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A Pedagogical Framework for Managing Face-to-Face and Remote Learners at the Same Time

It's has been great to be back in schools working shoulder to shoulder with teachers and administrators as I kicked off year two with the Corinth School District in Mississippi. Until this point, most of my interactions with educators have been through virtual presentations, workshops, and coaching.  Now don't get me wrong as this has been incredibly fulfilling and a great learning experience for me. However, you just can't replace face-to-face professional learning, in my opinion. Body language, eye contact, verbal discourse, collaboration, and relationship building are much more powerful when people are physically together.

Even though I have been on-site for workshops since the start of the pandemic, last week was my first time working with educators in small groups and visiting classrooms with students. Before I dive into this post topic, I must say how impressed I was with what the teachers and administrators have accomplished.  Their growth has been astounding as they have successfully implemented many of the pedagogical strategies emphasized last year, which has made the transition to a hybrid learning model more manageable. As I visited each school, I felt like a proud parent and can't say enough about their collective efforts to improve professional practice.

There are still challenges, though. Like many districts, Corinth has given parents the option to send their kids to school or learn remotely. In some cases, it hasn't been easy to effectively manage both face-to-face and remote learners during the same class period, which is the case for almost every school district.  It is important to remember that no one was trained for this, and pedagogically-sound models are just starting to appear. Teachers not only in Corinth but across the world, are exhausted. I learned from working with educators virtually and on-site the toll that hybrid learning is enacting on educators.  During a very candid conversation with a small group, I experienced firsthand that the single most impediment was time. The number of hours that some educators are working is just not sustainable.

The key is to either free up time or think about how it is being used. This was overcome by having a dedicated teacher assigned to all the remote learners at the kindergarten through the sixth-grade level. Unfortunately, having a dedicated remote teacher for the upper-grade levels isn't an option in smaller school districts.  After listening to some teacher concerns at the middle school, I began to map out a framework that could help teachers manage their time better while in school.  As I scribbled on a large whiteboard, I simultaneously bounced ideas off the principal Nathan Hall.  The end result was a simple rotational model preceded with direct instruction followed by a summary activity or closure. Since Corinth Middle School has fifty-minute periods, I suggested ten minutes for each rotation as well as the mini-lesson and closure activity.

Content still matters, but there has to be some prioritization of standards and, from there, a mini-lesson.  My advice is to keep it short and sweet. Depending on the block of time, this can be either ten or fifteen minutes. Teachers can record this as it is being streamed live using a video conference tool and then uploaded to a learning management system for all kids to refer to whenever they want. Another option is to use the flipped approach and record the mini-lesson for all kids to watch at home before class.  Within this first small chunk of time, it is critical that relevance is imparted, and the best way to do this is through a quick anticipatory set. The last segment of the class could consist of a formative assessment or a closure activity. 

Now let me discuss conceptually what the rotational model could look like in a school. The teacher has two options here. Either group all the remote students together or use data to regularly group and regroup kids as they work to approach, meet, or exceed standards.

  • Station 1 (Targeted instruction): After a general overview of the lesson during the opening minutes of class the teacher can then dive deeper through more extensive modeling and checks for understanding.  During this time, students can also have their questions answered.
  • Station 2 (Personalized or adaptive learning): In this station, students can work through the curriculum and concepts based on strengths, weaknesses, or personal interests. There are both free (CK-12, Khan Academy, Prodigy, Freckle) and paid (HMH intervention tools, Waggle, IXL) programs. Here is where data can be collected and analyzed for groupings if the right tool is used.
  • Station 3 (Independent or collaborative work): Initially, I would go with independent work as it takes less time to plan for than cooperative learning.  Activities could consist of scaffolded practice problem sets, independent reading, or the use of a self-paced personalized tool if you decide to make the other station purely adaptive.  

The entire premise of the model presented above is to make the best use of available time during a class period where a teacher is managing both face-to-face and remote learners. I suggest only three rotations to begin, but you can definitely add more if you are working with a more extended block of time.  Or you can even tweak it to meet your specific needs as this is what Nathan Hall did for his staff. Below you will see what two Corinth Middle School teachers developed and integrated with Canvas.

Once you are comfortable, consider utilizing choice boards, playlists, or flipped lessons if these won't turn into a time sap. Or you can plan for some sort of cooperative learning using virtual breakout rooms. To ensure success, it is also a good idea to commit to a learning management system such as Google Classroom, Canvas, or Schoology. It becomes more difficult managing remote learners if you are not using one of these solutions.  I loved visiting with Corinth High School science teacher Sally Beth McCullough recently and seeing firsthand what she has implemented successfully. Below you will see how she is effectively using Canvas and choice boards.

I still have 18 more days with the Corinth School District this year and can't wait to see what their teachers and administrators accomplish.

Managing face-to-face and remote learners at the same time can be a challenging task for teachers and schools as a whole.  My hope is that the framework and examples above can serve as a baseline to think about how to best use the time available without succumbing to burnout.  As teachers, always lean on your colleagues near and far. They are your best resource. If you are an administrator, be flexible with your staff and demonstrate empathy. They need your support more than ever. Finally, always be on the lookout for professional learning opportunities that can fill in the gaps and provide needed feedback for continuous improvement. You all will get through this as educators always rise to the challenge.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series.