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Lessons From a Summer of Teaching in a Hybrid Classroom

When some students are in class and others are attending live online, teachers have unique challenges and opportunities.

August 11, 2020
Elementary student working on his laptop at home
Sidney de Almeida / Alamy Stock Photo

As schools have entered a new normal during the Covid-19 pandemic, the words “hybrid model” have become buzzwords in education. In the Estacada School District in Oregon where I teach, we have sought to better understand what a hybrid model looks like and how we can use it to best serve our students. This summer, we implemented a summer school program using the hybrid model to allow us to pilot this new way of teaching.

During this hybrid-model summer school, we learned several valuable things.

The Concept

For our district, the concept of a hybrid classroom involves some students coming to school in person and some students attending school via live-video technology, such as through Zoom. With the aid of Zoom, students who are online have the same access to the classroom as every student attending in person.

The hybrid classroom includes a large web camera and high-quality speakers that allow the students connecting via Zoom to have a good view of the classroom, to hear everything the teacher is saying, and to be able to respond to the teacher and other classmates. The room also has a large television screen where the students who were Zooming in have their video feeds appear. Every student, both at home and in person, has a Chromebook where they complete the majority of their classwork.

The Benefits

In the current climate, where staying healthy is on the forefront of everyone’s mind, the hybrid-model classroom allows students to connect with their teachers and peers while staying safe at home. In the summer school program implemented by my district, some students were unable to attend in person due to health conditions of the students or members of their households, and social distancing laws in the state limit the number of students in each classroom.

With the hybrid model, every student is able to get the same information presented by the teacher at the same time. Students are all given the same opportunity to participate in class discussions, to play whole-class games, and to participate in online-class activities. When I talked to a student about her experience in the hybrid class, she said, “It’s really cool to have so much technology in my classroom, and I love that I can talk to my best friend, even if she’s coming to school on Zoom instead of in person.”

Student Engagement

During the hybrid summer school program, one of the most exciting discoveries was that “kids Zooming in have been more engaged than in-person students,” said math teacher Maria Warren. One of my students shared that she was so happy to see her friends again after being stuck at home for so long that she was paying close attention to everything that was happening in class.

In the hybrid classroom, all students are working on the same activities on Chromebooks. Students respond to discussion prompts in real time, teachers can cold call on in-person students or students Zooming in, you can play online whole-class games such as Kahoot!, and students can have great discussions about things they are learning about in class through Zoom breakout rooms.

During a math game played during the hybrid summer school, students Zooming into the class were responding to questions faster and with more accuracy than many of the in-person students. My colleagues and I attributed a lot of this to these particular students having fewer distractions at home, although we know that won’t be the case for all learners.

Building Community

At the heart of every classroom is relationships. We all miss seeing our students as a result of in-person school closures during the pandemic, and we want to give our kids hugs because we miss them. “Air high fives are the way to go!” Warren tells her students. In a hybrid model, it can be a bit more challenging to build strong relationships between teachers and students; however, with intentionality and care, a hybrid classroom can become a warm, caring community of learners.

To build community in a hybrid classroom, it’s very important to emphasize the importance of class norms, maximize the opportunities students have to talk to one another, and do lots of classroom team-building activities at the beginning of the school year. Students in the hybrid summer school in our district were all a large group of friends laughing and calling out to the Zoom students smiling from the television screen.

Promoting Peer-to-Peer Discourse

Peer-to-peer discourse is an essential part of students learning to think critically and communicate their ideas in an effective way. In hybrid classrooms, one of the most powerful things that a teacher can do to promote this is by creating discourse groups where students work together to solve problems, complete work, and discuss their assignment or the literature they’re reading.

Through every student having their own Chromebook, the teacher can set up small groups of three to five students intermixed with in-person students and students Zooming in. This allows students to maintain relationships with their peers, as well as learn from them and practice valuable critical-thinking skills. Warren points out, “We have to think bigger than speaking as the main mode of collaboration, and we need to consider the benefits of typing collaboration.” With instant messaging and discussion boards, there are many wonderful opportunities for students to share ideas and work together to solve problems.

The Need for Innovation

With the pandemic, hybrid summer school principal Ben Hargrave says, “Schools have changed, and they’re not going back to normal anytime soon. We need to accept this change and make the best place possible for students to succeed.”

As we think about how to create the best possible experience for our students, teachers exploring hybrid classrooms will need to take risks, problem-solve, and try new things. Teachers will need to approach this work with patience and a growth mindset. The hybrid classroom provides a wonderful opportunity for teachers innovating to create a great environment for student learning.

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