Do I look at the eight or nine faces spread evenly across the classroom, or do I stare into the lens at the top of my laptop? Do I try and spread my attention between the pupils physically present with me and those sitting at home? Do I offer the same materials and activities to all or do I differentiate between the two learning contexts? All hugely relevant to my current educational situation. Welcome to hybrid teaching!
A couple of weeks ago the Dutch government decided that it was time for the secondary schools to return to the classroom. Or at least, to return to physical lessons for all children for at least one day a week. If we set aside for a moment whether this was the right decision or not for a moment and focus on the practicalities and how hybrid lessons are working in particular for us in the art department.
My school like many in the Netherlands has chosen to split each class in three groups. Each day, one of the groups are at school and physically present in the classroom, and the other two groups are at home and following the lesson online.
The net result for the teacher is a sort of split personality of teaching practice, a near impossible challenge of knowing where to aim your focus, and yet another opportunity to overhaul teaching material to give it a chance of working in this new situation.
Three weeks in, and at least for me in my art room role, a few things have become clear:
- After the months of totally online lessons and having to rely only on materials that the pupils have available to the at home, I want to offer those physically present the chance to work with some of the more interesting materials that we have on offer at school.
- Spreading your attention evenly between the two groups is near impossible. As a result, hardly surprisingly, you find yourself participating in small talk with those present, and risking neglecting those at home. Avoiding creating “second-class learners” at home is a challenge. The home-based groups receive certainly less attention than they got while the teaching was fulling online.
- I have decided that I simply need two assignments for each class. One for home lessons days and a second (related, but different in terms of materials and practicalities) for the at school days. The home assignment is designed in such a way that pupils can essentially get on with it independently, while I give more attention to those present in the classroom.
This set up of split assignments seemed to me to be the only way to go, especially with classes where there are sometimes ten pupils in class and twenty following at home.
The only exception to this rule has interestingly been the youngest class that I teach. Twenty-six 12-year-olds do seem able to be taught in one group. That has been partly down to the assignments that I have been doing with them, but a bigger factor here has been the openness and chatty active participation levels of the younger children in comparison to their camera shy 15- or 16-year-old fellow pupils.
So, my conclusions after these first three weeks of hybrid education? Well, when looked at in terms of the quality of the education being offered (in terms of content) has not been improved, when compared to the fully online lessons.
What we have now is a hugely complex learning situation where everyone is battling to find focus and the best way to do things. But was this change to hybrid ever actually about the content?
It feels more like it has been an attempt to offer a degree of ‘normality’ in our pandemic world. A kind of ‘look everyone, the schools are open again’ sort of statement. Although the more pushed narrative is one aimed at increasing the social contact of our young people. I have no problem with this second perspective, our pupils need to meet up, to socialise and re-establish old weekly rhythms.
However, the ”return to normality” viewpoint is considerably more problematic, especially in the context of rising infection rates and neighbouring countries being still very much in lockdown. Could it just be that there was a political motivation to the reopening that was connected to the general election last week?