Blending Online and Offline Learning: Exploring Hybrid Schedules

School districts are grappling with how to resume school safely in the fall. I’ve followed international news about how schools in Europe and Aisa are reopening slowly. Schools are implementing a range of hybrid schedules to reduce the number of students in a classroom at one time. Schools are experimenting with a variety of alternative schedules.

I am concerned about the number of schools in the United States that have not articulated a clear plan for reopening. I realize schools are facing immense pressure from all sides. I do not envy school leadership and the tough decisions they have to make. That said, whatever shape the school schedule takes teachers will be expected to “make it work.” Without a clear picture of what fall will look like, many teachers are feeling anxious, scared, and paralyzed. If they are going to use the summer to plan and prepare for fall, they need a clear picture of what to expect.

What I want to avoid is a situation where teachers are presented with an alternative schedule in August and given a handful of professional development days to figure out how to adjust a semester’s worth of curriculum for a hybrid schedule. Teachers will likely be expected to engage students at least part time online, which may also require that teachers spend time this summer engaged in professional learning focused on online pedagogy and technology training.

The two schedules below may hold promise for schools looking to welcome students back in the fall while prioritizing the health and safety of students and staff. I realize that every alternative schedule has drawbacks and will not please everyone, but schools need to decide on a strategy and move forward.

Schedule 1 has the student population divided into two groups: Group A and Group B. This way, 50% of the total student population is on campus at any one time allowing for social distancing. Group A and Group B would spend half of their day on campus attending the face-to-face portion of their classes. One group would begin the day at school attending classes from 8-11 AM, and the second group would participate in face-to-face classes from 12-3 PM. When students are not physically on campus attending class, they would be engaged in self-paced online learning either from home or in a supervised location away from home. This schedule reserves Wednesdays for teacher preparation and deep cleaning.

Even though this schedule has students on campus attending class four of five days each week, it is unlikely that secondary students could take the same number of courses on this schedule. Schools may need to get creative when it comes to their course catalog. Some schools are extending the length of classes on this modified schedule to limit student movement and condense a year’s worth of curriculum into a semester.

Another option is to supplement the blended learning courses that combine face-to-face and online learning with entirely online courses. In the past, schools have offered online courses to help students pursue credit recovery or take advanced coursework not available on campus. For example, my daughter is enrolled in one online advanced math course next year because there are not enough students at the school in need of this course to offer it in a traditional format. Schools could provide students with the option to supplement their face-to-face learning with an online course (or courses) that they could work on during the Wednesday “non-student” day. Schools could partner with an online institution to offer these supplementary courses or train teachers who are immune-compromised to teach these courses from home.

Schedule 2 also divides the school population into two groups: Group A and Group B. Group A attends face-to-face classes from 8-3 PM on Monday and Tuesday and learns online Wednesday-Friday. Group B engages in online learning Monday-Wednesday and attends face-to-face classes on Thursday and Friday. This schedule would limit the total number of people on campus on a given day, but it would be more challenging for families in terms of childcare because students are attending school two days and learning online for three days each week.

The aspect of both of these schedules that I appreciate from an educator’s perspective is the non-student Wednesday. This day provides teachers with time to design the online learning portions of their classes and offer virtual office hours for students who need additional support. Regardless of the hybrid schedule that a school selects, teachers will likely need to invest significant time reimagining their courses. Leadership must build this time into the teachers’ workday. Teachers will also benefit from continued opportunities to collaborate and learn to improve their blended learning courses.

If your school has adopted a hybrid schedule they plan to pilot in the fall, please take a moment to share the plan here so we can crowdsource a collection of alternative schedules.

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The Balance with Catlin Tucker: Featuring Dr. Maria Hersey

Dr. Maria Hersey is a global educator with extensive experience in educational leadership, international education, social-emotional learning (SEL), curriculum design, and global- mindedness. Currently, Dr. Hersey is the Principal Advisor for Global Education Advisors. Her previous experience includes serving as the Director of Education and Training for The Hawn Foundation where she managed the evidence-based, social-emotional learning program, MindUP™.

In this episode, Dr. Hersey and I talk about the importance of self-care for both teachers and students. Dr. Hersey shares her experience working with teachers and students on the topic of social and emotional learning. She makes the point that teachers need to take care of themselves if they are going to have the energy to show up emotionally and mentally for students.

After the events of this spring, teachers need to spend time this summer resting, relaxing, and replenishing. It can be challenging to carve out time for self-care, and some teachers may not be sure where to begin. Dr. Hersey and I collaborated on a set of health and wellness boards for parents/elementary students, teenagers, and teachers that we hope will help.

At the end of the podcast, we encourage teachers to dedicate time each day for one week to engage in a mindful activity. The goal is to create some time for yourself and observe the impact that it has on your mental and emotional state. Below is the well-being board we designed for teachers.

If you have a favorite self-care routine that you would recommend, please take a moment to post a comment and share it!

You can connect with Dr. Hersey on Twitter or check out her work on the Global Education Advisors website.

Thank you to StudySync for producing and sponsoring this podcast! StudySync is committed to helping teachers find balance in their lives by providing them with a robust multimedia ELA platform that simplifies lesson planning, automatically differentiates tasks for learners at different skill levels and language proficiencies, and blends online and offline engagement to help students develop as thinkers, readers, writers, and speakers.

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Station Rotation in an Era of Social Distancing

Teachers are preparing for an uncertain future. Many are unsure if they will be returning to school on a traditional schedule, a blended learning schedule, or completely online. Teachers are questioning how the instructional strategies they have used in the past will work if students are coming to school on a modified schedule or if they are learning online.

I’ve written extensively about the station rotation model, which many teachers enjoy using but are unsure how to modify in this era of social distancing. This post is designed to create clarity about how to take this blended learning model and adapt it to meet the needs of a socially distant classroom or to create an online lesson.

First, I want to review the benefits of the station rotation model:

  • It frees the teacher to work with small groups of students.
  • It makes differentiating instruction more manageable.
  • It creates smaller learning communities within the larger class.
  • It encourages communication and collaboration among students.
  • It shifts the focus from the teacher to the learners.

I realize there is a lot we do not know about the next school year, but here is what I do know.

  • Teachers can expect to have students in need of remediation or reteaching. The transition to online learning in spring happened suddenly and without sufficient preparation. As a result, many students disengaged and missed out on the learning they would have experienced in a physical classroom.
  • Students may be struggling with fear, anxiety, and depression as a result of the events that have taken place in the last few months. Students may have lost loved ones to COVID19 and families may be struggling with economic insecurity because of the pandemic. In addition, the protests and growing awareness about racial injustice in this country are likely impacting our students’ lives.
  • Students have spent months socially distancing and feeling disconnected from their friends and their school community. Many may be missing the routines and interactions associated with their school days.

Given these realities, teachers will want to think about how to design their lessons to ensure they are able to remediate and differentiate, create time to connect with individual students, and foster communication and collaboration among students. The station rotation model offers an avenue to accomplish all of these goals.

Eliminating Movement Between Stations

In a traditional station rotation lesson, students physically move from one station to the next. However, this fall there will likely be new limitations on student movement in classrooms. Instead of designing a lesson where students move, they will remain in the same location throughout the class and work through a series of learning activities. The teacher, by contrast, will move to each group to facilitate the “teacher-led” station.

Setting Up Your Classroom for a Station Rotation in the Era of Social Distancing

Students may be asked to wear masks to school and remain six feet apart in classrooms. Although the recommendations have been to limit the number of students in a classroom at one time and place desks in rows, I worry that reverting back to rows may limit student interactions at a time when they are likely craving connection with peers. Students do not need to be physically close to engage in small group discussions or talk while completing collaborative tasks online. If we are limiting the number of students in a classroom, I would love to see teachers think about desk formations that would allow for social distancing without relegating students to rows.

Taking the Station Rotation Online

Teachers who enjoy planning station rotation lessons can use that same design to plan their online learning experiences for students. Teachers can combine online and offline learning activities in a virtual station rotation lesson and assign each group a virtual conferencing time to meet with you online for their “teacher-led station.” Below is a lesson template teachers are welcome to copy and use to create their virtual station rotation lessons.

As teachers think about and plan for the next school year, I encourage them to identify the strategies that worked well pre-COVID19. Then think about how they might modify those strategies to work in a socially distant classroom or online. With some modifications, many of the instructional models and learning activities that have become staples in our physical classrooms may be adapted for a socially distant classroom or an online course.

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