Who knew what the fall would bring upon our return to the classroom. Teachers are working harder than even creating content and rethinking their traditional teaching practices to meet the needs of the diverse learners in our classrooms.
Every school has a different model for learning during the pandemic – there is no one model that works for all. Whether you are fully remote, hybrid, synchronous or asynchronous, each pandemic school plan has its strengths and weaknesses. As teachers, we do not get to select the teaching model but are left to our own devices to plan, create, design, and execute active learner centered curricula that supports the diverse learners.
I am currently teaching in a hybrid synchronous school. I see my students with the last names A-L Monday and Thursday and students with the last names M-Z on Tuesday and Friday. On Wednesday all students are fully remote. Although my M-Z students are not in the classroom on Mondays and Thursdays, they are required to log in to my Google Meet during our class period to participate in the lesson. I am technically teaching to in-person learners and at home learners at the same time.
Julie Mason recently wrote in an article for We Are Teachers, “By design, hybrid learning is meant to combine the best parts of face-to-face learning and online learning to maximize students’ learning experience and potential. Asking teachers to take one curriculum and teach half of it online and half of it in person at the same time does just the opposite of that. It’s like putting a square peg into a round hole: it doesn’t make fit no matter how hard you try.”
Now there is a lot of criticism of the hybrid synchronous model and teachers are working harder now more than ever, myself included. At the same time this is a opportunity for me to look closely at the curriculum and teaching materials to assess and reflect on what are the best tools, strategies and teaching methods that will help engage students so they can learn deeply.
So here are some hacks that I have put in place to help both the unperson learners and at home learners build their literacy skills, while at the same time learn some new skill sets and utilize technology in innovative ways.
Keep it Simple – I am talking about assignments as well as Google Classroom. I want my classroom to be accessible to all students. I post a daily agenda so that students know what to expect each class. That students can see whether they are in class or working from home.
Simplicity goes for Google Classroom as well. Everything is clearly labelled and easy to find on my Google Classroom pages. I limit the announcements so that students are not bombarded with messages and have important documents accessible. For example, every day I begin with a Read Aloud and I have been keeping a running list of the titles, authors, and guiding question for students to refer back to if needed.
Provide Choice and Implement Universal Design Learning – Every unit my students are given choices. Choices in the books they read, the activities they complete and even their assessments. I create choice boards and learning menus to help my students choose the activities that they feel confident in showing me their understanding and learning. The social justice menu is the most current choice board that students are working on as they read books with social justice themes.
UDL focuses on representation, engagement, and the actions and expression of learning. When teachers design with Universal Design Learning in mind, differentiation and accommodations for all learners are already built into the curriculum. The goal is for all students to knowledgable and motivated who evolve into expert learners. This is where assistive technology also plays a role to make learning accessible to all.
We want our students to become empowered learners and practice digital citizenship so they can be creative communicators, knowledge constructors and global citizens. Teachers and students are currently Utilizing technology tools and platforms to customize their learning. Whether that includes utilizing a font like OpenDyslexic Font for Chrome to increase readability for readers with dyslexia or Texthelp’s Read&Write Tool Bar to provide visual and audio supports for learners.
My favorite new tool is Mote: Voice Notes & Feedback. This tools allows me to send students voice notes and feedback on their writing – especially when I am reading and responding to 96 papers in a weekend. I can leave a message in response to their work rather than type out comments and questions. Mote works with Google Docs, Slides and Sheets, as well as Google Classroom.
Lastly, check in regularly. Whether it is a daily meme check in or a Google Form, check in with your students to see how they are doing and how learning is going for them. This is a difficult time for many. Anxiety levels are up and the stress of working from home can have an impact on our students. When we check in and ask how are things going, empathy is so important now.
So what are the things that are going well for you and helping teaching in a hybrid model or synchronously? Share your roses and thorns when it comes to remote learning and hybrid teaching in the comment section below.