Hybrid classrooms are a much talked about trend in education these days. Despite the benefits touted in the media and research, the reality is that this model is not suited to every student or teacher.
Hybrid Classrooms are an Acquired Taste
Like some of you, I was convinced to turn my traditional classroom into a hybrid classroom by my school district. It was an exciting new trend in education, and my district wanted to be a pioneer in bringing it to K-12 classrooms. Already a 1:1 district, administrators claimed it was a natural fit. So I was told when I volunteered to become a hybrid classroom teacher.
I Had Too Few Successful Students
Hybrid classrooms are advertised as a way to differentiate instruction and give teachers time to work with struggling students. While that is true to a certain degree, there were many students in my classroom who just weren't ready for the freedom that comes with the hybrid model.
Hybrid classrooms are promoted as a way to develop self-directed learners. To be truly self-directed learners, students need to develop solid skills in organization, time-management, studying, and self-advocacy. The reality is that these are skills that the majority of students lack when they walk through your classroom door. In a hybrid classroom, students gain a lot of independence.
Unlike in a traditional classroom, I was working with small groups most of the time, leaving my students to work on various tasks. My students became more self-paced in terms of their learning, spending less or more time on units, based on their personal needs.
Unfortunately, a lot of my students weren't equipped with the skills to manage themselves academically. In the beginning, there were a handful that needed me to micromanage them as we worked through units. As time went on, that number of students only grew, and I felt like I was trying to manage 20 cars moving at different speeds on a freeway without a NASCAR radio. As a result, more than one student experienced a crash and burn at some point along the road.
The self-paced aspects of the hybrid model didn't just ruin my classroom by transforming it into a group of 20 students functioning at 20 different levels. It also hurt them academically. Trying to sustain a blended learning class of 20 students proved impossible. Only a minority of my students were happy and successful during the year and did well on the state tests.
However, my lower-ability students just slipped further into the cracks over the course of the year. They needed academically stronger peers to support them during lessons and activities, which occurs in a traditional classroom. Over time, these lower-ability students fell into a group by themselves with only me to lift them up. Try as I might, I realized how important it was to mix levels in groups to help strengthen everyone's abilities.
I Lost Parental Support
The reality of having a hybrid classroom was far from the educational dream I was sold. First off, my parents were less than pleased with the change. For many parents, the second you say 'hybrid' model of education, they decide you have stopped teaching. They associate hybrid classes with online virtual schools, where students spend most of their time in automated lessons.
Other parents even associated me with their own negative online experiences. Having taught for years, it was disheartening to be ridiculed for my blended lessons by parents. The cloud of the 'hybrid classroom' hung over my teaching plans. It also made it nearly impossible to get parents involved in the classroom or to work with me cooperatively.
For example, when students faced challenges, it wasn't about student responsibility or even the actual material anymore. Rather, every issue with students - from academics to behavior - was blamed on my hybrid classroom model. Was a student horse playing during class? You weren't teaching. Other students can't pass a test on the periodic table? You didn't teach them.
Taking their cues from their parents, it didn't take long before my students started using the same rhetoric in the classroom. Early on, parental rhetoric had a negative impact on whatever credibility I had in my classroom, which in turn made the entire school year seem like a waste, for both myself and my students.
I Married the Technology
Another thing I didn't know when I signed on for a hybrid classroom model was that I was marrying the technology. Like many of you who bought into hybrid classrooms, your district has a software package it wants to use. The software became my ball and chain. Instead of having the freedom to decide how I presented information to my students, I became tied to one-size-fits-most system that was extremely time-consuming to use.
When you first begin teaching in a hybrid classroom, you are essentially setting up a mini virtual school with the software package you have been given. That means rolling over all of your materials into the software. Most of my planning time became not about planning my instruction, but about copying and pasting test questions into the software. This time-consuming task proved to be another disadvantage of blended learning. I spent more hours trying to figure out how to get documents into the software and have them function correctly. I spent even more hours trying to use the online grade book - just another example of how switching to a hybrid model ruined my classroom.