Planning for Reality

For many local schools, the start of the school year is a week or two away. As the pandemic schedules are becoming more of a reality, I’m receiving many emails from panicked friends, colleagues and former students who are asking “How do I do this?” For some, they’re facing class schedules where students are alternating between remote and face-to-face instruction on different days. For example, one local district has broken the student body into an A group and a B group. The A group attends face-to-face classes on Mondays and Tuesdays while the B group participates in asynchronous instruction during those days. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the groups flip. Group B attends face-to-face classes while Group A participates in asynchronous instruction. On Fridays, students in both groups attend synchronous sessions remotely.

Administratively, this may seem like an ideal way to provide similar experiences to students while being mindful of social distancing protocols. From an instructional perspective, however, this can present enormous planning challenges. One teacher I spoke to compared it to creating two independent classes for each period during her school day. As I’ve considered how I’d navigate these challenges as teacher in that district, I thought it would be great to share some ideas here.

Identify “bookend” experiences. You’re right. I made up that term. But as I thought about how I’d plan for a non-traditional hybrid model like this, I’d want to identify experiences that could act differently for students depending on where they were in the learning cycle. For some students, the experience would set the stage for learning. For others, that same experience would act as the closure. That way, I could schedule the same experiences for both groups of students and could avoid planning double.

Let me provide an example. Let’s say I was teaching two-dimensional motion to high school physics students. One of the classic teaching examples is dropping a bullet while simultaneously shooting one horizontally. When I used to teach this topic, I’d show a demonstration which would set the stage for our classroom discussion. Teaching this concept in the non-traditional hybrid model, I’d create a demonstration video for students to watch and provide several questions for students to answer. For the students who navigate the asynchronous modules first, the video and questions would set the stage for our discussion in class, similar to how I’d traditionally teach the content. For the students who navigate the asynchronous modules a few days later, however, the same video and questions would act as a formative assessment of the material they learned a few days earlier. It would be the same experience but would “open” or “close” the learning for different students. Hence, the “bookend” terminology.

Build shared artifacts across groups. Maybe I’m being optimistic, but I feel like things are going to go back to normal at some point this school year. For our K-12 schools, that means transitioning these split hybrid classes back into a single holistic environment. We can prepare for that transition now by avoiding seeing the groups of students as being discrete and independent of one another. We can create opportunities to share learning artifacts across groups. For example, a group A student could be paired with a group B student and act as “virtual notebook buddies.” The pair would both contribute to a shared notebook in Google Docs or Office 365. This would be great for science labs or for multiple-day activities that span both group’s face-to-face days. It would also help to build community for the day (hopefully) when the two groups of students are combined into one face-to-face class.

Provide structure. Like most online learning, these hybrid models create a “transactional distance” that needs to navigated. Let me explain. Developed by Dr. Michael Moore in the 1970s, transactional distance theory sees online learning as “a psychological and communication space to be crossed, a space of potential misunderstanding between the inputs of instructor and those of the learner” (Moore, 1993). To close the transactional distance, teachers need to provide clear communication and a lot of structure. Considering the phases of online and face-to-face learning trough which students will cycle, teachers will need to provide supports to help their students self-regulate and stay on track. Think online checklists, rubrics and calendars.

Talking to different teachers from many different schools, it seems like there are a variety pandemic schedules that are being adopted. While the ideas I’ve shared may not be suitable for all of the pandemic schedule, it may provide a starting point for all of those teachers who are planning for the start of a school year unlike any other. Good luck.

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