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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41 Responses to Blending Online and Offline Learning: Exploring Hybrid Schedules

  1. Hellen Harvey says:

    Just wondering if there is a specific reason for the Wed. for planning and not Fri. One thing I wish for is a 4 day work week for the future. This plan could go towards such a shift in work schedules.

    • Hi Hellen,

      I believe schools are using that day for deep cleaning mid-week. Though I have seen schools select Friday and label it “virtual Friday.”

      Catlin

      • David Lapetino says:

        We are looking at similar schedules in my district, with Wednesday being an often-requested day for planning/outreach/interventions. One of the things that we identified rather quickly during Remote Learning 1.0 (with Monday being our planning/outreach/intervention day) was that waiting a week to “catch up” a student, you were often too late. With a Wednesday to do this, you can collect feedback from teachers about which students needed extra support/intervention and implement those supports earlier in the week (often before you shifted to a new topic/concept).

        • That makes a lot of sense, David! Thank you for speaking to the value of having that non-student day mid-week. I know I’ve heard schools talk about the need for a cleaning day too.

          Catlin

  2. Mark Rendell says:

    We haven’t seen our district plan yet, but a model I would suggest is an alternating Group A and Group B on alternating days. Group A would attend classes on Monday and Thursday, Group B would be online at home on those days. Group B would attend classes on Tuesday and Friday, Group A online at home on those days. Wednesday would be teacher planning with deep cleaning at school. This alternating model would cut the number of kids on buses, in class, in cafeteria by 50%. We could run the same bus routes, keep schedules the same, just with half of the kids on each live day. However, it would require different planning/preparation and delivery by teachers. It also presents childcare/supervision challenges for some families for the online days.

    • David Lapetino says:

      We’ve been looking at this model as well. From an instructional side, it’s superior to the A, A, B, B model, it’s inferior from the epidemiological side, since you would likely find out after the fact that you had exposed a large number of your student body/teaching staff to the virus with this on/off/on/off schedule. By clumping A,A, B, B, you have up to a 5 day block of time (including weekends) where you can find out that someone has Covid and prevent them from coming back to school and infecting everyone.

    • Kathy Mason says:

      This allows for deep cleaning twice a week, on Wednesday and on weekends. Alternating days requires additional cleaning after every class rotation.

  3. Kylie Negin says:

    The high school where I work decided to implement a block schedule and halve the number of classes students take. They will take three classes a quarter and complete a semesters’ worth of material in that quarter. All the teachers on the committee who helped plan this schedule decided we would definitely need to adjust what a “semesters’ worth” of material would be given the constraints of the pandemic and its effects on families and students. Our schedule options are very similar to the options you listed in this post. Each option, though, includes the same three 80 minute block periods from 7:50 am to noon, lunch for staff, a 45-minute Office Hours period for teachers to video conference with students who need help, and an hour prep period in the afternoon. Wednesdays are the district-wide day for teacher collaboration and prep, as well. The expectation would be that students are continuing to work on their courses during the days they are not physically in class. Here are our two options:

    Option 1: Divide the student population in four with each cohort attending school one day a week.
    Monday-Cohort A
    Tuesday-Cohort B
    Wednesday-No students
    Thursday-Cohort C
    Friday-Cohort D

    Option 2: Divide the student population in two with students attending class two days a week.
    Monday/Thursday-Cohort A
    Tuesday/Friday-Cohort B

    • Thank you for taking the time to share these proposed schedules, Kylie.

      I have heard of several schools rethinking their course timelines and opting for longer periods to cover more curriculum in a quarter or semester. I appreciate hearing about what your school is doing.

      Take care.
      Catlin

    • Debbie Higgins says:

      What criteria is used to divide students into Cohorts?

  4. Alyssa Tormala says:

    We are a high school (9-12) with over 1200 students. We’ve decided on a hybrid model similar to your second option:

    Monday = All Digital. 8-10 am is for teacher prep and meetings. All seven classes meet for short online classes from 10 to 2:30 pm that will focus on building context and community. This will be the only time in the week that the whole class can meet at the same time in the same “place” without masks or distancing measures.

    Tues-Fri= Block schedules. (Periods 1-4 on Tues/Thurs, Periods 5-7 plus Activity Period on Wed/Fri). Student body split into two cohorts (Green and Gold). Green will be on campus on Tues/Wed, Gold will be on campus Thurs/Fri.

    We will be “partially synchronous”–students will be required to attend all online classes on Mondays, and to sign in via Zoom to their classes on the block schedules when they are at home. Teachers will take attendance and do some kind of short opening activity with the whole class (e.g. Q&A, mini-lesson, context setting, formative assessment, assignment instructions, etc.) But after that, teachers may design the rest of the 80-minute period to include either simultaneous activities or self-paced work, or a combination of both.

    We looked at a TON of other schedules and models before settling on this. Every model has its challenges. We chose this one for several main reasons:

    1) Consistency/predictability. Students and families will be able to plan ahead for on-campus vs. off-campus time. Faculty will be able to plan ahead for lessons across a five-day week time-frame that is the same for all students.

    2) Fluidity. We will use this same schedule for both hybrid and fully at-home scenarios. This will create consistency for faculty planning and student workload regardless of whether we are on or off campus. We have a version of this for when we move back to fully on-campus mode as well.

    3) State guidelines re distancing and contact tracing.

    It’s been a long haul to get here! It was nice to see similar thoughts reflected in your post. 🙂

    • Hi Alyssa,

      Thank you for taking the time to share the details of your schedule! I appreciate the clear reasoning behind your choice of schedules. This is super helpful!

      Catlin

    • Sheryl says:

      That is an interesting schedule! Do you mind sharing what state/school district you are in? I’m on the planning committee for my district. Our first meeting is tomorrow.

    • Dianne DeChellis says:

      Do you have any visuals of your schedule? I would love to see it! I work at a middle school and we need ideas!

    • Hi Alyssa,
      I LOVE this model and have been trying to figure out if this was something we could do (we’re a middle school). I want to make sure I’m understanding correctly–while teachers are teaching to the “green” group, the gold group is logging in via Zoom to watch the class as it occurs? This will be mostly synchronous, it that the teacher is not checking the Zoom for questions and is focusing on in class students? Or is there a different curriculum they’re using from home?

    • Debbie Higgins says:

      What criteria is being used to divide students into cohorts?

  5. Joy says:

    Districts in my area are adhering to the governor’s reopening plans. Two of the districts are 100% online for grades 4-12 during the first quarter. PreK-3rd graders will be on an alternating schedule with 1/2 of those students on a Mon & Wed. schedule and the other 1/2 on Tues. and Thurs. This frees up all of the county’s buses to run routes with only Prek-3rd graders. That will follow a policy of 10 students/bus. Teachers will have Friday for virtual parent meetings, student one-one virtual assistance, professional development, and planning.

    I heard of another innovative idea for a district in NJ. All students attend online. However, all school buildings are open for those students who need a place to go while parents work. The building would be staffed with teachers, paras, resource teachers, etc. who would able to help. Students wouldn’t receive instruction in class but would be provided with computers, internet access, and a safe place to work,

  6. Patrick says:

    I am an administrator at a private Catholic HS. We have looked at many plans and we are looking at a rotating weekly schedule by grade level. By that I mean that all 9th grade will attend for a full week on campus and then they will go home and have distance learning for three weeks. After the 9th grade week on campus the 10th grade will have their full week on campus followed by three weeks of distance learning until the rotation comes back around. This schedule minimizes the students/teachers on campus and provides a built in quarantine of three weeks for when anyone tests positive and they will test positive —don’t kid yourself.

  7. Livia Chan says:

    Hi Catlin, I’m from British Columbia, Canada. We re-opened our elementary K-7 schools on June 1st for a month for families who chose to send their children. About a third of the children in our school of almost 500 students returned to in-person learning. Our schedule for K-5 looked like this: Cohort 1 attended Monday and Tuesday full days with staggered start/end times (8:45am – 2:45pm or 9:00am – 3:00pm), 4 staggered recess times, and 2 staggered lunchtimes with half the students who ate first while the other half played outside. We placed families with siblings in Cohort 1. Wednesday was our day to teach remotely, plan, and our non-instructional time (spares for the week). On Thursday and Friday, Cohort 2 would come to school. For our grade 6/7’s, they attended one day a week, either on Tuesday or Thursday. The expectation was that we continued with remote learning opportunities throughout the week. This schedule may help: https://brentwood.burnabyschools.ca/brentwood-park-school-schedules-for-june-2020/

    For our secondary schools, 8-12, they shortened the blocks in our semester schools to mornings only. Students were divided by last names and attended only on their assigned day. This schedule will give you a better sense: https://alpha.burnabyschools.ca/blog/2020/05/28/return-to-school-schedule-june-1st/

    I would be happy to speak with you about our experience if you are interested. Please feel free to reach out through the email I provided or DM me on Twitter @LiviaChanL.

    • This is wonderful, Livia! Thank you.

      I appreciate you taking the time to share your schedules and your willingness to connect. I just followed you on Twitter and will let you know if I have questions after exploring these links.

      My hope is that crowdsourcing schedules that are working will help other school leaders reimagine their school schedules if going back fully face-to-face isn’t an option.

      Take care,
      Catlin

  8. Erika N says:

    I am curious about schools that are doing the A/B schedules and staffing. If you have half the school on M, T and half on Th, F – your whole staff would be in person teaching that day. How or who is supporting the students when they are doing their online learning days?

    • Hi Erika,

      Schools are taking different approaches to this, but I believe many are designing the online learning days to be independent self-paced. In that scenario, the burden falls on the students and parents or guardians to ensure the learning happens at home. Other schools have talked about requiring online kids to video conference into live classes though I find that a challenging dynamic to imagine for all involved.

      Maybe others can chime in with their approaches to supporting the online learning time.

      Take care.
      Catlin

    • This is my biggest question too! I really wonder if students who are home could log on to those live classes. In theory, if that works, teachers could teach through most of the year’s standards. I’d love to have if there are any schools doing this successfully (or from any for whom it has been unsuccessful!).
      Thank you,
      Debbie

  9. Nancy Kemp says:

    We are a small high school with 700 students. We are staggering attendance based on last name the first weeks starting July 22 and continuing until Labor Day. I have no idea how to plan!

  10. Ashley says:

    Do you have suggestions on online pedagogy professional learning? And/or professional learning centered around how transition to a hybrid?

    • Hi Ashley,

      I use the Community of Inquiry theoretical framework to ground professional learning when I work with teachers who are transitioning to blended/online learning. It creates a structure to discuss teaching and learning online.

      Catlin

  11. Travis says:

    I fail to see how these hybrid plans provide any real safety. Are the kids avoiding contact out of school? What good are cohorts when the kids cross up at sports practice, church, scouts, carpools, daycare, etc. What if cleaning isn’t done properly? The teachers see all the kids so they’re a possible carrier between cohorts. Will kids really keep distancing and practice proper mask use? Seems like an illusion of safety. It’s patching half the holes in a leaking roof. Meanwhile the educational experience suffers.

  12. Mariesa says:

    Catlin, I am a principal for a small public charter school. What are your thoughts on a bell schedule for 100% virtual learning? Do you recommend class periods of 60 minutes or block scheduling for 1 hour and 30 minutes or 2 hours?

    • Hi Mariesa,

      I do not recommend trying to replicate the school day online in the sense that kids are online for “live” synchronous sessions for the length of traditional periods. That is a lot of time to be online, which is taxing on the learner. That said, some schools require students to check-in online at specific times on specified days for attendance purposes. The teacher may use that time to engage the whole group in a live lesson (e.g., instruction, modeling, homework review, Q&A, community building activity, etc.). Other times the teacher may provide a quick overview of the work for the day so that students can successfully navigate self-directed tasks after the check-in. This frees the teacher to host shorter small group sessions to differentiate instruction or host individual conferencing/personalized instruction sessions.

      I hope that helps. In general, I am a fan of block schedules over traditional schedules 🙂

      Take care.
      Catlin

  13. Can you offer some structures of entirely virtual blocks? Our site (Enochs High School in Modesto City Schools, Stanislaus County, California) is going from traditional 49 minute class periods to two 80 minute virtual blocks per week per class with Wednesdays as a flexible catch up/ meeting/ differentiation/ office hours day. Many of us veteran teachers are struggling with how to structure the 80 minutes (with a 30 minute requirement to be live with the students). We are also struggling with how much homework to assign if students are having 240 minutes of screen time in “class” as it is.

    • Hi Danette,

      In my work with teachers, we talk about blocking out the day, so they have time to dedicate to their various roles–designer, instructor, and facilitator.

      I’d dedicate a window of time each day to working with kids synchronously via video conferencing (whole group or small group) and save Wednesday for individual conferencing sessions to provide personalized instruction and support. I would not spend 80 minutes on a video call with kids as that is a long time for them to stay engaged online. I’d break the class into small groups and run shorter sessions with students (15-20 per) that use a range of strategies (e.g., discussion, guided practice, deep dives into complex texts/topics). I would also dedicate a window of time each day to providing feedback on student work.

      Some of the work kids are doing online will need to happen asynchronously, so I would not want to add additional homework to that as there won’t feel like much of a distinction for students. I think embracing a less is more mentality for both you and your students will be helpful in making this situation feel more manageable.

      Let me know if you have additional questions!
      Catlin

  14. Dominee Muller-Kmball says:

    Hello Caitlin!!

    I am the principal of two alternative schools- one that supports a K-12 independent study program and the other that supports 7-8 at risk population. I have read you latest book. I appreciate your last comment especially.
    1- What would a block schedule for a sixth or seven period day for the 7-8 school?
    2-Can you send me a list of successful/effective middle schools who have digital platforms?
    3-Is the online class that your daughter is enrolled in embedded in the master schedule or does she take the course outside of her regular school day?

    • Hi Dominee,

      A traditional block schedule (pre-COVID) is often composed of 90 minute periods. One day a week is an all period day. It is usually a Monday or Wednesday where students have shorter periods and see every teacher. Then the rest of the week is alternating A-B days. In our current situation, many schools are opting for a modified or hybrid schedule where students come for 2 days a week and learn online for 3 days as pictured in the second schedule in this post.

      When you say middle schools who use digital platforms, what specifically are you looking for? Do you mean learning management systems or digital curriculum?

      The math class she is taking is part of the master schedule. If she was on campus, she would go to a computer lab for that class.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  15. Debbie Higgins says:

    Our school district has discussed an AA/BB schedule with Wednesday set aside for cleaning. At this point, it has not been determined what criteria would be used to divide students into two cohorts. The two options I have heard are by last name OR by grade level. What is your opinion on this decision? Have you heard one option the majority of the time over the other or does it vary from district to district? Pros/Cons to each??

    • Hi Debbie,

      I have not heard a lot of chatter online about how schools are going about this to make it work. Master schedules are a complex puzzle. Hopefully, others can jump in to answer this question and share the strategies they are using.

      Catlin

  16. Dena St. Amour says:

    How are people scheduling their Unified Arts (music, art, PE, Library) with a hybrid scheduled?

  17. Stacy E says:

    Our hybrid plan is that we would see students one day a week, so students would be distance learning the other four days. (Everyone will have DL on Fridays.) I’m having a hard time conceptualizing how to make this one day/week meaningful. Will this be a day that I do a lot of formative/summative stuff?

    • Hi Stacy,

      One day a week is not a lot of time with kids. I would reserve this time for high-value interactions…differentiated/personalized instruction, real-time feedback sessions, formative assessment, etc.

      I would suggest assigning “pre-class work” to be completed prior to your face-to-face class. I’d use that online work to transfer information (videos, podcasts, readings) and encourage student to engage with each other asynchronously (online discussions and collaborative group work using Google Suite or another collaboration suite). That way they come into class with some information or work already complete that you can build on.

      Then as you wrap up your face-to-face class, have “next steps” or a “post-class work” to end the week. This could be an activity or activities that get them building on the work you did in class.

      Catlin

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