Teachers all over the country are being asked to teach “concurrent classrooms” in which some students attend class in person and others attend virtually. The teacher in a concurrent classroom attempts to meet the needs of the students in class and online simultaneously. This is the most challenging scenario I can imagine in our current situation.

Several teachers have reached out asking for advice. I wish there was research I could point to or a collection of best practices that I could share. Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of information on this topic in the context of K-12 education. In an attempt to support teachers in this situation, I’ve been reflecting on how I would approach design, instruction, and facilitation in a concurrent classroom.

It is helpful to begin by identifying the benefits of an in-class experience as compared to an online experience. In-class, students have easy access to the teacher and each other. There are more opportunities for social learning and human interaction. Online, students have a higher degree of agency, autonomy, and flexibility, but they may feel isolated or disconnected.

As architects of learning experiences, teachers should focus on providing that human connection to students working remotely. The students online need to feel like they are part of the class community even though they are not sharing a physical space. Conversely, teachers will have more success engaging students attending class in person if they build more agency, autonomy, and flexibility into their lessons.

As I wrap my mind around the complexities of the concurrent classroom, I believe blended learning models can make this challenging situation more manageable. Below I will explore three blended learning models–the station rotation model, the flipped learning model, and the playlist model. I’ll review the benefits of each model and explain how I would use these models to teach a class with students attending both online and in person.

#1 Station Rotation Model

The station rotation model does what the name suggests. There are a series of stations–or learning activities–and students rotate through them. Given current restrictions on movement and supply sharing in classrooms, students will not physically move but rather progress through a series of learning activities–a) teacher-led station, b) online station, and c) offline station–in the same physical location.

Benefits of the station rotation model:

  • Create smaller learning communities within the larger class.
  • Spend time working directly with small groups of students.
  • Differentiate learning (e.g., instruction, scaffolds, practice, assignments).
  • Balance online and offline work to give students a break from the screen.

Tips for using the station rotation model in a concurrent classroom:

  • “Rotate” or transition groups of students from activity to activity on a set schedule.
  • Have “may do” activities ready for students who pace more quickly through their work.
  • Host an offline teacher-led station for the in-class groups and an online teacher-led station for online groups using video conferencing software.
  • Record video directions for each station to reduce questions and confusion.
  • Create a pathway for online students to ask questions as they work (e.g., Remind or ClassroomQ).
  • Prepare your station rotation lesson (e.g., learning objectives, directions, links, and resources) so that all parts of the lesson are easily accessible by students both in class and online.
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#2 Flipped Learning Model

Flipping instruction with video is a great way to avoid spending our synchronous time–in class or online–talking at kids. If teachers shift explanations, instruction, and modeling online with video, they have more time to interact with and support learners. I encourage teachers to consider organizing their flipped learning lessons into three distinct parts–a) pre-video activity, b) video, and c) post-video activity. For more detail on this three-part approach to designing a flipped lesson, you can read this blog.

Benefits of the flipped learning model:

  • Students control the pace at which they consume and process information.
  • Students and families have 24/7 access to video instruction online.
  • Teachers do not have to spend time repeating the same information over and over.
  • Video provides on-demand instruction and frees the teacher to move around the room working directly with individual students or groups of students.

Tips for using a three-part flipped lesson in a concurrent classroom:

  • Begin class with the pre-video activity and create groups that are a mix of both online and offline students enabling them to work collaboratively using video conferencing software.
  • Allow students to self-pace through the instructional video.
  • Engage students around the video content using online discussions (e.g., video-based with FlipGrid or text-based with your learning management system). This makes it possible for students to continue learning from one another regardless of their physical location.
  • Encourage students to practice and apply during the class period so they can ask for help if they get stuck or need support.
    • Create a pathway for online students to ask questions as they work (e.g., Remind or ClassroomQ).
  • Provide individual or small group support (in person or online) as the class works on the practice and apply activity or use this time to conference with individual students.

#3 Playlist Model or Individual Rotation Model

The playlist model presents learners with a sequence of learning activities that they can self-pace through. Teachers can create a playlist around a unit of study, a formal writing assignment, or a project. Playlists integrate different types of media and learning modalities to keep students engaged while freeing the teacher to work with individual learners. For more on playlists, check out this blog.

Benefits of the playlist model:

  • Shifts control over the pace of learning to students.
  • Paths can be differentiated or personalized. 
  • Creates clarity about the trajectory of work.
  • Mixes media and learning modalities. 
  • Affords the teacher time to conference with students.
  • Pulls feedback and assessment into the classroom or synchronous virtual sessions.

Tips for using the playlist model in a concurrent classroom:

  • Allow students to work independently or strategically pair your online and offline students to create a support network as they work.
    • If you strategically pair students, create a digital space (e.g., Google Document) where they can connect to chat if they have questions or need support.
  • Meet with online students for “teacher check-ins” using video conferencing software.
  • Post a “may do” list for students to work on if they are waiting for their teacher check-in.
  • Create a pathway for all students to let you know when they have hit a “teacher check-in” and need to conference with you (e.g., Remind or ClassroomQ).

Teaching a concurrent classroom is a daunting task. I am hopeful that strategies and best practices for K-12 will blossom out of this challenging school year as teachers experiment, reflect, create, and share.

As the new school year begins, teachers must be gentle with themselves. We don’t need to be experts. We don’t need to pretend that we have this all figured out. We need to be vulnerable and honest with our students and remind them that we are learning right alongside them.

Need support getting started with blended learning or online learning? Check out my self-paced online course.

50 Responses

  1. Catlin, I can’t thank you enough for spending your time and energy to try to wrap your brain around this model! Being one of the teachers that has been asking the ‘gurus’ what can this look like done well, it’s really been crickets! LOL This is great food for thought and I’ll be sharing this far and wide to all the teachers I support! Thanks for all you do!

    • You’re welcome, Lynn! It took me some time to get my head around this. It is such a tough situation. I’m so glad this was helpful. Thank you for sharing this with the teachers you support.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. As we open school year 2020-2021 (Philippines), these different designs for each type of learning is a great help for us teachers, most especially that we are new to this kind of set-up.

    Again, thank you!

  3. Station rotation with a flipped model is exactly how I’ve been helping teachers design and manage concurrent classrooms. I hadn’t thought about the playlist model though. I love this idea!

  4. The problem with the flipped classroom is that teachers do have to make these instructional videos that save synchronous time at some point in the day. The prep work is daunting and gives me anxiety because I know that teachers need to set boundaries in order to take care of themselves mentally and physically. I feel stuck “between a rock and a hard place.” I know that meeting these demands means that I will ultimately give up sleep, meals or daily exercise. I know that I should put my foot down and say no because the more we keep doing above and beyond the more it becomes expected. At the end of the day, I know deep down in my heart that I won’t put my foot down because I also want to do what’s best for kids.

    • I know it seems daunting. Making instructional videos is very time consuming. However, instead of creating videos right now try finding videos others have already created. Then later when you are more comfortable with flipping you may also feel more confident in creating your own instructional videos.

      • Another option would be to divide the work in your department team! I trust my sixth-grade core team enough to come up with videos that they are able to share with the entire group. If you are comfortable with your colleagues, ask them during a meeting to start dividing up the work it takes to create videos.
        And of course, as Ashley said, you should be able to find a mass of videos that have already been created!

      • The searching for videos others have created may also be just as time consuming. If you take the mind set that it is okay if your short (2 to 3 minute or less) instructional videos are okay if they are not perfect, then you should be fine. (I am working on tightening up my videos so they are even shorter, I also do not edit, no time for that) A student can re-watch a video as many times as they need to in order to ‘get it’. Then when they get their job done they can turn it in to you. While your students are doing their ‘independent’ work, while watching your asynchronous videos and doing the job that goes along with it, you can be providing differentiated and individualized instruction to students that need it. I am a Kindergarten teacher and had to move past the fear of recording myself in order to teach my students. Here is a short video that is an example of what I will utilize for my students once they return to class, it is not perfect, but I believe this is something that will work for my students in my classroom https://youtu.be/UtiXBk7NLu8 . Also, I am only working 40 hours a week this year, sticking to my contracted hours. During the spring I overworked myself and wanted to leave the profession that love. If I can not get it in to my contracted hours, then I walk away knowing that it will be there for me the next day. I don’t know if this will help, I hope it does.

        • In our district, we have been using pre-recorded videos of us teaching lessons and placing them on Google Classroom for the students. Now, our state department says that they want us doing live instruction via Google Meet, Zoom, etc. 5 days a week and teach the in-class students as well. How? I am on Fall Break and spending it searching for ways to do it.

        • Are you part of the 40 hour work week cohort? This is my first year teaching (great year to start, right?) and I have been tracking my hours trying to learn that balance between life and work. My kids at home need me, too! Thanks for sharing about your overworking! It’s so hard not to, when there is sooo much to do!

    • I agree- self care and downtime always goes away. I can’t be expected to do all this on my own time constantly , late at night and weekends. It’s not healthy.

  5. Thank you for the ideas. These are things I will actually USE in my classroom. Some I have used (playlists) and some I used but now know how to improve. The PPT on Station Rotations is invaluable! I’ve tried this but did not have success. I love the idea of the groups meeting online but not all at the same time.

  6. I love your articles and ideas, so unique and very practical and helpful. While lots of teachers are challenged to think and come up with methods and ideas that work and are productive, your articles show the way. Thank you so much.

  7. Oh my gosh! Thank you for helping make sense of this whole thing. You are the first person who has actually helped me . I feel a. Little better as I prepare to start this next week!

  8. Thank you for this article Catlin. Great summaries of the models and ideas to implement in a new K-12 teaching & learning model. We will be sharing this with teachers in Westford, Massachusetts.

  9. I love your ideas. I hope to try them out with my students as I’m asked to run concurrent classrooms with my undergraduate students. I’m not too sure how to execute the first (#1 Station Rotation Model) and the third suggestion (#3 Playlist Model or Individual Rotation Model). Do you by any chance know of any resources (say youtube) that can help illuminate me 🙂 Thank you and God bless you!

  10. Thank you for the ideas. I am struggling because our middle school is not 1:1, so we will pretty much need to have a digital version of work for the at home kids, and a paper version for the in person kids. I am trying to wrap my mind around how to make this all work.

    • Jennifer– my teachers are in the exact same situation and we’re trying to determine how to handle this as well; as a coach, it’s been hard to find ways to support them with that added complication. I love the ideas in this post but not having the 1:1 devices onsite is having an impact for us, too.

      Caitlin– Thank you so much for this resource– as you say, it’s been a challenge to find research for K-12 on blended learning, so this was such a breath of fresh air! Do you happen to have any insights, or can point us toward some other information on how to manage this model without 1:1 classroom setting?

      • Hi Amy,

        I would review the section on the Station Rotation Model since that blended learning model does not require 1:1. I encourage teachers to design Station Rotation lessons where students rotate between online and offline learning activities so that model would be doable in a classroom with fewer devices than students.

        Catlin

    • I would suggest printing the paper version to PDF, then using the Kami extension for Google Chrome, which allows students to write on PDFs.

  11. Thank you for this great article Catlin, I wanted to ask you if you had unlimited resources and complete freedom to do whatever you wanted. What would your perfect blended learning classroom look like?

    • That’s a big question, Drew. My ideal blended learning classroom would be a flexible space meaning that students could arrange the furniture to aid the learning happening. I would have “learning zones” to support different types of learning activities (e.g., individual quiet, collaborative with chatter). I would want a block schedule that rotated students between synchronous in-class work and asynchronous work in different spaces on campus. The asynchronous work be “flex-periods” where students were able to have complete agency over their work. They could work on their own in a library, in groups in collaborative spaces, or work with me if they need personalize instruction or support. Obviously, our current restrictions around “seat time” would need to be re-evaluated. I would also love to work with a team of teachers where we design interdisciplinary learning experiences that were grounded in PBL so that students can see the intersection between subject areas. I would use a variety of blended learning models in this dream scenario 🙂

      Catlin

  12. I’m wondering if anyone has tried this K-1? Or has an early childhood perspective? I’m struggling with this type of teaching with young kids with few independent skills who cannot read. I can’t see how a concurrent model can work.

  13. In a 48 minute period, how would you set up the stations? 4 stations over 2 days? And, how would you run both an offline teacher led station for in class kids and one for at home kids?

    • Hi Jaime,

      I would do a multi-day rotation with four stations over two days with ~20 min per station. If you want to run a teacher-led station with both in-class and online, you could have your in-class students on a video conference call (while in the room with you) so you can connect with them and your online kids for that teacher-led station. Alternatively, you can have an online group of students and when it is their time for the teacher-led station, you work on a video conference with them, and the students in-class would work on their other stations.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  14. These are all great ideas. I am wondering how you would deal with student privacy in the classroom while streaming live to remote students. We have no idea who else is watching with the remote student.
    Thanks

  15. Thank you for these recommendations… much appreciated for our current challenges! Would you have any suggestions for how any or some of these models might work well with concurrent synchronous teaching *and* asynchronous? Our district is requiring us to teach virtual/in-person synchronous while also providing asynchronous lessons for students preferring that mode of learning.

    • Hi Laura,

      In this post, I highlight the ways that teachers can specifically use the station rotation model, flipped learning model, and the playlist model to teach in a concurrent classroom. Those are the ones I’d recommend starting with. If you are particularly comfortable with a specific model, I’d suggest starting with that one.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  16. How would you work with kids in class during a teacher led station under current conditions? Or would you just recommend designing the stations so that the online kids would do the teacher led station via Zoom or a similar platform?

    • Hi Jaime,

      Yes, the teachers I’m coaching using this model are finding it easier to have the online group together so they can offer the “teacher-led” for that group on Zoom. Mixed groups of in-class and online students are a little trickier to manage since the in-class kids also have to join the Zoom call, but I’ve been experimenting with that as an option for differentiating instruction for groups with different needs.

      Catlin

  17. Thank you for this blog post. I would like to reference it in an upcoming breakout session I’m hosting for a regional conference. Is that possible if full credit is given to you?

    • Hi Julie,

      When I work with lower elementary teachers, I have seen them have the most luck using the station rotation model. They plan what is essentially a virtual station rotation. I have included a link to the template below. Then they break the class into three groups and student rotate through stations, or learning activities, so that the teachers can work synchronously with small groups. Most of my elementary teachers are choosing to make their students in-class a group (or groups) and their online students a group (or groups) instead of mixing them. I’ve also found that video directions explaining the offline and online stations, or learning activities, helps to reduce the number of questions teachers are fielding in a concurrent classroom.

      https://docs.google.com/document/d/1aePHKTUyYhLqtOEuUOdg-Th7AvZNa650ukHKVcJ76xE/edit

      Take care.
      Catlin

  18. This was a very helpful article to get a base for me. Do you have any tips on concurrent teaching yet the kids in school will not have devices. I currently have two alternating cohorts and full virtual in the same class and we are not a 1-1 district so we cannot use devices in the classroom, yet have to teach the full virtual and hybrid cohorts at the same time in two weeks when we return. Do you have any suggestions ? Thank you

    • Hi Melanie,

      Do you have enough devices for a single station? If you had a teacher-led (offline for the in-class group), an online station, and an offline station then you would not need to be 1:1 to make this work. In fact, part of the station rotation model is the fact that teachers do not need a device for every student to use this model.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  19. Thank you, Dr. Tucker, for sharing your insights, resources, and expertise. This was very helpful in aiding my integration of this daunting and here-to-stay educational trend.

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