Why & How to Make Hybrid Engaging and Inclusive

Samantha Reichard/ August 31, 2021/ 21-22 SY, Back to School/ 0 comments

Why & How to Make Hybrid Engaging and Inclusive

Hybrid learning instructional models took center stage during the spring of 2019 as schools moved in and out of learning modalities. As buildings were closing, students were shifting between the physical classroom and digital learning platforms to continue their learning before the end of the year. In addition, while the Covid-19 pandemic continued to ravage the educational landscape for over a year, instructional coaches and teachers came together to find strategies to make hybrid learning work for their students.

What is Hybrid Learning?

Hybrid learning is one of many approaches that provide a mix of both online and in-person materials and instruction. Hybrid learning can and does look different in schools across the country as stakeholders try out new ways to comply with curriculum expectations and covid-19 pandemic restrictions. One foremost constant, however, exists within any hybrid learning model: students receive a mix of in-person instruction and virtual learning throughout the year.

Some hybrid setups have groups of students come in person every other day, and distance learn on opposite days, reducing the number of students in the classroom at one time. Some schools run the model by semester, with sure students coming to school while others stay home, zooming in as teachers teach both sets of students in tandem. If the school requires students to go in person and not offer a distance learning option, they can still teach with a hybrid approach- some students participate with the teacher while others learn on school computers.

The Goal of Hybrid

The goal of hybrid is to combine the best parts of in-person and online learning to suit both teachers and students. Hybrid models give teachers and students flexibility over when, how, and where learning occurs, therefore increasing their agency. Students and teachers can greatly benefit from the hybrid model approach, toggling expertly between physical teacher time and collaborative or independent online learning.

While hybrid models can vary significantly from each other, the same goes for the support given to teachers. Many hybrid model resources are readily available for schools to emulate, yet high-quality professional development for teachers has been scarce. Teachers had to shift to accommodate school districts’ mandates quickly. They couldn’t receive adequate training to support the instructional adjustments needed to engage students, making hybrid learning models more challenging to roll out and maintain than necessary.

Hybrid Can Be Engaging and Inclusive

Teaching to 21st-century learners using a hybrid instructional model proves even more of a challenge when the instructor hasn’t developed a deep digital toolbox of strategies to capture and engage student attention for extended amounts of time. Moreover, as teachers pivot between in-person and distance learning, students often lose attention or become discouraged with the learning process.

Hybrid learning can be engaging and inclusive and work for everyone, as long as the teacher is amply prepared and excited to be a part of the process. Grow your teacher toolbox by taking a look at five ways to boost your hybrid learning model:

5 Ways to Make Hybrid Learning Engaging and Inclusive

#1: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

Creating a solid foundation for hybrid learning is done by building relationships with students and families. When students know that teachers care about them and want them to succeed in class, they are more likely to engage with the lessons and learning material.  

Students will also feel comfortable sharing their feelings and any issues they are having with the lessons, allowing the teacher to make adjustments promptly to meet the needs of each learner.

While building relationships with students in remote settings may be different from face-to-face, it is the educator’s responsibility to make the extra effort to get to know all students. Here are some tried-and-true ways to make relationship-building easier in hybrid learning settings:

  • Get to know every student by learning their names as fast as possible and pronounce them correctly.
  • Make time every day to authentically greet every student with a smile to feel wanted and welcome.
  • When a student is struggling to fit in with the class or get along with others, try to understand where the student is coming from. Offer a 1:1 conversation and provide them with social and emotional supports if needed.
  • Invite students to a ‘lunch and learn’ and talk about non-academic topics as you break (virtual) bread together. When building relationships with others in our lives, we don’t focus on just work and business, so getting to know students shouldn’t be this way as well.

#2: Solidify Systems

Outlining systems during the pre-planning phase of hybrid learning is paramount for a successful rollout. Brainstorming and planning for systems gives an overview of the procedures teachers and students need to follow for successful implementation. Most of the systems used in hybrid are fundamentally the same as when students are in brick-and-mortar classrooms, requiring only minor tweaks to make it applicable to different settings.

Take time to plan out for a successful rollout by strategically mapping out exactly what is needed. Here are few ways to turn systems into procedures:

  • Brainstorm current systems in place and determine if it is still applicable in the hybrid setting.
  • Script out the vision of excellence for each system. Consider: what does this look like and sound like when done at the highest level? Determine what both the teacher and student be doing at any given time.
  • Using the vision of excellence, script out the procedures students and teachers should follow within the system. Use language as precisely as possible while creating the directions for the procedure.
  • Teach the system to the students and provide plenty of time for the class to practice and refine the procedures.
  • Monitor execution of each system and determine if any gaps exist in the procedures, revise and revisit as the year goes on.

#3: Perfect Practice

Internalizing any new structure, procedure, or routine requires many ‘at bats’ or practice opportunities. Therefore, include in lesson plans sufficient time for students to practice and re-practice any new procedure. A good rule of thumb is to plan on practicing a new procedure again and again during the first five days of the rollout.

There are a lot of ways to have fun while teaching students expectations. Check out some engaging and inclusive ways to practice:

  • Allow students to practice the given task both incorrectly and correctly. This way, teachers make it evident that the students know what they are not supposed to do and what they are expected to do.
  • While the student’s practice, provide feedback and have them re-practice, implementing the feedback immediately
  • Have students create skits, posters, diagrams, or songs of the system being implemented both incorrectly and correctly, and encourage them to share out with the class
  • As students are practicing whole-class, turn it into a game: see how fast students can turn in the assignment on the LMS or join breakout rooms and begin working on tasks.  
  • Throughout the year, especially after extended breaks, include time within the lesson plan to re-practice each procedure. The additional practice provides an opportunity for students to recalibrate and reset for perfect execution.

#4: Facilitate Feedback

One of the most significant benefits of feedback is knowing what is working and what needs more work to make it even better. Teachers can solicit and implement feedback from students, families, and peers to sharpen their hybrid model approach. When receiving feedback, accept with humility. If students or peers don’t feel that their feedback will be taken seriously or put to use, they will not provide authentic input in the future.

Asking for and implementing feedback could look something like this:

  • Create surveys for students to share what they feel is going well with the model and improve areas to gain more engagement.
  • At the end of each lesson, give students an ‘exit ticket’ to show their learning. From this data point, teachers can see if the engagement strategies used effectively reached all learners.
  • Ask a peer or instructional coach to monitor the hybrid model and provide feedback. We only know what we know, and another set of eyes can find things that we haven’t realized yet.
  • Model for student’s willingness to receive feedback. If students know that the teacher can accept feedback positively, they will feel comfortable sharing their ideas and feelings before something big happens.

#5: Re-Envision Roles

Since brick-and-mortar processes are being revamped for hybrid settings, the roles teachers and students take on in the classroom should also be reconsidered. Although traditional roles for teachers and students don’t fit neatly into the hybrid model as hybrid learning expects students to exercise more agency over their education, teachers let go of the reigns and take a back seat by becoming a facilitator most of the time.  

As the hybrid model requires students to take more responsibility in their education, here are some ways to consider remodeling roles in the classroom:

  • Provide actual roles for students to use when working in groups (timekeeper, note-taker, idea generator). Sometimes it can be challenging to participate when students are logging onto a video conference wholly. If students are responsible for their roles, they are more apt to join the group.
  • Keep teacher talk to a minimum. Words that can not be seen are quickly lost. While the teacher is conducting their “I Do” portion of the lesson, have main points bulleted out on the screen so students can stay engaged, and aim to keep it to under 15 minutes.
  • Give students contracts to explain their responsibilities over their learning process during hybrid instruction. Go through the contracts and have students sign to show they understand what is expected of them and the instructor.
  • Except for the “I Do” part of lessons, facilitate learning as much as possible. Have students direct their guided instruction and collaborative learning while only offering support if needed.  
  • Reconsider deadlines by allowing students to complete the independent learning at any time before when the assignment must be finished, not just when it is most convenient for the teacher

There are many strategies out there to support the implementation of a hybrid learning model that can sometimes become overwhelming. As teachers think through what will work best for their students, they must operate with a sense of grace for both their students and themselves. Teachers that are excited about teaching in a hybrid learning model will find that all students can, and will, rise to meet classroom expectations.

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