, we would have four stations focused on the following standards: reading comprehension, text structure, author’s purpose, making inferences. Each station would have a desk for every in-person learner and one extra desk for the computer where virtual learners will participate through a video-conferencing platform. The stations will consist of virtual and in-person learners working together to complete the assigned activity for that standard. The teacher can lead one of the stations or can monitor and help facilitate all of the stations.

At the start of class, the teacher will log into a video-conferencing platform to greet the virtual learners. Next, they will separate the students into virtual breakout rooms that represent each one of the stations. For example, station one is reading comprehension, station two is text structure, station three is making inferences, and station four is author’s purpose. A student at each station will then log into the video-conferencing platform to invite the virtual learners into their group. Virtual learners assigned to virtual breakout room one will be working with in-person learners in station one, reading comprehension. The expectation for in-person and virtual learners is that everyone participates. This can be established through group roles.

Activities

Activities should be designed so that they are accessible to both in-person and virtual learners. In-person learners can complete the activities on paper, and virtual learners can complete the activities via Google Docs and/or a learning-management system. If technology is readily available, all students can collaborate and complete the activities on their computers.

Here’s an example of what a station can look like. In the reading-comprehension station, in-person and virtual learners can read and annotate a text together. Students will take turns reading a paragraph, and all students will collaborate to annotate that paragraph. All students will have the opportunity to read a paragraph, and all students will contribute to the annotations. All students must have access to the text; in-person learners can have a hard copy and virtual learners can have a digital copy.

At the completion of each station’s activity, the teacher can provide a closing statement so students can demonstrate their knowledge. For example, students in the reading-comprehension station will complete the sentence stem, “The main idea of this passage is... and I know this because...” This will help the teacher assess the students’ learning.

Virtual learners are entitled to an education that is equal to that of their in-person peers.

Stations address the aforementioned disadvantages of virtual learning by providing a shared, collaborative learning experience. When students work collaboratively, engagement increases, and learning occurs.

inaconcurrentsparks

‘A Student-Centered Approach’

Kyla King is a guidance counselor and teacher in Toronto:

My school district opted for a hybrid learning model in which teachers are teaching students virtually and face to face simultaneously. Here are some realizations I have had along the way.

Start with a student-centered approach

  • All students want to be, and can be, successful.
  • To be successful in hybrid learning, students need a particular virtual learning skill set that can be taught and developed.
  • This school year should be about relationships, connection, and compassion, not meeting every curriculum expectation.

Ask yourself, “Who are my learners, and what are their needs?”

Make it a priority to be a kind adult with a calm and reassuring voice. Be their champion and celebrate their successes. Design content to be finished during class time. Students need time outside of the school day to be teenagers, unplug and relax. Have all students log into the same virtual meet; this way they can “see” each other and work collaboratively.

Take a skill-building approach

Teach students ”how to do” this new version of school. Reflect on the skills students must have to complete each task and incorporate the necessary skill-building into instructional time.

Make things as simple as possible

Use templates and handouts when possible. Provide routine, structure, and clear expectations. Post clearly defined learning objective(s) in each lesson and include resources as hyperlinks. Simplify so that students only need to look in one place for all instructions and resources.

Design with the end in mind

What are the three or four most important things that you want students to learn in your class? Then work backward with the end in mind. Everything will take much longer and require lots of scaffolding. Design each lesson as if it were fully online.

Make connections with students

As all students are working in the virtual learning environment, share positive and encouraging comments. If a student has not completed their work, leave a comment offering extra help. This is a way to build an authentic connection and provide formative feedback. Keep your camera on as much as possible, even when presenting slideshows.

Recognize that things are hard for them

Students cannot see their friends in person, and they are stuck at home. The reality is that some learners may be helping younger siblings or even employed as essential workers. They are watching the global crisis in real time on social media, and their worry is real.

Radical compassion

Realize that we are a protective factor in their lives. Practice radical compassion. Be the person who makes students feel good. If you do this, they will produce and they will learn. Assume the best, even when you know it isn’t true.

Talk about mental health and provide resources, repeatedly. Instill hope and communicate that COVID-19 is not forever. Validate their feelings of loss, anger, and grief and acknowledge that we are going through a collective trauma.

The “pep talk”

Do not fall into the trap of perfectionism. Some days will be “outstanding,” some days will be “good enough.”

Remember that you are not alone; find a team and share the work. Connect with other teachers on social media. Build a network.

This year is tough, challenging, and pushing you professionally beyond what you thought was possible. Keep going, you can do this, and know that you are making a difference.

makeitapriorityking

Don’t ‘Overcontrol’

Stephen Capone (@CaponeTeaches) is a full-time faculty member at the McGillis School, a K-8 independent school in Salt Lake City, and a part-time faculty member of the Department of Philosophy at Utah Valley University:

1. Design for online; use class time as workshop time.

Design for a virtual environment and use in-class opportunities to coach students. Plan courses as though they were strictly virtual. Students can get what they need if I post the following: multimodal resources, playlists with instructions, and 2-4 minute mini-lesson videos. Students can carry on independently if I’m absent. If I’m present, I don’t deliver content but rather guide students through playlists, reteaching core concepts, and using the hybrid classroom as a workshop where I can meet each student’s learning needs.

2. Iterate with help from students.

Whatever solutions we generate will change as we learn. Do not tinker continuously with what is working right now, though, or you’ll never rest. Design improvements are usually most useful for the next unit’s design, so keep notes. And for help, put student experience at the core of iterative design processes.

Recently, I asked some 6th graders, “How do our to-do lists compare with Ms. M.’s playlists?”

“Yours are awful, Mr. Capone,” came the unflinching reply.

I smiled. “OK. Tell me why.”

The students couldn’t identify the specific problem or a targeted solution. No problem! I learned that my to-do lists offer too-heavy doses of instructions, and links in playlists with most instructions appearing on a separate page would make the list itself easier to interpret. I took 15 minutes to implement some initial changes and I will design differently from now on. Prod students for real feedback, thank them for it, and adjust.

3. Use playlists and offer choice.

Students move at different paces. Whenever possible, let them find success at their own speed with playlists. And here’s great news: Offering genuine student choice becomes easier in a hybrid or remote model. When I taught causal thinking using what I called social revolutions as a content backdrop, students chose the movement they wished to study: Black American Rights, Women’s Rights, LGBTQ+ Rights, or the American Anti-War Movement. Students in the same room practiced the same skills while learning different content in assignments they selected from a short list of activities that would help them all develop target skills. Engagement skyrocketed.

Don’ts

1. Don’t try to “overcontrol”

Don’t attempt to control at-home student behavior during class. Set and stick to clear boundaries, and that’s it. Avoid calling students out during class. If the student has a low-impact habit that interferes with learning, make a quick note and address it personally at a later time. If they’re interfering with another student or the group, keep it to a simple and direct notice and then follow up according to clear guidelines. Relax. You’re not in control and you never were.

2. Don’t put students on blast.

Kids in middle and high school are self-conscious. Don’t put students on blast by displaying them on a giant screen or the wall in the classroom (especially if your school has a camera-on policy—eek!—that you’re following). Keep them on your monitor, remind them that they’re only visible to you, and give fair warning if you’re going to make an exception for a specific learning purpose.

3. Don’t lecture.

It bears repeating. Do not lecture. Remember that even those students proficient at mock attention will be visiting the gardens of their imagination in a few minutes. Stick with 2-5 minutes of instruction at a time. Ideally, prerecord and post lessons to ensure maximum equity of access across contexts. YouTube provides captions. If I’m doing live instruction, there are several groups I’m not serving well.

Last words of advice: Give yourself a break!

designforavirtualcapone

Thanks to Meredith, Sara, Kyla, and Stephen 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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