Listen to this post as a podcast:
Let’s go back for a moment to a simpler time, back to 2019 when you may have “struggled to differentiate.” When you tried to meet the needs of all students who came to you with different levels of readiness, who had different physical, emotional, and cognitive profiles, and who learned best under different scenarios.
2020 laughs at 2019.
Teaching is much more complicated now, and you are most likely in a situation where your students are scattered in some way. It may be one or a combination of these:
Before, a teacher only had to worry about meeting students where they were academically, socially, and emotionally. Now you literally have to figure out a way to meet them where they are.
Depending on who’s running your school, you may be expected to do any number of instructional gymnastics to keep all of these students engaged and on track. While I’m not going to get into the “shoulds” here (I address some best practices in this post, and I ranted about one specific remote teaching problem in this Facebook live broadcast), what I’d like to do in this post is curate some of the ways teachers have solved the problem of teaching students who are literally all over the place.
I pulled these ideas from responses to two separate tweets: In the first one, I asked what was working when teaching some students in person and others at home. The second tweet came a few weeks later, where I was asking specifically for strategies to build community among all the scattered groups. I got hundreds of responses, some of which I was still trying to digest an hour ago, so this list is just a sampling of some of the ideas I saw repeated several times and a few that I thought were really noteworthy. If you want to see all of the ideas, follow those links and enjoy! I’ll warn you though, it’s a lot. With so many people working on the same problem at the same time, there are a lot of ideas in many different iterations. My goal here is to pare it down to just a few that I think you can use.
(One more thing: For efficiency, I’m going to refer to all videoconferencing software as Zoom. So when I say “Zoom,” just know that this means Google Meet, Microsoft Teams video, Skype, or whatever you’re using. It’s just faster this way.)
This was the most frequently mentioned piece of advice from teachers doing this work, so I’m putting it first and separating it from everything else.
The idea is to put students into groups that span different populations—some virtual, some F2F, some from different days in an A/B schedule—so they can help each other through your course. Doing this allows students to ask each other questions and support each other at times when you’re not available. It’s also a way to create connections between your in-class students and those who are learning from home.
Many teachers are finding that synchronous instruction—where all students in class and at home are plugged in and participating in real time—needs to be very limited and used intentionally, as opposed to just recording an entire class session and expecting everyone to sit through that. (Again, I explored the ridiculousness of this idea here.).
Here are some ways this principle is playing out:
It can be tremendously helpful to break up the class period into designated chunks, where some students are learning directly from the teacher, others are working in groups, and others are working independently. If you can make the structure visible and predictable for students, even better. The two resources listed below can help you imagine what those structures might look like for you. (Notice that none of the options listed have the teacher lecturing for the entire period. That’s important.)
One more tip for this “chunking”: When you switch from synchronous to asynchronous, but there will be a time when you go back to synchronous, set up an on-screen timer to let at-home kids know when time is up for an activity.
Having students in multiple locations makes it much harder to build a classroom community, but those relationships are so important for making students feel a sense of belonging and connection. Here are some things teachers are doing to meet this challenge:
Lots of teachers mentioned setups that involved more than one camera and screen so that the same broadcasts can capture different things simultaneously. The number of ideas and combinations along these lines got pretty overwhelming, so I’ll just share three big ones:
If your synchronous time includes class discussions that include both F2F and at-home learners, these suggestions can help you make the most of that time.
None of these ideas are really tested, researched, or optimized in any way, so don’t feel like this is some massive to-do list that you have to check off. If you can implement one or two strategies that make things better for you and your students, that’s a success.
Probably the worst thing you can do is to try and replicate exactly what you were doing before 2020, time-wise and content-wise. That’s trying to force a square peg into a round hole; by doing that, you’re just signing up for a ton of frustration.
Years ago I wrote a piece urging teachers to think of your teaching as always being “in Beta.” Consider teaching in a post-COVID world to be the most massive project-in-Beta ever. It’s going to be messy, but that’s how humans learn and grow and adapt. Continue to experiment, fall apart on the days when it’s your turn (because everyone seems to need a turn every now and then), ask students and parents for feedback, observe other teachers when you can, and most importantly, keep giving yourself and your students grace.
We’re getting through this.