As I’m writing this, I’m wrapping up my second week of hybrid teaching. For me, that means that I have about half of my class in-person and half of my students online at the same time. It has not been easy. I am no expert in hybrid teaching. In no situation would this be my top choice for a teaching model. Yet, I am somehow getting by, slowly building relationships with students, and I seem to crying less than my colleagues. So, I figured I’ll share with you what is working for me. This post will cover three tips for making the most of hybrid teaching (and a crucial bonus tip!).
My Hybrid Teaching Situation
Before I start diving into tips and strategies, I want to share how my school is doing hybrid learning. I know the hybrid model may look different between buildings and districts.
I run my classroom online. Nothing is projected. There is no pen or paper. No packets or books were sent home.
I’m lucky in that my school has invested a lot in online programs to help make things a little easier for us in terms of planning.
When my class starts, all of my students–in-person and online–jump on to a class Google Meet. Class happens in this Meet.
(We use Google Meet to bypass some of the security issues with Zoom, but mostly we use Google Meet because it’s free and integrates with Google Classroom Suites.)
If I’m sharing a slideshow, a video, or an agenda with my class, I screen share through Google Meet. My students talk to me and ask questions through the Meet.
Basically, I’m teaching 100% virtually, except half of my class happens to be in the classroom with me.
As with all teaching, preparation is key.
Hybrid Teaching Tip #1: Create a Resource Hub
Over the summer, I started creating a resource hub, and I’m so glad I did!
I knew students were going to ask me how to log into the endless number of online platforms we use over and over again.
I knew they would ask me every day what was due, what they missed, and what they should be working on.
Even though the teaching model is different, our kids are still the same.
So, in anticipation of these repetitive and time-consuming questions, I created a Google Site to house all of this information in one place for my students. I chose Google Sites because we happen to be a Google-happy district, but use whatever you have.
Google Sites are free and easy to customize, so I do recommend it. You could, however, use any free website platform. You could even, theoretically, put all the information into a document for students, although I like the flexibility that websites offer.
The homepage of my Google Site includes information about me, including a slideshow presentation about myself, my schedule, and how to contact me. (I DID NOT include a phone number because that is not my preferred method of contact from students.)
I also created a main page for the course I’m teaching this year. This has basic information, like the course syllabus on it.
Under my class, I have a couple of subpages. One is for the summative assessments. This quarter, students will be writing an essay on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, so I included the assignment, the rubric, and all the notetaking and outline documents that I’ve created for that.
I also created a sub page with my weekly agenda. Every week, I add a new week’s worth of agendas and assignments. This way, if a student misses a day, they never need to ask me what to do or what they missed.
The most important page on my site, however, is the one dedicated to tech resources. This contains links, class codes, and procedures for every website and tech tool we’ll use this semester.
Now when kids ask how to log in or for class codes, all I have to do is direct them to my Google site. Such a time-saver!
Of course, students still ask me the age old questions: “How do I log in?” “What did I miss?” But now I can just tell them to check my website. This will need to be a behavior and an expectation that gets reinforced again and again, but I am already noticing a drop in repetitive questions.
Think about the questions your students ask over and over again. What resources or information will they need all year? What protocols do you want them to follow?
Put all of this information in one place, streamline your systems, and enjoy having fewer “IDK” emails.
Oh, here’s one more bonus–having this Google Site allowed me to make a web-quest my day 1 activity. Kids were able to explore the site, set up their digital classrooms, and learn about me through one activity. This left me with plenty of time to panic about other things on the first day of school.
Hybrid Teaching Tip #2: Peardeck
This tip might not be very helpful if you’re not a Google Classroom user. Sorry. But I am learning to love the Peardeck extension for Google Slides.
Prior to this school year, I had heard of Peardeck, but I didn’t know what it did and had never looked into it. Now I’m using it pretty much every day.
All of my classes start with us together, synchronously, before my students go off on their own to complete asynchronous work.
I try to get the most of our time together by using our synchronous time to teach new concepts. Since gallery walks and discussions are much more challenging in the pandemic era than they used to be, I’m relying heavily on good, old-fashioned slideshows to do the trick.
The power of Peardeck, however, is that it can turn your one-dimensional Google Slides presentations into interactive lessons.
Slides enhanced with Peardeck will ask your students to write or choose an answer to a question. (If you have the premium version, students will have more interactive options, like dragging around objects or using an image as a response.)
To get to Peardeck, navigate to a Google Slides presentation, click “Add-ons” at the top, and then select “Get Add-ons.” Do a search for Peardeck.
Then, at any point in your slide deck, you can create a new slide, type a question onto it, and add the Peardeck overlay. Those slides with the Peardeck overlay added will be interactive for your students.
So, how am I using Peardeck?
Since I run through a slideshow most days anyway, I’ve been using Peardeck as my warm-ups. I quickly add three slides to the beginning of my slideshows, each with a different review question.
Then I begin the slideshow. You must present the slideshow through the Peardeck extension (as opposed to just hitting present within Google Slides). Peardeck will generate a link for students to join your presentation.
As students start class and join our Google Meet, I share this link to Peardeck with them. They can immediately begin to respond to the first question, but won’t be able to move on until I progress the slideshow on my end.
Once I’ve wrapped up attendance, I show students the class’s (anonymous) responses, discuss them, and review the material. Then we move on to the second warm-up question, and then the third.
When I finish the presentation, Peardeck allows me to download all of my students’ responses. This is a great way to verify attendance or to do a quick formative check on how students are understanding the material.
Throughout my lesson, I try to add more questions and polls. This keeps students engaged throughout my lectures and makes sure that they don’t fall asleep or leave their computers on me.
Peardeck has allowed me to teach my lessons as simply as possible–through a traditional slideshow–while still being able to engage my students. Plus, the records and data help me remember who showed up to class, who’s understanding major concepts, and who might be snoozing on their keyboards at home!
Hybrid Teaching Tip #3: Maximize Your Automation Tools
I mentioned earlier that I’m lucky in that my school has invested in a wide variety of online teaching tools. (I can’t say enough good things about the Actively Learn program–ask your principals for it!) But there are a lot of free options out there already.
One of the biggest tips I can give you for hybrid teaching is to find and use tools that do the teaching, the practice, the grading, or a combination of all three for you.
Should you replace all of your instruction and awesome assignments with websites powered by algorithms? Of course not.
But if you try and do it all yourself this year, you won’t make it either.
The key is to strike a balance. Save your instruction, planning, creating, and grading energy for lessons and activities that really nurture key knowledge and skills. For rudimentary practice however, let the tech take over.
Vocabulary.com: One Free To Try
One such tool is vocabulary.com. You can create a list of vocabulary words or choose one already populated by the website. (They have a ton of vocabulary lists for specific novels already!)
Then, you can assign these lists to your students. When students log in, they’ll be challenged to use these words in new ways, come up with definitions, and even practice their spelling.
Normally, I don’t do much with direct instruction around vocabulary. But this year, I’m trying to find ways for my students to learn that don’t burn me out. That’s why I’m loving vocabulary.com.
When I’m out of asynchronous idea, have students who have finished early, or just need to fill 10-15 minutes of class, I tell my kids to jump on and do some vocabulary.com practice.
You can even play a “word jam” with your students on vocabulary.com! This provides some much needed virtual-friendly community-building activities.
Plus, vocabulary.com gives you tons of data for free in very easy-to-read charts. So if you have reports or IEPs that require tons of data, this is a necessary added bonus.
I’ve been using the free version of vocabulary.com and don’t find myself yearning for the premium.
Quill.org: Another Example of Automating Your Lesson Planning
Another great and free tool is Quill.org. Quill.org is a grammar website. When I began planning for this year, I was really stumped for how I was going to approach grammar.
With pen and paper out, most of my techniques for grammar instruction were pretty much out the window. And checking D.O.L.s in tons of Google Docs every single day did not sound viable to me.
So I turned to Quill.org. I don’t think it replaces my direct grammar instruction, daily practice, and the daily grammar warm-ups I’ve done in the past, but in 2020, we’re going to make do.
During the first week of school, I assigned the Quill.org diagnostic test. They have a few different levels of diagnostic tests, so you can pick the one based on your students’ ages and goals.
That diagnostic test gave me a few skills that all of my students struggled with, as well as some asynchronous lessons I can assign to teach those skills. Now my students are working their way through grammar lessons without me needing to teach or prep a thing–all I have to do is enter their scores into the gradebook.
Quill.org also provides synchronous lessons, though! Once your students take their diagnostics, Quill will recommend some lessons for you to teach to your students. These are really comprehensive, with slides already created, teaching tips, and suggestions for how to present the lessons.
For me, providing quality feedback to students’ work virtually is taking way longer than it does by hand, in person. Having the option to quickly and easily toss out some extra grammar lessons that don’t cause me a ton of work or anxiety has been great.
Hybrid Teaching Bonus Tip: Go Easy on Yourself
This is not the year to go for any Teacher of the Year awards. Don’t create those expectations for yourself.
This year, it’s ok to just aim for getting by. This doesn’t make you lazy; this doesn’t make you incompetent or a bad teacher. It just makes you human.
Remember that while teaching may be a calling, ultimately being a teacher is a job. Don’t sacrifice your health–physical, emotional, or mental–for a job. Your family, friends, pets, and loved ones need you too much for that.
When we are good, healthy, and happy, our students are much more likely to be that way too.
Don’t aim for perfect lessons every day. Just aim for your students to leave your class with two to three big ideas that will serve them going forward.
It’s ok to be imperfect. Human beings like to see other imperfect human beings. Use this as a way to build relationships. Let your students know that this year, it’s your turn to learn, and then show them what it’s like to learn fearlessly.
Try new things. Learn from mistakes.