Four Engaging Structures That Work in Hybrid A/B Learning Classrooms

This summer as many schools went from going back to school in-person, to virtual, to some mix in-between a lot of teachers were faced with a new reality: Teaching kids in your classroom at school and at home…at the same time.

This Hybrid A/B Model of schooling (also goes by many other names) has a camera on in the classroom for students to watch at home, while students rotate days A/B of being in-person or at-home.

Technology plays a big role in making this happen, and it needs to all work in the classroom and at home for each student in order to pull it off.

Let’s just say that all the technology does work, in that case, the question I’ve been working with teachers on over the summer in PD and training has been: How do I structure the learning experience so kids at home and in-class are both learning?

Below I share four different models that I have seen work and that teachers are using around the country (and world) in Hybrid A/B learning.

This is a long post so feel free to jump around as needed. I share videos, templates, and resources on these structures in my Online Learning Master Course, but this 3000-word article should give you enough information to get started!

1. The STEPS Model (I do, We do, You do with a twist)

This is (by far) the most traditional model of teaching that can work in an A/B Hybrid environment. I usually start my training with this model to show how you can make the jump to teaching hybrid without changing too much as a teacher. Remember, we are all at different stages of the continuum, and in many content-heavy subjects, this model works well to get the students into a consistent flow of what the class will look like (whether they are in-school or watching at-home).

Here’s how it works, adapted from The Reading Teacher’s Top Ten Tools:

S: Set-Up (Practice Review)

You can do this with small groups or large groups, but for the sake of our interpretation, let’s just say you have half the class in front of you in the classroom and the other half at home. You start by setting up the class for the lesson and doing some review of the previous day’s lesson.

An important part of retrieval practice is having the students pull out their responses from yesterday’s lesson instead of providing a review for them. This is also a good time to have students doing some practice or review problems or questions while you take attendance and complete the other beginning of class procedures.

When done well, students will expect to come into class either in-person or virtually with an idea of what the first 5-10 minutes will look like every day. This also helps teachers see whether or not students are grasping the knowledge/skills/topics that were covered in the previous lesson.

T: Teach – Explicit Model and Guide of New Concepts or Skills

The next stage is direct or explicit instruction of a new concept, skill, or continuation from the previous lesson. This is the “I do” part of the lesson where the teacher explains and shares examples of what to look for, how to do something, and why it matters in the overall context of the subject.

There is little interaction in the “T” part of the lesson with students in class and at home focused on understanding what the teacher is explaining and listening/watching. However, using a tool like Peardeck or Nearpod can allow students to respond to prompts and questions easily throughout the lesson.

Note: This does not have to be the teacher talking the entire time. Bring in videos, manipulatives, pictures, models, and anything else to help guide the student’s attention and interaction with the content. It also does not need to be a long, drawn-out, part of the lesson.

E: Engage – Practice with Feedback

Here is where teacher-led practice comes into the lesson.  The “We do” part of the lesson engages students in practicing the skill being taught in the lesson. A few ways you can do this in hybrid situations:

  • Have students in class partner-up with a student at home. Students in class on their device and students at home on their device. This is a perfect use of a breakout room (in Zoom) and as a teacher, you don’t have to worry about monitoring the breakout rooms as they are happening in front of you.
  • Students could be doing the practice individually or with groups using online collaborative tools such as Google Docs, Slides, Jamboard, Padlet, etc.
  • Have students go through this process in-class and at-home with various students sharing on the in-class or virtual whiteboard.

P: Practice Activity – Extended Practice of New Skill

The “You do” portion of the lesson has students practicing the new skill or engaging in the content by themselves. Here is a perfect time to have the cameras off at-home and have students engage away from the device.

Or you can have them continue to use technology and share what they are doing/learning in your learning management system (Google Classroom, Seesaw, Canvas, Schoology etc).

My favorite part of this practice piece of the lesson is the ability for the teacher to work with an individual student or small group who may need some additional help or who could use a challenge.

S: Show You Know – Share Your Questions

At the end of the lesson, you can bring all the students back together on the live-stream (or have them do this individually depending on your circumstances) and end the classroom in a similar fashion to how you started it. Have students showing what they know and understand by answering questions, asking questions, and checking their own (and each other’s work).

The goal here is for the teacher and students to have a formative understanding of their needs and where to go next (what to tweak etc) in the following lesson.

Notice that in the STEPS Model the students are NOT staring at a live-stream the entire time. In fact, the only time they are needed to be on the live-stream asynchronously is during the “I do” teaching/modeling mini-lesson part of the class. You have options for each of the other parts of the lesson on how to structure the learning experience.

2. The Station-Rotation Model

The Station-Rotation Model is one of the most commonly used blended/hybrid learning structures, used successfully by teachers all around the world pre-pandemic. You may have done this yourself with various forms of media and centers in your classroom.

Now, with half the students at home and half the students in your classroom, the station rotation model still works but has to be adjusted accordingly.

The basics are simple to understand: Each lesson has various learning stations that the students work through during the class period.

The easiest way to begin is to have two stations.

Station #1: Instruction with the teacher.

Station #2: Online activity or assignment.

The teacher begins the class by explaining each station, then gets half the class (either the in-person group or at-home group) to start Station #2. The teacher then takes the rest of the class to Station #1 for half the class period, before switching and taking the other half of the class through Station #1.

While that is the easiest way to begin, going into three stations may be the best option for station-rotation lessons long-term.

Catlin Tucker shared a perfect image to explain the three station-rotation model in our Hybrid A/B environments:

The class period is broken up into three distinct sections. For Hybrid A/B learning I would have all of the students at home be in one group (Group 1) while breaking up the students in-class into two separate groups (Group 2 and Group 3). However, if your situation is such that you have at home hybrid students and full-time virtual students that group may have to be split in two.

The Teacher-led Station is what you will be leading (three separate times) throughout the class period.

The Online Station is personalized practice, research, and exploration, or multimedia lessons that students can access on their own using digital tools and spaces.

The Offline Station can be used for some off-screen activities, getting students engaged in reading or other activities that they do not have to be ‘Logged on’ to complete.

The key to the station-rotation model is to set clear time expectations at the beginning of the class and to keep them throughout the period. It also takes some serious planning. Don’t be alarmed if the first time (or 2, 3 etc) students and you take some getting used to this model!

3. The Flipped Model (with needs-based grouping)

As I walk through these steps to “flip” your instruction and set up a working model of differentiation in your Hybrid A/B class, keep in mind a few things.

First, realize that this can work in any subject area. In order for it to work successfully, a teacher must come up with clear objectives on what students need to know, and how they will demonstrate that knowledge. You’ll also have to be able to teach the main concept through video, and students will need a way to access that video at home (or at the beginning of the class period).

Second, don’t spend too much time thinking about the resources you use to make the video. Often teachers get stuck in the technical side of things instead of just making it and getting better with production over time. This happened to me for a long time before realizing that it didn’t have to be fancy.

Third, make sure you use this strategy to find out what your students know and what they are missing, then get them to a place where they can demonstrate that understanding. When you pre-assess students, the goal is not to see “who did the homework” but instead how your instruction can meet students where they are at in their current level of understanding.

Getting Started Flipping Your Instruction

Here are 10 steps (some longer than others) to get this model working with your class:

  1. Teachers identify a particular concept or skill to focus their instruction (often dictated by your curriculum).
  2. Teachers create a short video screencast (using Screen-cast-o-matic.com) walking students through the concept, explaining the reasoning and steps, providing examples of the skill in action.
  3. Teachers edit and upload the video to Youtube or Vimeo.
  4. Students watch the video the night/day before class and take notes or answer some quick comprehension questions.
  5. When students arrive at class the following day, the teacher hands out (or gives digitally) a short 5 question pre-assessment based on the video and instruction from the night before.
  6. Students answer the questions to the best of their abilities and then score a partner’s (or self-score their own assessment).
    1. Students end up in three groups based on the pre-assessment score.
      1. Score a 0-1 and you are in Tier A.
      2. Score a 2-3 and you are in Tier B.
      3. Score a 4-5 and you are in Tier C.
  7. The goal for all students is to end up in Tier C by the end of class.
  8. The first third of class:
    1. Tier A sits down and re-watches the video from the night before with a teacher-created handout with new questions.
    2. The teacher gets Tier B into groups (or partners) to work on refining some of the skills and concepts together. They can use the video as a guide and call on the teacher to help during their group work.
    3. Tier C is given a higher-level application challenge.
  9. The second third of class:
    1. Teacher heads over to Tier A after the video is complete to answer any questions they might have on the concept and give the entire group some questions to answer. Then they answer questions individually. They move onto Tier B.
    2. Tier B takes another short formative assessment (individually) to show their understanding after the group work on the concept. Those that score a 4-5 move onto Tier C.
    3. Tier C continues to work on the challenge or completes it and begins to help new students coming into their group.
  10. Last third of class:
    1. Tier B students work in partners or groups and take the next formative assessment when they are ready. Teacher floats between Tier B and Tier C helping and challenging as seen fit.
    2. Tier C students finish the challenge and work to create a challenge for the following class (or next year’s class).
    3. Tier B students are helped by classmates and teacher to move to Tier C before the end of the class.

Let’s recap:

First, you start with some type of work at home or at the beginning of class. Then you assess quickly on base knowledge of that concept. The pre-assessment separates your class into three tiers of understanding. The goal is to move students through tiers and provide different levels of support. With all students landing at the final tier for a challenging activity by the end of class.

The trick to making this successful is to embed choices into the activities during class. Allow students to pick partners and groups. Give students multiple types of questions to answer and activities to complete. Give the second-tier options on how they are assessed before moving to the final tier. Provide the final tier with options and choice to challenge their understanding and move past the application to a higher level of thinking.

I would personally start with a concept or skill that some students typically master quicker than others. In this case, you’ll have experienced the frustration of having students at all different levels of understanding, and know that there has to be a better way to go about instructing the entire class.

Start small with a short video, and quick activities at each of the levels. This way, when you move into bigger units of study, students will be familiar with the process and expectations. It’s amazing to watch the negative “snowball” effect of students falling behind stop immediately. In this model, there is no “falling too far behind” because students are all expected to reach a certain level of mastery by the end of the class.

4. The Choice Board Model

This is a self-paced option for the Hybrid A/B learning environment. The Choice Board allows for various levels of learning to take place and gives students choices in how they access information as well as demonstrate their understanding.

Here is a quick example of what a Choice Board might look like via Kasey Bell:

Novel Unit Tic-Tac-Toe

Here are the steps you can go through to create a Choice Board in your content area:

  1. Identify a unit/concept or skill and what you want students to know/do/make in order to demonstrate their understanding/proficiency.
  2. Create or choose an assessment/performance task that allows students to demonstrate mastery.
  3. List various instructional methods, resources, and strategies to prepare students for the assessment/performance task.
  4. Choose four-six instructional methods to turn into choice-board activities. Each activity should be a similar length in time and cover common material. Here is where you can add different types of technology or hands-on experiences to the learning process.
  5. Create a workflow for the students to follow. Have notes and formative checks as part of the choice-board design process. Allow for reflection during each activity when planning how long students will complete the activity.
  6. Introduce the different choices to students and describe what the goals of the activity are (as well as the assessment this is leading up to).
  7. Let students pick activities based on their interests/needs.
  8. As the teacher, a few of the activities/options might need more guidance than others. Make sure you aren’t just “managing” this activity, but instead truly acting as a guide and expert learner when the opportunity is available.
  9. Once the choice-board activities are complete, put students into small groups to “jigsaw” their reflection. Bring students from different activities together to reflect on their learning experience and share (this can be written, audio, or video reflections – think Flipgrid).
  10. Listen to reflections and check the formative pieces for each activity to see if students are prepared for the assessment. If not, feel free to go through one more activity together as a class or talk about any topics/concepts they did not understand during the activity.
  11. Give the assessment/performance task.
  12. BONUS OPTION: Make your assessment into a choice-board with multiple performance tasks that allow students to demonstrate an understanding of the content and skills.

As you can see, the process takes more time on the front end from the teacher, but you’ll know that students are prepared for a performance task by going through this activity.

When I began using technology in the classroom, these activities also turned into online experiences that could be done at any time. My ultimate goal as a teacher was to see my students succeeding and demonstrating their understanding of concepts and skills at a high level. The simple act of “giving students choice” changed how my students viewed our assessments, and how they prepared for assessments.

I share all kinds of Choice Board examples in this blog post!

What’s Next?

Planning, managing, and teaching in a Hybrid A/B environment can be difficult, but hopefully, these structures can give some options when thinking about how to get students engaged in the learning process. I would love if you shared in the comments some structures you are using in Hybrid learning!

If you are interested in diving deeper into online and hybrid learning structures, strategies, and tools — check out my Online Learning Master Course.

It is currently on sale for the next week. Thousands of teachers have enrolled and made up a community of educators that I’m proud to be a part of!

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