I am a totally self-contained fourth grade teacher with a class of in-person learners, but our district is often switching to virtual learning due to weather (we used up all of our days) or sickness. I have prepared everything for my in-person instruction, but now I have to figure out suddenly and without plan time how to transfer my wonderful preparation into the virtual world.
In this post, I will talk about the three styles of virtual learning I used during these situations, and which one is the best option for my students' learning and for my sanity.
The three styles of sudden-switch-to-virtual learning are totally synchronous, totally asynchronous, and hybrid.
Let's begin with the option that caused me the MOST headache...
1. Totally Asynchronous
This was a serious pain to change my plans to total asynchronous learning, and it did not result in much learning for my students. High workload, low payoff. 10/10 would avoid if possible.
To change everything to asynchronous, I had to work like a dog. I had to take all four subject areas (ELA, math, social studies, and science) and convert that day's presentation, materials (the kids didn't have their stuff at home since these sudden switches usually happen without notice), activities, etc. to the virtual world. It took FOREVER to translate just one day's instructional content, and that doesn't even consider the work that goes in to the day it self.
Parent communication. Kids that are trying to come to class when there isn't any. Kids needing help but having issues connecting. Kids who don't show up to do anything. Troubleshooting the things I put together last minute for virtual world. A total disaster.
Now, I'm not saying that a totally asynchronous day is always a bad thing. Out of the three sudden-switch styles I tried, it worked the least for me.
Let's talk about one that was a little bit better...
2. Total Synchronous
In this style, I taught the entire day as if the students were in the room, just through the virtual meetings. I used the entire lesson presentation as intended, and I worked to translate their activities into digital versions (with some adjustments here and there).
This worked better. Kids participated and learned. However, it was exhausting. I would struggle being a virtual teacher all day, every day. That's a lot of screen time for the kids as well, and I noticed that stamina was quickly depleted. They were at home, so of course there are other things that they'd like to do that continue to stare at their computer screen for 8 hours.
At the end of the day though, this one took the least amount of prep work from me since I used everything as it already existed, with the exception of any activities I translated over. I also will note that this was more feasible when I actually worked from the school building itself - I used the smart board and everything.
This still wasn't the best option for a suddenly virtual day, however, due to the fact that it leaves pretty much no time during the day for any sort of troubleshooting or prep work, on top of being so tiresome for both myself and my students.
So finally, let's talk about the golden ticket. The always-answer for my suddenly-virtual switches. I present to you....
3. Hybrid Model
In this model, students attend abbreviated live meetings at the beginning of each subject, receive some support and instruction, and then complete the subject largely asynchronously. The subjects are opened as the students progress through the day's schedule. They mimic a typical day in school, yet have extended freedoms once they finish their work in a class.
For my work side of things, I am able to largely do this type of switch as we go through the day. In the morning, I get the first couple classes 'switched' over. Meet with students, deliver instruction using the already prepared presentation, release them for work. Support, continue. Get together the last couple of classes in the interim, completely ready far before time to unlock them. This leaves plenty of space for communicating with students, supporting them as they work, etc.
Students preferred this model as well. It boils down to this - You're going through a full day of school today, but you're only going to meet with me three times for short lesson meetings. Then, you're finishing the work without me, and contacting me if you need my support.
This solution is the most reasonable for both the educator and the learner. It acknowledges that the students are kids at home, doing their best to still have a 'day of school'. It acknowledges that the teacher is a hard working person who was told at the last minute to make things virtual. It acknowledges that parents / families may or may not be able to have their students get the stuff done during the day, but that maybe they will go on after school hours and get caught up. Most importantly, as long as the students 'show up for school', it allows me to confidently continue right where we left off when return the next day.