4 Ways to Refresh Your Hybrid Classroom This Fall

Jillian Mendoza

We know virtual instruction was tough on everyone the past year and a half, and many schools are quickly returning to hybrid instruction as the new school year starts. While many educators were in self-preservation mode with the first round of school closures, many are looking to start fresh this year and reflecting on what didn’t work last year.

Now is the perfect time to start fresh with your students and remove anything that didn’t work last year! Here are 4 strategies you can try this fall to help reset your hybrid teaching toolkit:

Differentiate online sessions

As adults, we like being given options and students do too. In a hybrid setting, you have likely found that direct instruction and whole-class tasks are challenging in terms of keeping everyone engaged and on task.

Choose 2-3 ‘levels’ of achievement for the same activity, where each level begins with the same practice problem but are guided to three levels of expected outcomes. For example, when solving for the area of triangles, create 3 options for students outcomes:

  • MVP: Annotate each problem and solve for the area of the triangles.

  • All-Stars: Solve for the area of each triangle and write a word problem to go with two of the triangles.

  • Ballers: Show two strategies for solving each triangle.

One problem can be differentiated for students. Is this student an MVP, All-Star, or Baller?

Notice that the levels don’t necessarily reveal to students which are easier or harder, they are simply different. Each level allows students to practice finding area while focusing on different aspects of that problem solving process. Choosing fun names for your levels fosters student buy-in.

If you find students aren’t placing themselves at the appropriate level, feel free to discuss with students privately and encourage them to select a different activity. Most of the time students will place themselves appropriately and when they choose a level that proves to be too challenging, it can still be a great learning moment for them too.

Online sessions don’t cover new content, focus on discussions

Many teachers feel pressure to keep the same pacing calendar in a hybrid class as they would in an in-person setting. The added cognitive load of learning new concepts online, may inhibit or frustrate learners. Instead, it may be best for everyone to reserve online sessions to discuss topics that have already been covered..

Try introducing new topics in person with bite-sized pieces of direct instruction based on students’ ages and attention spans. Use your online sessions to have discussions about what was covered in class.

You may also spend time online exploring error analysis, “My Favorite No”, or debate a problem you covered previously during in-person activities. For any discussion activity online, provide sentence starters for students and use a talking stick to help involve everyone remain active in the discussion. We think students feel more comfortable participating online if we are asking for their thoughts and opinions, instead of whether their work is correct or incorrect which can lead to a feeling of judgement.

End your in-person sessions with something students create that sets up success in the next online session

Students feel confident when they see a direct connection from their in-person lessons to remote lessons.

When covering new content in-person, we still want to set our students up for success in our online sessions. We recommend using the last 3-5 minutes of class to allow students to create something that will serve as a tool during your next online session. For example, students may create a post-it flipbook with 3 examples of multiplying fractions. Or, students cut out a paper ruler to use for practicing measurement in your next online session.

Anything students create for themselves will help them take ownership of their own learning. It provides students comfort knowing they have useful tools at home that they can rely on to support whatever online activities you have planned.

Online celebrations, big or small

Perhaps you were one of the majority of teachers who felt attendance and general participation was sluggish online last year. Students should be allowed to have an off-day here and there (don’t we all have those days?), but we can leverage students’ interests to help them to show up to online sessions and be active in class discussions.

When you see students in person, get them hyped up for something happening in an upcoming online class. Maybe you have a rap-off (who can say the most lines of a [school appropriate] popular song?) or you designate a ‘couch day’ and have everyone join from their couch. Try doing a show and tell day where students show off something they are proud of at different times throughout the online lesson (prompting them to stay logged in until it is their turn). Or what about pajama day, snack day, or have a ‘field trip’ day where students choose a unique spot to log in from?

How many younger siblings have you met when students work from the couch?

All of these ideas are accessible to students without alienating anyone for their home situation or learning environment. If you have individual students who struggle with motivation to join online sessions, speak to them in person and try giving them a special role to have online. Letting them know their participation is valued and you rely on them for something special might help them feel like you really care about them being present in your class.

The good thing about teaching is that students’ memories are forgiving and we can drop any teaching practices from last year that are no longer serving us. We wish every teacher a wonderful back to school experience and would love to hear from you if you have any other strategies that make hybrid instruction a success!

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