In the transition to remote learning, educators are doing more work than ever before. We are re-learning how to do our jobs, pivoting between instructional models, and constantly innovating our practice to provide the best quality instruction to our learners.
Many of us are faced with difficult challenges, and at times, we just do not have the mental space to consider and overcome them. I feel that, because that’s exactly where I was last month.
Schools and districts around the world are trying to reopen their doors, so many are considering a hybrid or concurrent model of teaching. While getting students back into classrooms is an obvious success, it does place a heavy burden on teachers.
Not only did many of us just start to feel like we hit a groove in remote teaching, but now we are also going to try to split our focus between kids on Zoom and kids in the classroom. This is a huge undertaking, as it’s asking us to reconsider how we deliver instruction (again), but also because it is requiring us to provide attention and care to students in two entirely separate formats. For those of us in secondary settings who teach multiple classes a day, we’re looking at dwindling instructional time that just seems to be getting smaller.
I know when I was faced with this reality, I could not fathom how I would make the kids in both settings feel like they were getting the best of me. I could not figure out how to provide quality lessons that involved both remote and in person students at the same time. I grappled with this for a while, was incredibly stressed out, but I eventually landed on a model that has (so far) worked well in my middle school classroom.
It’s nothing flashy or groundbreaking. Honestly, it’s pretty simple. In both my Language Arts block and my Social Studies class, we are using stations.
The model isn’t really anything new. Teachers everywhere have used stations in their classrooms for years, and the integrity of that model remains intact. I’m just using it differently.
Students are placed in two groups – the zoom group and the room group. (Catchy, I know.) They move through the stations (or rounds) for the day with their assigned group.
The rounds vary in time based on the class period. Because my language arts class is a block, I have the ability to do longer rounds or more of them. The rounds consist of independent reading, a mini lesson with me, and workshop or independent work time.
A typical class structure for my language arts block looks like this. We start our class together, going through any general information for the day, discussing our agenda, and introducing our learning goal. On certain days, I will extend that beginning time a bit longer to do a read aloud that highlights a skill we will work during the mini lesson. I’m a big fan of using picture books with my middle schoolers, so most of the time, the read aloud is from one of those. After that whole group welcome and introduction, we move into round one.
To keep the kids (and myself) on track, I use daily agenda slides. They outline our agenda for the start of the day, but also have a slide for each round that provides the group with some direction. I display the slide in the room and in the Zoom call, so students in either group can refer to it easily. This eliminates a lot of the need for the question – “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” It also helps if a student happens to get kicked out of a Zoom (I swear, the word glitchy is said about 1000 times a day). They rejoin the call and can refer to the directions displayed with minimal interruption.
While my students in the Zoom are reading independently, I teach a lesson to the kids in the class. I mute my microphone in the Zoom call so I don’t disrupt my readers, but I keep the call live and students must stay in it. This way, they can unmute to ask for help and will be ready when it’s time to switch rounds.
When we switch and I’m teaching a lesson to the Zoom group, I have my students in the classroom working independently – either in workshop or on a task for the day. I require them to wear headphones and I allow them to do the coolest thing they could ever possibly do (at least, according to 6th graders)… listen to music while they work. This way, I’m not interrupting their work time and they are able to independently work.
After we’ve moved through each of our rounds, we wrap up the class all together. I remind students what they are responsible for each night, which is usually finishing up an activity from class, and send them on their way. The last couple days, I’ve run review games through Quizlet live, which is perfect for concurrent teaching. It is a vocabulary game where students can work individually, and each question shows up on their personal screens. The only thing I display is the leaderboard. It’s a great recap of the day, and it works very well in our structure.
In my single-period social studies class, I use the same model, the timing is just quicker. It fits well with our inquiry-based social studies approach, as it provides independent time for students to explore. The structure for my one-period class looks like this. I still start our class together, and use daily agenda slides to guide the group through each station.
Because the rounds are shorter, so are my mini lessons. I’ve been working to ensure my “screen time” or lecture time is limited. Our modes of delivery are much different than in other years, with direct instruction being one of the only safe ones, so I’m trying to ensure that I work within a developmentally appropriate timeframe. This structure helps me do that well and holds me accountable for it.
So far, this model is working incredibly well for the students and for me. I am able to focus my attention on one group during a mini lesson, providing them with the best possible instruction in both settings. It also provides built-in class time to work on any independent work, so students are able to ask for help as needed.
As fearful as I was to have this split focus, I truly feel like I’m still able to meet the needs of my kids, regardless of the setting they are in. It ensures that the kids in the classroom are getting the best possible delivery of content and all the love they deserve from their teacher. But, what’s more (to me), is that the remote students don’t miss out on that either. Whether it’s their remote day in a hybrid model or they are fully remote every day, they are not falling through the cracks or getting lesser instruction because they are at home. I’m still able to dedicate time to them and provide the best possible education I can.
We are all facing such heavy workloads in this moment. Our jobs are shifting more constantly than they ever have, and many of us are just treading water. But the thing that brings me such hope is the willingness I’ve seen in educators. The sharing of resources, the words of encouragement, the love… it’s been a pretty beautiful thing to witness.
I feel fortunate to be part of this elite group of servants. I feel so humbled by the wonder I experience from this profession. And in sharing this with you, I hope I am able to help ease some worry, solve a problem, or spark an idea.
We are in this together.