Managing the Merry-Go-Round: Virtual, Hybrid, In Person, REPEAT!


Hello everyone!  Today I am going to explain how you can efficiently switch back and forth from in person to virtual learning to Hybrid, etc., and then back again, etc.  I will also explain how I managed hybrid instruction as well.  This was in Transitional Kindergarten (TK), but I believe that the ideas should apply to any elementary grade level.  At the time I taught TK, the students needed to turn five by December 2 in order to start school.

In my district, families may choose to Zoom from home or send the children in for in person school, and we were required to teach both groups concurrently.  We sent home printed packets for the children to use at home every other week, and had to post it online, too! Children often spent unexpected days at home when they were scheduled to be at school, and this is how I managed this situation.  

A Little More Background Info

In the district where I taught in Southern CA, we taught virtually for nearly the entire school year, from August 26, 2020 until the end of March, 2021.  At that point, we brought back half of the students on alternating days beginning on April 5, 2021, using the AB Model and attempting to keep the children six feet apart, with all of us wearing masks.  So, in my class of 25 children, I had ten Group A students that attended in person school on Mondays and Tuesdays, and nine more students in Group B that attended in person school on Thursdays and Fridays.  I had six children whose parents chose to keep them home every day for virtual instruction, so I had to TEACH THE VIRTUAL STUDENTS CONCURRENTLY!  All classes were taught virtually on Wednesdays while the classrooms were deep cleaned. 

On May 10th, 2021, our Covid virus numbers in Los Angeles County decreased enough to allow all children to attend school in person if their parents wished it.  At that point, we were allowed to keep them just three feet apart instead of six, with masks on everyone.  Families were still able to choose to keep children home for virtual instruction.  Once we settled in, we had twenty students at school for in person instruction, and five children Zooming along at home.  Parents were able to keep children at home any day that they choose for any reason, so materials had to be sent home and then brought back again each day.  This means that we have had varying numbers of in person students each day, but for me, it was never fewer than 18 children.

In addition, my WONDERFUL district provided a para-educator to help out in ALL TK (Transitional Kindergarten) and K classes during in person instruction!  When a para-educator could not be found, they provided credentialed substitute teachers instead!  (WOW.  Just WOW!!!)  I wound up with a wonderful para-educator with a substitute credential in my room each day.  She was an amazing help! Even so, I believe this schedule would work even if I had to teach without help.  It just would have taken longer to get to everyone.


The Basics

1.  Stick with ONE Routine, whether virtual, hybrid, or in person as much as possible.
Once I decided to continue with the routine I had established online, I felt SO much less stress!  I displayed everything on the screen for the in person kids (Roomies) and on Zoom for my virtual kids (Zoomies.) And on Wednesdays, when everyone was virtual, it just didn't matter!  Sticking to the routine truly helped a great deal, since children always knew what to expect, whether they were at home or in person.  (That's less stress for them, too, and stress affects student behavior!)  It made transitioning back and forth fairly easy for all of us.  In fact, I credit much of my intact sanity to the fact that I stuck to the schedule every day. πŸ€ͺ

2.  Plan ALL lessons so that they could be done both at home and in person.  
This is VITALLY IMPORTANT!  You can see my lesson plans on TpT at this link.  I taught Transitional Kindergarten (TK) in a relatively high performing district, so these plans might work for you if you teach Kindergarten to an average or low SES population.  

3.  Give all instructions to everyone at once, then check for understanding.
When virtual, I used to ask kids to tip their Chromebooks cameras down so that I could see them work.  I could usually see when kids were struggling, and would offer help.  My Roomies needed MUCH MORE SUPPORT than those at home, and so when teaching hybrid, everything took much longer.  So, I told parents at home to have books or activities that the kids could do if they finished early.  They also had optional activities on Seesaw and on Starfall, but most kids did not do them.  Usually, only my most advanced students' parents actually put them online to do that. 

4.  Set a timer for each activity or assignment and display it on the screen.  
The online timer helped the Zoomies at home know how much longer they had to wait if they were finished.  I used to hear some of them say, "Alexa, please set a timer for 20 minutes!" πŸ˜ƒ I sat with the in person students that needed the most help.  If a child didn't finish, we would decide whether or not that child had done their best, or if they appeared to have dawdled to avoid the work.  The "dawdlers" had to finish those assignments during our inside playtime. 

5.  Let independent centers go.
We did not have centers for kids to do while I worked with kids in small groups.  Instead, kids that finished early could use their play dough (stored in their cubby trays) or choose a book, but both activities had to be done at their own desks.  They also each had a baggie of one inch blocks (for counting) that they would often play with.  I felt bad that the kids missed out on some of those fun center activities, but in the end, I think that they learned about the same amount with centers as without them.  And it was actually less time work for me! (Shh!) 🀷🏻‍♀️

6.  Give everyone a dry erase board (or sleeve) and a marker.
I managed to give all students a dry erase board, markers, and an eraser in their cubbies and at home.  I think this was my best investment, along with a tray with magnetic letters.  This helped me keep children engaged by having everyone reply to my questions either by writing, holding up a letter, or with a movement/action.  This is the easiest and quickest way to increase engagement, and that is SO important!

7.  Divide Work Among Teammates.
This is just SO important!  You can accomplish so much more working as a team.  If you are in the unfortunate position of being the only person in your grade level at your school, see if a teacher in the same grade at another local school would like to team up to plan and prep activities.

8.  Stay well ahead of your planning and prep work. 
I tried to stay two weeks ahead, all the time.  That way, if we suddenly had to switch to all virtual instruction, I could easily send everything home quickly.  And that meant less stress all the way around.  

9.  Find some "pre-packaged" daily or weekly lesson plans, if possible.
Using lesson plans that are already condensed into just one file means that sub plans are a breeze, also!  Check out mine here, or search for some, or create your own.  When I needed a sub, it was so easy just to direct her to the online printable packet I had posted for families.  Then all I needed to do was provide links to other online lessons.


10.  Have a back-up plan with online activities and the browser tab ready.
We used HeidiSongs online videos to absorb extra time, plus they were already embedded into many of our Google Slides lessons.  My kids always loved requesting their favorite songs, and it's super easy to jump from one song to another online!




11.  Give yourself some grace.
Remember that you are not expected to be an expert at everything.  You just need to do your best.  Also, I asked parents to let me know if something wasn't showing up on Zoom like it was supposed to be, or if they couldn't hear me, etc.  Each time someone mentioned a problem, I replied, "Thank you for helping me, I appreciate it!"  I gave all of them my cell number to text me, just in case we couldn't communicate online.  This helped tremendously, especially on those few days when the school's internet connection went down. 

12.  Give Students and Families Some Grace
Acknowledge that the situation is unique and difficult.  Tell parents and kids that they are doing well when you can see that they are trying!   I always used to say, "If you forgive me for my mistakes, I'll forgive you for yours!"  When parents miss a message, remind kids that their parents are trying to handle a lot at once, and to be patient.  I remember saying to the kids, "Even the BEST of parents will miss a message some of the time!" 

Challenges and Solutions

1.  Watch the Teacher, or the Screen?
Because we were Zooming concurrently while I taught in person, the children were expected to watch the projector SCREEN rather than "the real me."  This proved quite challenging for five year olds!  I often found them watching the real me rather than the screen, and then they missed things when I was using the document camera or an online resource.  So once we opened up fully, I moved my teacher station to be at the front of the classroom, so that I was sitting right next to and underneath the screen.  That way, I could keep pointing at the screen when it's important for them to look at it.  (Previously, I had been off to the side to avoid blocking the screen.)

2.  Ants in Their Pants

One of the biggest challenges with our classroom set up was that the students on the floor often picked up, played with, drummed on, or hugged their lap desks!  They also sometimes raised them up over their heads into the air, and pushed them around the floor.  And, being social little beings, they somehow keep getting closer and closer to each other as the day goes on.  Also, backpacks with their materials wound up everywhere, rather than on the backs of chairs. I wound up moving those kids to tables.  

I also made use of music videos with movement to help me teach.  This was a TREMENDOUS help!  Be sure to check out our internet video streaming site on Uscreen.  You can subscribe to one video or the whole collection.  Prices start at $1 per month with a three month minimum for one video collection (like one DVD), and go up to $9.99 for all access to more than 1000 instructional videos and ZERO ADS.



3.  Oops!

Another issue was that the cubby trays were often dropped and spilled, and even stepped on or tripped over if the tray was on the floor.  A few times per week, all of the contents of a cubby tray would go flying across the room when a child accidentally stepped on it as they walked through the maze of lap desks and students on the floor.  πŸ€ͺThe only good way to deal with this is to constantly remind them to watch their step, and ask kids to always put crayons and markers back into their boxes.  And, read below about how we managed to keep our backpacks on hooks right outside the door rather than in the classroom.

4.  Forgotten Supplies at Home

Because we were required to send everything home in advance, I usually had three to five students per day that would forget or lose their  materials for the day that we had sent home.  And, those that did bring them in often could not find what they needed.  And, those that did find their materials would often lose something before an assignment was completed.  This happened because they were FIVE, (not because they were careless,) so what could I say?  I am not a fan of the "send everything home, and then bring it all back daily" routine, even though the great majority of the parents in my class were very responsible and truly did their best.  
If you've ever tried to send home a permission slip to get it signed and returned, I'm sure you'll appreciate the issue here.  So, my teammate and I prepped extra materials to keep on hand daily.  Finally by the last month of school, I decided to break the rules and send home materials ONLY with the "Zoomies" at home, and not the in person "Roomies."  (Apologies to any former colleagues reading this!)
I checked with each Roomie's parents to ask if they would like me to keep the materials at school rather than at home.  Then, they would need to be willing to print or pick up what was needed if their child had to stay home. They were ALL so relieved!  Not one family wanted to pick up everything and then send it back each day.  I decided that if we all go on quarantine, I would drive it over to any family that needed me to, and leave it on their doorstep. I figured that if I got "a strike on my record," I would just smile and apologize, since I knew I was going to retire in June anyways!  😝  
Everything was MUCH easier in the classroom after that, because I had control of the materials.  Backpacks could stay outside the door on the hooks, and I didn't have to scold kids for searching for supplies while I was giving directions. 🀦🏻‍♀️ 

Classroom Setup for Hybrid Instruction


I chose to keep the tables in my room that I have always used rather than try to get desks.  When all of the children were allowed to return, they had to be three feet apart "from mouth to mouth."  We also put shields between every other student.  I wound up with five tables with two or three children at each one, plus two individual student desks.  This leaves five or six children sitting on the floor in front of the screen, using plastic lap desks.
I had tubs in their cubbies that were filled with their individual supplies, since sharing materials was not allowed.  When they entered the class, the children grabbed their tubs, or "cubby trays" and bring them to their assigned seats.  Below is a map of how I had my class set up, with a number next to each spot that a child could sit in.  Luckily, my room was fairly large, and I always had five or six at home anyway, at least!

My Schedule (Half Day Synchronous Instruction for TK)

Note:  for longer schedules, simply give longer assignments and/or schedule longer activities.

Here is a BRIEF overview of my schedule.  My district required that all instruction be done live and in person, rather than pre-recorded lessons.  You can find a more in depth description on this blog post here.  

*I highly recommend that you open all tabs in your browser in advance and in order, from left to right.  That way if you forget what comes next, you select the next tab and begin.  


8:00-8:05 AM: Attendance, etc.

- Take roll, greetings, etc.


8:05-8:10 AM: Calendar/School Day Count/Weather Graph


 


8:10-8:15  Science or Social Studies (or Social Emotional) Video and Discussion

Each week, I focused on one theme for either science or social studies, such as spring, fall, insects, holidays, etc.  So for this time, I used videos found online.  I did have to preview all of these ahead of time each evening.  I found it best to show these early in the day in order to motivate children to get to school on time.  The children seemed to truly love these!  

8:15- 8:25: Story Time- (with Science & Social Studies Themes)

I used mainly digital books found on YouTube, or ebooks checked out free online from the county library via Overdrive.com. This made it easier for everyone to see the pictures and text.  There are also many libraries that will allow you to check out ebooks even if you live out of their geographic area- and especially if you're an educator!  Just search online.  Kindle Unlimited is also a good source of ebooks; I used them until my free trial ran out.  😬  





8:25 AM: Letter of the Day/Week Google Slides

These are interactive activities that include music and movement.

Note: we do as much of this as we have time for, otherwise I skip some of the slides.

8:32 AM: Number of the Day/Week Google Slides Alternated with Shape of the Week Google Slides

I usually did the Shape of the Week twice a week and the Number of the Week three times, depending on class needs.  These are interactive activities that include music and movement.


8:37 AM: Sight Word of the Day/Week Google Slides

These are interactive activities that include music and movement.


8:42 AM: Written Practice for Number/Letter/Sight Word/Shape of the Week

We did this with dry erase boards and markers.

8:45 AM Daily Academic Activities:

This was usually a short craft, since the kids really needed a break after sitting for instruction for 45 minutes!  If the craft was going to take longer than 15 minutes, I shortened the previous slide decks in order to start a bit earlier.  I refer to these as academic activities because they build fine motor, following directions, and art skills.  You can find my lesson plans on TpT at this link. 


9:00 AM: Recess


9:20- 9:30 AM: Phonemic Awareness and Zoo Phonics

We tried to go through our Zoo Phonics cards every day, but sometimes ran out of time.  The cards are sold on ZooPhonics.com, but you can also find practice videos on YouTube. 




9:30-10:00  Language Arts Instruction  

Each day, I planned a game, worksheet, or activity to help teach the alphabet, sight words, writing, or rhyming words, etc.  I sat at a table with those that needed extra help to finish.  The rest worked independently and then read a book or played with play dough until the timer went off at 10:00.  Kids at home could do the same, or do activities on Seesaw or Starfall, to which the school provided a subscription.

We learned to read and find sight words in books like this nearly every week.

10:00-10:30  Math Instruction 

Each day, I planned a game, worksheet, or activity to help teach the number sense, counting, addition, place value, etc.  I sat at a table with those that needed extra help to finish.  The rest worked independently and then read a book or played with play dough until the timer went off at 10:30.  Zoomies at home knew that our play time would come last, so they were able to log off when finished.  I had them show me their work first, then they could play at home.  Sometimes they went into Breakout Rooms together to chat or "play together".  

Here's another game that we played with dice!  Kids can also use torn paper for markers.  Most kids at home played against their parents or siblings.  


10:30- 10:35  Clean Up etc.

I trained the kids to put everything away into their cubbies and make sure their backpacks were loaded up and ready to go home.  Kids were not allowed to go play until they did both.  Having them get ready to go home BEFORE PLAYTIME worked especially well, since they were super motivated to move quickly.

10:35-10:55 Inside Playtime or Finish Work

Once children finished cleaning up, etc., they asked permission to go choose a toy.  At that point, I usually had in my possession any papers that kids needed to finish instead of playtime- but this didn't happen all that often.  My rule was that if the child appeared to be working hard during instructional time, I would declare them "finished" and let them play.  Anyone that was observed to be avoiding the work or dawdling had to finish up during playtime.  I explained this policy to parents in advance.

10:55-11:00  Clean Up, Dismissal

If there was any extra time, I read a book or we played a quick game.

In the afternoons, we were allowed to meet with students on Zoom for progress checking and do prep work.  Sometimes there were also staff meetings.  Honestly, we were first told to meet with the children after lunch to do some tutoring, but then our admin realized that that would have been a longer day for the children than during a normal in person day!  They decided that more than three hours per day for our TKs was more than was needed.  I was SO GRATEFUL!  And I think that the parents were too.  :)

Questions?  You can email us at info@heidisongs.com.  Thanks!  

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