As classrooms move back online, whether synchronous or asynchronous, others are plodding along in person with absences becoming meaningless. Still others are attempting to maintain the students home quarantining through online platforms. If I have students that are out sick or in isolation, I am required to check in with them virtually and provide some instruction. While this is not the same as concurrent teaching was for me last year (meaning that now those expectations for how long I’m on a video call have lowered) it is still something for which to plan. I ended up not teaching concurrently for long last year, but I did take notes on what worked for me. I’ve been reviewing those notes and reflections, and I wanted to share those ideas.
Structures that worked well:
1. Turn and Talk
As long as there’s more than one student online, students online can turn and talk to one another in breakout rooms or just a few together in the main room while students in person turn and talk. Even 3-6 ft apart, students can carry on a conversation with a shoulder partner fairly easily.
2. Thinking Routines, Number Sense Routines
I use many thinking routines across content areas and number sense routines in math and these tend to work well regardless of circumstance. Some of my favorite thinking routines are Sentence, Phrase, Word or See, Think, Wonder. My favorite number sense routines are Esti-Mysteries from Steve Wyborney, Estimation 180, Would You Rather Math, and Which One Doesn’t Belong. Check out the posts I linked to for many more ideas.
For these routines, asking students to share thinking out loud is fairly easy concurrently. Ask students to raise their hands in the classroom and “raise hands” virtually and just call on each. One thing I found useful was using speakers so that students in person could hear the virtual students. I tended to repeat what in person students said out loud so that students online could hear. To save time, students can also respond in a chat virtually and then I can read a few out loud.
3. Taking Notes and Writing Down Ideas
Many of the things I wanted students to take notes of on paper just didn’t really work out when I wanted them to write it down when they were not in the classroom. Instead, it made more sense for them to respond to specific questions or prompts from me in the chat while students in person wrote and drew in their notebook. Jamboard also proved to be a useful notetaking tool. While I wished that students would be able to use their notebook more effectively as a reference tool, it didn’t work well virtually or concurrently since students were in person on different days. It was easier for me to give up that dream and just let them take notes in a way that would hopefully provide an experience that would connect writing to listening.
I was so worried at first how I would manage teaching math and word work without manipulatives. Although I sent home base ten blocks, counters, paper dominoes, and cardboard letters, I was worried these would just get lost at home. Virtual manipulatives ended up being so valuable. Didax has tons of math manipulatives that were invaluable to me as an elementary teacher. Also, there were a few options of online letter boards that helped me see what students were spelling. These were experiential and supported learning far better than I ever imagined. I would definitely look for virtual manipulatives of whatever might benefit you.
This worked well concurrently because students online could still use base ten blocks virtually while my students in person were using the physical pieces. There wasn’t a large problem. I could also ask students online to share their screen with me so I could see their work if needed. Often, I found students actually more willing to share their screen than their cameras.
5. Read Alouds
Hardly anything bad can be said about reading aloud to students. This works great concurrently because students at home or in person can follow along with a story. If you have a picture book or nonfiction book with lots of images and can show it on a document camera, even better. I liked reading a chapter book at the end of the day while students were packing up in the classroom and cleaning up at home, though, because they could just treat me like an audiobook and not require viewing it. I often just put the words on the screen the same way, though, which seemed to help many focus.
6. Screen Breaks and Quiet Time breaks with play dough
Whether students were at home or in person, getting a break and doing something tactile was really helpful. Play dough is fantastic because students want the sensory stimulation they don’t get because they are so distanced from others. Some activities I did in person included shaving cream and so on because it gave that extra feeling.
7. Individual games at desks and online individual games OR Partner Games
When I first found out I was going to be teaching in person but students could not play games with others, I developed a bunch of individual games. These were mostly cards matching in pairs or groups of 3. I also made popsicle stick “I have…who has…” activities where the correct answer is on the next stick. This way it makes a strand of question then answer next to new question then answer and so on. You can read about 10 ideas for making your own math games here if you’re interested. Some simple partner games are also great for in person – things like Headbands with vocabulary words, pictionary, or just trying to list “Things that…” as much as you can in 1 minute or 30 seconds. I used many games online on review math and reading websites and also games in google slides. This kept the independent work interesting and fun.
8. Save computers for in person students when I meet virtually with others
One of the best things I did while teaching concurrently was essentially release myself from the expectation that I had to treat both groups the same throughout the whole day. There were times of the day I focused more heavily on the in person students and times of the day I focused more heavily on virtual students. I scheduled my virtual small group times and check ins for when students in person could be doing online programs. This was still beneficial for them, but it freed me up enormously to support those online.
9. Sharing Independent Work and Writing Comments
Independent tasks have to be the backbone of a situation like this. In order to keep distanced and with everyone in different places, students just need to be able to do their own work. I had students do a few things:
- Large google slideshows where each student had a slide. Then, other students could go through and comment on others’ slides once finished. This could be feedback or just for fun. The slide students had to complete could be a photo of something they’d done on paper, a completed template for a number of the day of their choice, or a piece of writing they shared
- Flipgrid was fantastic for giving students an opportunity to respond. This can be difficult when there are many students trying to explain something in person due to noise distractions, but overall this is a really nice way to share independent work. Then, students can comment or reply via video to others.
- Padlet was another source for students to put lots of work up. Considering you can post a photo, voice recording, text, add links, and more, it’s a great way to collect many samples. It’s easy to comment on others and is fun to look at if there is enough stuff to view.
By using these platforms, it really helped that students could comment on others’ work whenever they were finished. Often, they could do an extra slide or extra post, as well, so early finishers knew what they could do to stay busy.
Tips for In Person to maintain my distance from kids:
These are a few things that made my life easier when I had to be more vigilant about distancing.
1. Footprints on the floor
I bought a bunch of stickers to put on the floor. In my school, we have dots all over the hallway that are 6ft apart. In my classroom I have footprints towards the sink and towards the computer cart that are 3 feet apart. These were some of the best money I’ve spent. They are so easy for keeping students apart, and they love to hop from one footprint to the next.
2. Extra supplies
Most of the time I would say don’t fight supplies and just give them pencils, but even more so – just give them more pencils and whatever they need. I did not want to sort through all of their junk. I couldn’t be in their space as much as I wanted. If I am going to keep space between myself and students, I can’t help them look for the thing they need. It’s so much easier for me to just give them another one. I also have tended towards them not asking a peer for extras.
3. Bubbles and chalk at recess
If recess has become more difficult or you know kids should probably be home quarantining instead of breathing the face of their best friend, maybe encourage some naturally distanced activities like bubbles, chalk, frisbee tosses, and make-your-own cornhole with hackey sacks and a chalk circle.
4. Teach students how to tell others to distance
I noticed early on how a few students seemed uncomfortable with how close others might get and either said nothing or got angry. Giving students language to say and body language to motion was very helpful. I taught students that it would be appropriate to say, “You’re too close. We need to be on different footprints.” or “I’m on this dot. Only one person can be in between.” Or put their hands up in a “hands off” motion and ask, “Please step back.” They needed to know what was okay to say and what might come across as impolite. We talked about how this was a polite way to ask someone to follow the school expectations.
5. Individual activity based worksheets
While independent work is a necessity, it does not have to be on the computer and it does not have to be fill in the blank or answer the problem type sheets. There are tons of activity based worksheets with mazes, coloring, puzzles, etc. Some of my favorite math books for my middle schoolers were a series called Pizzazz that had answers that could be used to solve jokes and riddles. My 6th graders listed coloring sheets as one of their favorite math stations. Who knew?! My 2nd graders flipped out this year at their math packets. When they’re due, even though they don’t have to do every page, they sometimes want to keep them so they can do more of the activities. Worksheets don’t have to be boring or simple; they can be activity based
I know that as educators we are worn out from “pivoting” a million times and changing direction and coming up with new responses. You’ve already succeeded (yes, you succeeded, I promise) at many things over the past couple of years, and you can rely on some of those successes as you move forward. I hope this list gave you some fresh ideas and reminded you of what worked for you in the past. Best of luck!