Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Bringing the Energy: Hooking Students from the Beginning of Class

Great lessons are like powerful speeches; they begin with a hook. Attention-grabbing devices set a tone for a speaking situation, whether that be a two-minute speech or sales pitch, or a 40-minute lesson.

Audiences find comfort in the familiar. They seek patterns and expect to be drawn into the communicative exchange. Being in hybrid learning with students coming into the room and hopping onto Zoom sporadically for five minutes can leave even the most organized people feeling disoriented. Building in a hook to each lesson can help calm the chaos.

While students are working on a hook or bell-ringer activity, don't forget about the energy of the room. When students walk into class, the energy in the room sets a clear tone and expectation for the pacing and the overall purpose of the course. Greet students with a smile or with the energy of a smile underneath a mask. Say their names - each and everyone of them. Make sure they know that they are seen and heard - even if they do not unmute. Get in the habit of taking that time at the beginning of the class - even if it eats into a minute or two of instructional time. Those interactions are more important than one extra practice problem or discussion question.


How can we get them started on learning while we are greeting and admitting both digitally and in-person?

Enter Pear Deck, Padlet, or a digital tool that can keep students working and make learning visible for all students no matter where they are learning. Using a digital platform helps all students active and engaged while I individually greet the Zoomers and the roomers. Keeping students actively connected to a task can help them prepare for learning and serves as a wonderful time to do a social-emotional check-in with them.

As students enter the room physically or digitally, create one organized location where learning material is posted. Whether that is the projector screen, the board at the front of the room, or an LMS homepage - having one location on which students are expected to go each day creates that routine. This process also frees teachers to be greeters instead of frazzled jugglers attempting to keep all the balls in the air.

Make learning fun.

Having to clear desks between periods and working to social distance in our classrooms has created a great deal of stress. Not having all students in the room at one time and having to avoid group work has taken some of the fun out of learning. Even though teachers have had to reframe and rethink the learning experience and environment, we can still sprinkle the fun back into school. Using bell ringers that ask goofy questions, require creativity, and allow students to be silly creates conversation. Whether they be celebrating each other or laughing at a drawing one of their friends did, this sense of silliness brings a class together.

My favorite intro slides and activities have little to do with class learning, but the responses can be used throughout a lesson. For example, today, students shared what type of superpower they wished they had and why they would pick that power. This silly question served connections to course content when we talked about smashing cell phones when they distract listeners like the Incredible Hulk or why we are so intrigued with stories as many of us are binge-watching WandaVision. Even when the hook doesn't seem connected to content, we can develop connections. Remember, once we get students talking about anything, they are far more likely to unmute and speak up when discussing course content later in the period.

Say it one more time for the kid in the back.

Review the lesson objectives. Even when routines are established, students are learning everywhere. They are facing internet issues, may have distractions around them, or may have social-emotional concerns for a myriad of reasons. Students (and teachers alike) are also just tired. Repeating those objectives at the beginning of class and then at the end of class helps reiterate expectations, centers students, and serves as a reminder for what is coming next. While many students may get used to a routine and know where to access due dates and daily course work, they still will appreciate clarifying moments at the beginning and the end of class.

Great lessons end where they began - with a hook. Attention-grabbing devices get people talking and set a tone for a class. When we bring the energy at the beginning of class, students are more likely to tune in. That energy can carry us through navigating teaching roomers and Zoomers alike. It doesn't take superhuman strength to forge meaningful relationships with kids - although when we foster those relationships, we can become superheroes in our students' eyes. Don't forget to take those few minutes amidst the chaos to create those moments for your students.

Friday, January 29, 2021

In the Room and on Zoom: How do we Find Balance?

A return to in-person learning is occurring across the Chicago suburbs. Hybrid learning is off and running, and so are teachers -- running from screen to the in-class scene. I liken hybrid learning to a game show, in which the players and the at-home audience are interconnected and leaning in to hear what the other group is saying. While it is nearly impossible to gracefully and fluidly do both perfectly, it’s working. Here are my takeaways after week two: 

Flip your doc camera so that they can see each other. 

I find owning the cheesiness of these awkward moments of juggling multiple devices and students in all places lightens the mood. When I laugh at myself, my students laugh with me. They understand that this is not how we are supposed be living life, but this situation is what we have. My roomers and Zoomers are broken into two groups (plus a full remote group) who do not get to see each other or interact with the other half of the alphabet. As a result, I like to flip the camera to make them do the exaggerated wave to one another. I have even encouraged one group to give another group advice or words of encouragement. The sound is jumbled and often makes the roomers jump, but they're laughing. Encourage students to remember that a whole other group of students concurrently learning allows everyone to feel heard and recognized. As I move the camera around, I am also giving subtle indications of where I want my Zoomers to be focusing their attention. Are we doing group work? If so, let's look at other students. Are we engaged in a direct instruction mini-lesson? Then I'm going to talk straight into that camera. While I am doing this, I do narrate the process and make all students fully aware of who is on the projector screen. Students know when they're being shown out of respect to all people involved. That open communication involves them even more and encourages everyone to take the stage when the camera is directed at them. 

Use technology to showcase every voice.


Students still struggle with unmuting on Zoom. Part of it is tech issues that can create a lag in the discussion, and another part of it is the uncertainty of being spotlighted without preparation. Whatever the reason, students need to be reminded that their voices matter and that they can share them in many ways. Using tech tools such as Pear Deck and Padlet has made amplifying student voice much easier and safer for students. They can respond at their own pace, and the messages can be anonymous. When students struggle to unmute, validation and encouragement can often temper their timidness. Highlighting anonymous responses on tech tools shows students that they have much to contribute and great ideas to share. After asking all students to write out answers, I have started using Flippity's random name picker to select the students who will share in the class on Zoom. Once I know everyone has written an answer, it is up to the Google gods to determine who will share their ideas. This process has also gotten students laughing, cheering, and groaning when a name appears on the screen. Every voice has something valuable to share. Sometimes students need a little nudge. 

Also, encourage students at home to report when the sound is off, or the internet is lagging. We won’t know that if they don’t speak up. I had to learn this lesson the hard way this week! 

Leverage in-person experiences. 

The best part of being in-person is that students can talk... to each other. They can be sharing what they are learning while a teacher directs their time to the students on Zoom. They can collaborate and share ideas, and if they get off-task, that is okay! In fact, that might be exactly what they need while they cope with or process the current state of the world. In-person time can be used to create a sense of normalcy and allow students to validate one another. 

Group students in the room and on Zoom.


One half of the alphabet should not be doomed to the fate of being passing ships who never interact again. No, no. They should be each other's partners in crime who advocate for one another when one is on Zoom. They can still create, communicate, and collaborate. They can meet in digital breakout rooms and on shared docs and slides. The organization, grouping, and movement of all it all just needs to be a little more coordinated than normal. I love using breakout slide templates to help the workflow and organization of digital collaboration. Using the same format reduces explanation time and increases student comfort when they are collaborating in a noisy, digital environment. Having that connection might flop if technology fails us, but it can be incredibly powerful, too. 

Make sure everyone is getting some love. 

The past year has been marked with trepidation and uncertainty. Content may not be perfectly covered this year, but students will continue to make academic and social-emotional progress if they feel safe, cared for, and validated. Whenever tragedy or hardship occurs, content matters less. Caring for others will allow students to cope and prepare them to learn. Leading with one's heart leads to stronger relationships, and stronger relationships will lead to more retention and learning. It is okay to focus on people first. The rest will follow. 

This game show host is tired after two weeks of hybrid, but I am grateful for the flexibility and energy that my students bring to the classroom -- both digital and in-person. While I hope that I can display some of Vanna White's grace and all of the wisdom of the late Alex Trebek, I know that if I give it my best and laugh at any tech trials that arise, my students and I will make class great together. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

How Do We Handle Difficult Conversations in the Classroom?

This past week, our country witnessed an attack on democracy in the Capitol. Over the past year, we have seen the racial injustice, political strife, and an election that divided our nation. A global pandemic has consumed our lives, led to national shutdowns and economic crises. While there has been great despair and challenging times, we have also witnessed the creation of vaccines in record time, leadership from healthcare professionals, and so many essential workers' sacrifices. To be a child attempting to grapple with these issues and understand the world must be incredibly challenging and confusing. As educators, it is our responsibility to provide a sense of safety, support, and normalcy in times that are anything but ordinary. 

The layers of these issues and the nuances of handling politics in a K-12 classroom fall into grey areas that I have struggled to understand this past week. I have a duty to my students, who are all seniors in high school, to make them feel safe, validate their feelings of anxiety/fear/confusion, and to help them to find credible sources on which to draw a deeper understanding of the world around them. As a speech teacher, I cannot allow voices to be silent. Still, as a teacher in a predominantly conservative community teaching on Zoom, I must remain unbiased in my approach. There is no answer or guidebook on handling tough conversations when event after event of 2020 seems to have led to chaos and unrest. Still, through my reflections and the experiences of conversations with my classes this week, I have come to a few conclusions. 

The week before the initial COVID shut down, I started each class period sitting on my desk in the front of the room, asking students to share what they had learned about the situation, express how they were feeling, and ask any questions they may have had. It was easy to read the physical room and see their nonverbals. Allowing time and space to react collectively was more straightforward in person. On Zoom in the first week of a semester with all new students, I was unsure of how to safely and appropriately approach this conversation. Using Google Forms, Pear Deck (Which also came in handy during the week of the election), Flipgrid, and the Zoom chat, I could at least open the door to supporting my students through this unprecedented week. 

Effective communicators are good listeners. We need our students to know that we are here to listen. 

When discussing literacy in the classroom, conversations often revolve around reading and writing. Since we speak every day, we all must be well versed in oral communication, right? That assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. And while countless teachers often include speaking activities and presentations into their curriculum, we often overlook or forget to teach students how to be better listeners explicitly. This undervalued skill needs first to be modeled. I started class on Friday, stating that I was there to listen. Waiting in a few moments of awkward silence, I noticed that students sat taller in those moments. They scanned the screens. They were waiting to listen, too. While I have always struggled with wait time, I have learned that given students a few moments of silence to reflect, react, and process can lead to richer conversations and make students feel heard even if they do not unmute. 

Validating their fears and uncertainties is important. When people are scared, confused, and upset - they need to be told that their less than normal feelings in a less than normal time are valid. 

At one point this summer, a person used the words "We must have faith over fear" that we will be safe in schools during the pandemic. As a person of faith myself, I could not be more frustrated that a person would choose to 1. Use my faith against me, and 2. Disregard my very rational fears about the unknowns of the pandemic (Especially having a child with a chronic lung disease). My feelings then and now are real, rooted in science, and completely normal in unprecedented times. Likewise, my students' feelings and reactions to the Capitol, racial injustice, the election, COVID, and many other countless events in 2020 are real. Students have expressed a significant range of emotions and beliefs, and regardless of my own beliefs, it is my job to validate their feelings. There is no guidebook for coping with collective trauma. Healing often starts when a person feels heard. Teachers are not a counselor or social workers, but at the very least, we can make our students feel listened to and help them to take the next steps to seek out further help from trained professionals if needed. 

Teachers need to provide students with opportunities to give voice to their thoughts and ideas. 

Once students feel validated and safe, they are more likely to speak. While students are not required to share their ideas publicly, they can use their voices in various ways. Students can write, reflect, and post using tools like Pear Deck, Google Forms, and Flipgrid in anonymous ways that allow them to express themselves, release tension, and gain the confidence to continue to share their voices in future situations. Our students will be leaders in this country, and if we do not address these issues -- if we do not encourage THEM to address these issues, these issues will never be solved. These activities or opportunities do not have to be all-consuming. Teachers can start small with short and private SEL check-ins, but they need to be present in our classrooms no matter the modality of learning. 

Students need to be told that they can ask questions and need to know how to find credible sources and discern truth from fiction. 

In addition to expressing themselves, students need to know that it is okay to ask questions. No teacher has all the answers to any subject, but we know how to find answers. We know how to research and discern credible sources. We can separate biases and understand the range of biases in media outlets. As teachers, we can empower our students to do the same. Credibility and accuracy matters and can make all the difference in the decisions they make, the beliefs they hold, and the values that our students perpetuate out into the world for years to come. 

Did I do enough this week to support my students through yet another trauma of 2020(now 2021)? I do not know. Did I provide them with the opportunity to speak and to reflect? Yes. Our students need to be empowered to take a stand. Their words are powerful; my greatest hope as their teacher is that they will continue to use them well. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Turning the Calendar: Focusing on What Students Learned in 2020

Turning the page on the calendar brings joy. It is a new year, and while the current state of the world will not automatically reset itself, we have strong reasons to hope that our classrooms will begin to feel "normal" by the fall of next year. While we slowly and cautiously return to a sense of normalcy, I am reminded of the lessons we learned in 2020. We were forced to make numerous changes during the 2020 calendar year, and those changes have come with growth and new insights that we might not have achieved without the necessary adaptations we made during the pandemic. 

Watching my kindergarten daughter reading on her iPad, I realize that while she has missed some of the milestones and strategies that she would have experienced if her school experience had been "normal," she has gained so much. As I watch my daughter navigate her device showing me how she can access her teachers' Bitmoji classrooms to find videos to teach her new skills like how to draw a reindeer, I realize that the common fear that students are "falling behind" is so far from what is happening. She's learned to use Seesaw to advocate for herself, use apps to search for resources, and is acquiring reading comprehension skills. I am amazed at the skills she has gained. 

As teachers, we have modified our practices, adopted new technology, and implemented instructional strategies. We have grown exponentially, and so have our students. While we reflect on how we've changed and what we may carry with us well into the future, we also need to reflect on how our students have changed. Their skills will also remain with them for the remainder of their educational experience and even into their daily lives. 

Students know how to navigate resources.

Many schools adopted new learning management systems or moved resources to an online platform that may not have used one before. Students have learned to access much more elaborate digital learning environments. They have learned to submit work, share, and connect online, which will be the necessary skills for countless students' future professional settings. They have acquired troubleshooting strategies and shortcuts to find keywords, resources, and lessons out of necessity. Despite the emails I have received (and I'm sure several educators have received, too) about not finding their work, students have learned to solve problems and learned to ask for help (or search for help online). I have also found that CC-ing parents on emails with walkthrough videos seem to magically fix the questions about not being able to find homework, too. 

Students have learned how to find the answers faster. 

In addition to navigating resources, students have learned to find answers faster. While there are far too many resources for students to find online that give them answers instead of teaching students to determine the answers themselves, they have learned to locate correct answers. These discernment skills can be refocused and capitalized upon when back in a more traditional classroom. As teachers, we will always need to help them discover how and why, but we do not need to teach them the "what". If students can locate answers faster, more time is available to explore the process, teach critical thinking, and reflect on what has been discovered. 

Students have learned to multitask. 

Much to teachers' chagrin, students have discovered that they can be chatting, watching YouTube, and "doing schoolwork" simultaneously. The number of ways that students have found to distract themselves is sometimes frustrating, but the implications of this skill are powerful. Productivity is powerful and can lead to more success in school and in the workforce. Despite distractions, students are learning to get work done or complete tasks. According to my exit surveys and discussions with students, they are also learning the painful lesson of procrastination. While students may not turn in their formative work or may have turned in too many assignments late last semester, they have gained a deeper understanding of budgeting time and how to work while simultaneously completing another task (or distraction). Students learn from failure and mistakes. We must remember that just because they may not have been the best students during a pandemic, that does not mean they didn't learn valuable life lessons. 

Students have learned to drive their learning. 

As the learning environment has become digital, students have been challenged to learn in ways that they might not have learned in a traditional classroom. Through the use of video and asynchronous activities, they have been tasked with learning new content independently. While teachers are still behind the lessons, not having a teacher sit next to them and walk them through every task has challenged students to acquire new skills independently. Watching videos, reading, or practicing skills on their own and in their own places has shown students that they can drive their learning. With more autonomy to choose the rate, place, and pace of academic growth, students have gained student skills that can help them in multiple settings. 

Students have learned to value education. 

Last year, we did not have a snow day. Students felt "jipped" that they didn't get an unscheduled day off. When March hit, everyone changed their tune about unanticipated days away from school. Teachers miss students in the classroom, and students realize that they miss school. Having experienced collective loss makes us appreciate what we had and what we will have again, once vaccinations and time to heal have been fully realized. Our mindset has shifted as we have learned how quickly things can be taken away. While I hope that we will never face a situation like this pandemic again, I sincerely appreciate how it has challenged us all to reflect and reassess our values. 

While I am saddened that my children are not in school right now and probably won't be for the rest of the school year because of underlying family health conditions, I realize how much they have gained - how much we have all achieved. I love my children, but I know that after ten months at home, I like them, too. We have learned to value our relationships, appreciate our experiences outside of the home, and realize the importance of learning anywhere. We have not lost or fallen behind as long as we take time to stop, reflect, and use the skills that we have gained moving forward. This pandemic has pushed us forward and provided opportunities that we would never have experienced otherwise. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Using Station Rotation to Enhance Hybrid Learning

Station rotation is a powerful learning strategy that allows teachers to work with smaller groups of students in a more intentional way. Students can "move" or rotate between a set of stations in station rotation at pre-determined times - in groups or independently. The teacher can determine the number of stations, the size of groups, and the order based on what works best for the content area or lesson. Catlin Tucker, the guru of all things blended learning, has written extensively about different ways to implement station rotation into the classroom. I appreciate her resources because she is always presenting different models and encourages teachers to experiment to find what works best for their students. Experimenting and trying various models and groups is the key! 

As we continue in hybrid, distance, and remote learning for the spring 2021 semester, learning from her experiences and implementing station rotation elements into the classroom can make the challenges of pandemic teaching more sustainable. One of my most significant concerns about the upcoming semester is sustainability. When we spend the semester in hybrid learning, my goals are to:

  1. Prioritize and foster strong relationships with my students.

  2. Encourage autonomy and student-driven work.

  3. Provide strong feedback and support to promote student learning and growth. 

  4. Create meaningful experiences for my students.

At any given time, I will have 40% of my students in my classroom, 40% at home for the day, and 20% completely remote. Similar models have been implemented throughout the country. How do we achieve our academic goals in a classroom with three different groups? The best answer is to lean into and provide blended experiences for students. They are blended, not by choice or intention, but since this is the circumstance that we have found ourselves in, now is the time to lean in and innovate in ways that can be useful in years to come.  

Find ways to connect students in class and out of class. 

Using breakout rooms with students can allow students to connect and collaborate with one another no matter where they are located. Students in the red group want to "see" their friends at the other end of the alphabet. They want to connect and foster their relationships. Creating partnerships and connections between students in different groupings can foster relationships. Once students have been given breakout groups, they can "rotate" with these groups throughout a single period or over several days. When planning for this type of lesson, clearly establish each station's expectations and determine how students will make their learning visible. By creating opportunities for students to showcase their learning, teachers can assess student learning and determine where and when students might need additional guidance and support. Using a template with clear structure and formatting can help guide students and also hold them accountable. Setting timers in this format can help students to determine when they should rotate through the process.


Make yourself a station. 

When completing a whole class station rotation, teachers should establish themselves as a station. Working with small groups creates more time for one-on-one support and guidance. This time also provides the teacher with opportunities to answer questions and measure comprehension and growth. Even in a traditional classroom, my favorite part of station rotation is working with small groups. Students are more likely to answer more questions and seek support in smaller groups. We can develop stronger connections and foster relationships in this format as well. 

Be intentional with your time with your students in the classroom.

Thinking about the three groups of hybrid learning as "stations" helps with planning. Each group can be concurrently working on different assignments or engaged in learning experiences based on where students are physically learning. When students are in class, they have an opportunity to connect with their peers directly. They can collaborate (from six feet apart), communicate more freely, and ask questions. When in class, create cooperative learning experiences that encourage them to practice these interpersonal skills while also checking for understanding. While students are in class, it is essential to still engage and interact with the 60% of students who are not physically in class. Instead of completing readings, watching videos, or completing independent work, students can be more active and engaged in collaborative experiences. 

Building cooperative learning experiences for students allows them to apply course content in a group setting. I have created a weekly prompt or challenge in my speech class that will become a mini group speech. The challenge may require visual aid, research skills, or persuasive techniques, depending on the current unit. While students are drafting their speeches, I can work with other groups of students online. Finding a balance of time leads to intentional interactions between the teacher and students and students with their peers. 

Don't lose opportunities to connect with the students out of class. 

When students are not present in class, it is easier for them to disengage. Designing meaningful experiences and connections for students out of class keeps them actively involved in the learning process. I am always trying to multiple myself through the use of video and technology tools. Screencasting is a great way to provide direct instruction, even while not teaching an assignment live. When students are not in class, they can be acquiring new skills and engaging with course content. They can be reading, drafting, and writing, too. These stations can be more independent focused at times, but they don't have to be. 

I have 40 minute periods with my students, and I want to divide my time in a meaningful way. I will start my online students with an independent activity such as an EdPuzzle or reading, and then I will provide a time to come together with my online students to check-in. For example, if students are watching a 12-minute video through EdPuzzle, I can estimate that it will take 20 minutes to complete. While I prepare and check in with my in-class students, I can estimate that I can hold a discussion with my online student about halfway through the class. By connecting with them for 10-15 minutes, I will have time to bring the whole class together and reconnect with all students at the end of the period. Using this model, I will focus on timed stations to keep students on pace and track so that we can talk and collaborate and designated times. 

Create self-paced stations. 

The final station rotation element to consider is independent, self-paced stations. When students may need more direct support in the classroom, self-paced stations for students out of class can provide students more autonomy and control over their learning. Working at their own pace can allow students to be flexible with what they learn when making remote learning feel more manageable and more meaningful. Self-paced stations and asynchronous learning experiences also free the teacher up to provide feedback and remediation for students who may need additional support or more direct instruction. 

Regardless of what station rotation element one adopts into a classroom at a given time, the best part about this model of learning is that it creates flexibility no matter where students are learning. Finding ways to enhance the student experience, build connections with students, and make learning sustainable will be essential elements to consider in the spring of 2021. We can do this. It's okay if a lesson fails or a station flops. It is always okay to hit refresh any page of the lesson plan.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Making Hybrid Learning More Sustainable in 2021

2020 - a year unlike any other. It was exhausting and challenging, and despite those challenges - we learned a great deal. Reframing my mindset has allowed me to find the lessons and positives in uncertain and trying times. As we walk into 2021, I am excited about the possibilities. As educators, we have problem-solved, created, and gained skills to make remote and distance learning happen. Teachers in every discipline and age group have redefined and reinvented learning, making what seemed like the impossible virtually possible. We have reached a precipice in education - a point that will allow us to reshape and reform educational experiences for our students for decades to come. To quote Dr. Desiree Alexander, who recently spoke at Matt Miller's virtual Ditch Summit on the subject, "We aren't due for a huge innovation in education; we are due for a rehaul." Through this experience, we are empowered with the tools and knowledge to drastically improve the quality of education and our teaching modalities in ways that we never thought possible. 

Still, my greatest fear about the spring semester is making our modalities more sustainable. While embracing the possibilities is important and powerful, we need to focus on the present moment. We are still in a pandemic, and while there is certainly a bright light at the end of the never-ending 2020 tunnel, we are not quite there yet. Teachers need to take care of themselves, and they need to take care of the students that fill their seats, both in-person and virtually, this coming semester. As a result, my thoughts are centered around making hybrid learning more sustainable and manageable for both teachers and students. We will have to get everyone to the end of this tunnel before we can fully evaluate the shifts and innovation that will occur once we return to "normal." 

To start, I am still encouraging my colleagues to chunk their lessons week by week. 

Weekly modules provide students with enough content to work ahead or embrace some autonomy over their learning while not overwhelming them. Maintaining small chunks of content also allows teachers the flexibility to adapt and evolve as needed. As districts shift modalities to align with COVID metrics, planning for the short-term will enable teachers to adapt the curriculum without revising their plans multiple times. 

I have also encouraged teachers to make one due date for all work each week. I like grading early in the morning before my family is awake, so I make all of my due dates Saturday at 11:59 PM. Setting due dates for Saturdays allows my students six days to budget when they complete work, with one weekend day to finish any assignments that they did not due during the week. I have Sunday to grade and finalize the next week's module based on my student's progress. Students are encouraged to submit work throughout the week, but I will not cut off their assignments until the final day to maintain consistency and provide flexibility for all students. Based on my end of fall semester survey, students learned that they need to budget their time, use class time wisely, and plan - all valuable executive functioning skills will help them be more successful in any post-secondary endeavor. 

While the Saturday due date works with when I like to grade and fits my family schedule, it is essential to find what works for you. If grading on Monday morning is more manageable, make the deadline Sunday evening, or if you need more time to grade and plan, make the module Friday evening deadline. There is no right or wrong answer, but consistency helps everyone. Not only do my students benefit from this schedule, but so does my family, thus making this schedule more sustainable. 

Another way to make hybrid learning more sustainable is to create asynchronous learning experiences. 

When groups of students rotate in and out of the classroom, creating some asynchronous experiences can allow students who are not physically present to take charge of their learning. I will have 60% of my students out of my room on any given day. As a result, I am creating virtual stations for my students to rotate through when I do not see them sitting in seats. Students will be online, and I will still connect with each of them every day, but having an EdPuzzle, Kahoot, or Pear Deck to do while I complete an in-class activity with 40% of my students will make their learning visible and more valuable. 

I cannot be in three places at once teaching three groups of students, but I can multiply myself through video creation and asynchronous activities. The other benefit is that the resources I create will not be useful for just this year. I will reuse these resources to differentiate instruction and provide enhanced learning experiences for future students. Students can drive learning, and the new pathways built this year and give my students more options as to how to arrive at the same summative assessment. When I know that I am not creating resources that I will never use again, my planning becomes an investment, and thus, it feels more valuable and less draining. 

When students are working asynchronously, they still deserve quality feedback.


Formative assessment tools like EdPuzzle and Kahoot can provide automated feedback. Google Forms and many LMS quizzes, Canvas included, can provide students with automatic feedback based on their responses. While it takes time to create this feedback, the automated feedback responses can provide students with tools and resources to review key concepts or take another course of action to help them grow as learners. These automated responses will be useful in future semesters, too. When we cannot be present for our students, we can still make our presence felt. 

When creating feedback, consider making short videos for students in addition to or instead of just leaving writing. Students want to connect with their teachers, and videos can provide students with nonverbals and tone that is not possible with just a written sentence or two. Again, creating these resources is an upfront commitment that can lead to great payoff in student engagement, retention, and relationships between students and teachers. Remember, upfront work can often lead to time-saving experiences moving forward, thus making teaching and learning more sustainable moving forward. 

Another thought on feedback: Challenge students to provide feedback to each other. Students can learn from each other. When they put on the teacher hat, those lessons become even more memorable and impactful. 

Creating more time is always a challenge that I am looking to face, and one way to make more time is to implement blended learning principles.

Another way to create time is to embrace blended learning strategies. In addition to asynchronous experiences, the station rotation model of learning provides students with multiple learning modalities regardless of whether they are in the room or at home. Students can be given a list of activities in the station rotation model that allows them to work independently and collaboratively. Students can move through stations at their own pace, with a group, or in a timed format. When designing a station rotation lesson, I always encourage teachers to create a station that involves direct instruction or conferencing with the teacher. Taking a few minutes with small groups of students allows all students to be heard, ask questions, and receive undivided attention from the teacher. Working with students in this smaller setting also fosters relationships, allows teachers to receive feedback and validation that we are all craving post-2020, and encourages students to continue to be drivers of their learning. 

Moving from station to station also keeps students focused on being more engaged. If they know that they have a limited amount of time or have a list of activities to complete, there isn't time to lose focus. An active classroom makes time go faster and often leads to more productivity. While station rotation is often thought of as an elementary strategy, I do have to encourage all disciplines and levels to experiment with this concept.


Finally, make learning visible.  

When learning is visible, teachers can assess students' understanding and can gauge engagement. When learning is visible, students are more accountable for their learning, too. Using tools like Padlet, Google Jamboard, Slides, and Docs allows for multiple contributors to share ideas, collaborate, chat, and create. The learning can come from the class, not just the teacher. Students can communicate with each other, answer questions, provide support, or serve as examples. 

Teachers can better identify who might need support through these tools, too. For example, I use a shareable doc or slide during breakout activities. I can watch all students work and contribute simultaneously, even when I am not in the breakout room. From this display of student learning, I can target groups that need additional support and allow groups working productively to continue the great work they are doing. Visible learning sheds light on where students are with their learning, provides formative feedback, and challenges students to showcase what they know. When students make their learning visible, the pressure is off the teacher to be the sage on the stage to learners in the classroom and at home. We can invite our students to share in the learning process and form relationships in the process when we challenge them to make their learning visible. 

Teaching during a pandemic is exhausting, and it is okay to feel overwhelmed. We are all processing and coping with a myriad of issues. Again, your feelings are valid. When work seems insurmountable, it is okay to close the computer and take a break. We need to model self-care for our students, too. Still, we can find ways to make the next semester more sustainable when we are open to experiment, play, and embrace technology that supports learning in our classroom. Remember, reinventing learning to fit our current modalities of learning does not mean that we have to do everything on our own. What we create today will help us in the future. Focus on today (or one week at a time), challenge students to drive their learning, and find ways to "create time" with your students.

Tweets by @Steph_SMac