“Hybrid learning” has become a blanket term for the many ways students are experiencing school right now amid the coronavirus pandemic: in-person students with remote teachers, remote students with in-person teachers, kids rotating between school and home by week or day. It’s a system that assumes students can juggle the logistics of returning to school under new circumstances and learning at home, which, for kids in the midst of brain development plus pandemic stress, has the potential to quickly feel like too much to handle. (Changes based on positive coronavirus cases, local outbreaks and related health ordinances can add another layer of stress for parents, students and teachers.)
Over two decades working with students on executive-functioning skills including organization, prioritization and managing distractions, I’ve seen firsthand how even the most naturally organized students may need additional positive structures and support in unfamiliar circumstances such as these.
Still, parents can help children navigate this tension by providing continuity and routine within an ever-changing schedule. Here are some strategies.
Have a morning (or evening) check-in. In many cases, students have gone from rigidly packed pre-pandemic schedules to no schedules to schedules that change by the day. It’s a lot to juggle. Setting aside time in the morning to identify what the day will look like and what work should be completed, or time in the evening to reflect and plan for the next day, can steady your child’s nerves. Finding a regular time each day to check in — even for five or 10 minutes — allows kids to process what their day will look like and what is needed, and it brings some needed consistency to their lives.
Prepare for a return to paper. Many students who have been learning remotely over the past year have kept much of their work on their digital device. Going back into the classroom part-time means they will probably be getting papers and handouts in addition to needing to keep digital assignments and resources organized. Have students create parallel systems: a folder on their computer for each class, with subfolders for notes, homework and handouts, and a similar system for physical documents with a binder and tabbed dividers, so each digital file or physical document has a home.
I encourage students to create a system where any document on their computer or handout in their binder can be located in under a minute.
Have students map out how work is assigned and submitted for each class. Over the past year, school districts have been grappling with more missing assignments and increased Ds and Fs. One reason? Students aren’t submitting assignments properly, even after being completed, leading to lower grades, frustration and then a lack of motivation.
Some middle school and high school students juggle five or six classes, each with different ways of assigning and collecting work. For one of my students, two teachers did all their work through Google Classroom, another had all the work on a personal website, and two more used the school’s learning management system. One teacher emailed students weekly.
The added complexity of being remote some days and in-person other days magnifies the need for students to identify the different ways each class handles work. Tracking assignments in a written planner allows students to keep all their assignments in one streamlined place and acts as a catchall, particularly when they have teachers who communicate in different ways.
Create bins for each learning scenario. Students spending part of the week at school and the other part at home are encountering a level of logistical complexity they’ve probably never seen before. Having a place to store supplies for each learning scenario (to be quickly swapped out as needed) helps students feel a sense of autonomy. Label one bin for in-person learning (maybe that one has the backpack and related supplies) and another for remote learning. No need for duplicate supplies — just encourage students to ask themselves, “So tomorrow I am at school. Is everything I need in this bin?”
Provide time, structure and support. “Children spend a lot of time, normally, in a classroom with a teacher who’s really encouraging them about their learning and how they’re growing and changing educationally and academically,” says Martha Herndon, head of school at Capitol Hill Learning Group, a private school in Northeast Washington where registered home-schoolers can come three days a week for in-person classroom learning and then spend two days at home working with their parents. In a hybrid system, teachers may not have the same time or resources to support students as fully as they had in the before times (even with the best of intentions and efforts!). So, even as parents and caregivers are able to step back in comparison with remote-learning efforts, they may still need to provide increased levels of support, both in terms of motivation and organization. It may mean finding a few additional resources related to what students are learning, Herndon explains, and then asking open-ended questions to help them think through topics in a different way. Figure out what your child can do on their own and when they’ll need you or another caring adult close at hand — in person or virtually.
Whatever you’re able to manage — taking time to talk your child through their to-do list, watching as they track down all their assignments from online learning portals and write them down in a planner, or sitting with them as they virtually submit the work — remember that consistency is key. There are sure to be more bumps in the road before schools return to any semblance of “normal,” but with patience, structure and support, we have the opportunity to provide a grounding force to help kids negotiate this time, and, quite possibly, learn more than imagined.
Ana Homayoun is an educational consultant and author of three books, including “Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World.” Learn more about her at anahomayoun.com or follow her on Twitter at @anahomayoun.