“I wish I could just focus on one group of students at a time.” This is a sentiment I’ve heard repeatedly from teachers navigating the demands of the concurrent classroom. As I’ve said in previous blog posts, teaching in a concurrent classroom is the most challenging teaching assignment I can imagine. Many of the teachers in my life who are teaching two groups of students simultaneously–one group in the classroom and one group online–are exhausted, frustrated, and not feeling particularly effective.
Teachers who have traditionally planned a whole group lesson that moves the class, as a unit, through a series of learning activities find it nearly impossible to hold their students’ attention in the concurrent classroom. Despite their best efforts, teachers feel like they cannot be successful in teaching and reaching all students. This has frightening ramifications when it comes to teacher engagement, job satisfaction, and feelings of self-efficacy. I worry that without more support teachers in this challenging position may decide to leave this profession.
So, how do teachers design lessons for the concurrent classroom that allow them to focus on one set of learners at a time? How can teachers design lessons that are not so time-intensive that they are up late every evening working on them?
One possible approach is what I call “the flip flop.” Essentially, this is a two-station rotation. I’ve used this simplified station rotation to onboard new teachers to this model and provide special education teachers working with a small group of 4-6 learners a strategy for using the station rotation model. One station is teacher-led, and the other station is an online station. The goal is to allow teachers to work with one group while allowing the other group to control the pace at which they progress through the online station.
When working with teachers to design lessons for this moment, we start by identifying the target standard that is the focus of the lesson and craft a clear learning objective that can be shared with students.
Then we design a welcome task. Beginning every class with a welcome task is critical. It eliminates wasted minutes at the start of the lesson when teachers welcome the online students into the virtual classroom, handle administrative tasks, and troubleshoot technology hiccups.
I encourage teachers to use a welcome task consistently and vary the types of activities they ask students to complete. Below are a collection of strategies teachers can use to begin class, so they are free to welcome online students, take attendance, and ease into the lesson.
|Bell Ringer||Retrieval practice|
|Spark Activity||Encourage inquiry|
Pique interest in a topic
Present a creative writing prompt
|Goal Setting||Set an academic, personal, or behavioral goal for the week|
Reflect on the actions/behaviors needed to reach that goal
|Feedback Form||Ask students to provide feedback.|
–What are they struggling with?
–What questions or suggestions do they have?
|Connect & Reflect||Encourage students to make connections between the curriculum and their lives|
Challenge students to orient new learning in a larger context
|Self-assessment Activity||Ask students to evaluate a piece of work|
Provide a simple rubric to guide self-assessment
Support self-evaluation scores with short written reflection
|Formative Assessment||Use a writing prompt or quiz to collect quick informal data to evaluate what students understand from the previous day’s lesson|
As with any new routine, a welcome task will take some practice before students automatically enter the class–in person or online–and get right to work on the task. Consistency is key.
After the time allocated for the welcome task (~10-15 minutes) is complete, the teacher pulls the in-class and online students together to provide a preview of the lesson. This is the moment in the lesson when all students will be simultaneously watching and listening to the teacher. If that feels like too much to juggle, teachers can pre-record the lesson preview and make it available for students online to watch.
The bulk of the lesson is dedicated to the flip flop or two-station rotation. The goal is to allow the teacher to focus on one group–in class or online–at a time. The teacher can use the teacher-led station for various tasks, including differentiated instruction, real-time feedback, interactive modeling sessions, or guided practice and application.
Similarly, the teacher can use the online station for a variety of activities, including practice with adaptive software, video lessons, online research and exploration, collaboration on shared tasks using the Google Suite, or online discussions about texts, topics, and issues using FlipGrid or the discussion functionality in their LMS.
Teachers who have limited technology in the classroom may want to design an offline station instead of an online station. Students can do pen and paper practice, read and annotate, compose a piece of writing, work on an art project, create a flowchart or concept map, or tinker to learn.
I suggest teachers work with the online group first. When they finish working with the online group, they can release them to work on the other station task asynchronously. This allows the online students to control the time, place, and pace of their progress through that second station. It also frees the teacher from feeling like they need to “monitor” the online students while working with the group in class. Instead, they can focus their energy on the students in the classroom. I suggest that teachers record a short video or screencast reviewing the directions for the second station to reduce questions and confusion as students work through that second station on their own.
Finally, I would encourage teachers to end their lessons with an exit ticket activity. Teachers can create a simple Google Form to collect quick formative assessment data and create an avenue for students to ask questions or request help.
Below is a lesson template I created to support teachers planning a flip flop lesson for their concurrent classrooms.
I also encourage teachers to consider the value of creating an interactive agenda using Google Slides so that students have access to all of the resources and directions in one place.
This simple lesson design works well in an online class or entirely in person as well. Teachers who use it and find it helpful now in meeting the demands of the concurrent classroom will have another lesson structure to lean on when all students return to school.
Note: I’ve grappled with whether or not to write about the concurrent classroom. I’m torn because I do not want my blog posts to be interpreted as an endorsement of this approach. Unfortunately, an increasing number of teachers are navigating this challenging teaching assignment. My goal in writing these blogs and sharing resources is to support teachers in developing a higher level of confidence in meeting the demands of this moment.