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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 54: Is it Really All or Nothing? Navigating Hybrid Learning during the Pandemic.

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Is it Really All or Nothing? Navigating Hybrid Learning during the Pandemic

Teachers across the United States exist in vastly different realities in 2020. Some are still teaching fully online. Some are in their classrooms full-time with students. Some are in hybrid classrooms with a portion of students in the room and a portion at home participating virtually. No matter your current reality, there is a decent chance that things will change as rates of COVID infection rise and fall in your community. If you are teaching in person now, you may well find yourself teaching remotely again in the future. And, hopefully, all children will be back in their classrooms before too long.

The lesson of 2020 is that we all must remain nimble and as prepared as we can be for the changes that will inevitably come our way. This post is designed to support teaching the EL Education K–8 Language Arts Curriculum as you shift from remote learning to hybrid learning, with a focus on the following: preparing students for the transition by building community and setting or resetting routines; grouping students strategically within a hybrid model; and staying focused on high-quality learning experiences.

Build the Culture You Want

Essential to the success of your transition from remote learning to hybrid learning is intentional culture and community building. You and your students can prepare yourselves—before you are back together in the classroom—for being a different kind of learning community. Spend some time in crew, morning meeting, advisory, or your school’s social-emotional learning structure to intentionally build community with students. Help students get to know each other better, build trust, and reflect on the habits of character in the curriculum (work to become ethical people, work to become effective learners, and work to contribute to a better world).

During normal school years, it’s uncommon for teachers to have the opportunity to build community with students before coming together in the classroom. Take advantage of the time you have in the remote environment to build (or rebuild) norms and think together with students about what kind of learning community they want to build once they are physically together.


Building caring and supportive classroom communities is the first step in navigating this new landscape of school. Students need to know that their classroom community is safe, responsive to their needs and a space where their voices can be heard. Connecting their lives, cultures and identities to the curriculum is the key to ensuring students can thrive emotionally and academically. Shaneka Palmer Senior PD Specialist, EL Education

The unique realities of COVID (e.g., social distancing requirements, mask wearing, being confined to a single classroom all day) will likely require some resetting of classroom routines. You can practice transitions, small group work in break-out groups, and giving/following clear directions in the remote environment and debrief how each of these elements will be the same or different back in the classroom. (See this helpful Virtual Instruction Guidance for classroom protocols on the EL Education website.)

It will be highly supportive to your students if you keep as many of the transition routines as possible the same when you make the transition. Clearly it’s different for students to get into small groups when they are in person than it is to whisk them away to a Zoom break-out room, but what can be the same? Can you use the same words and tone when you give instructions for their small group work? Can you use the same anchor charts with visual cues that show students roles and responsibilities within the group? Fast forward to minute 2:06 in the video below to see how a Grades 1–2 teacher in Colorado used her time in virtual crew to prepare her students to come back to the classroom in person.

A Grades 1–2 teacher uses virtual crew to prepare her students to come back to the classroom in person (starting at 2:06).

Grouping Students Strategically

Our curriculum requires a lot of small group work, and this year, in particular, small group instruction is particularly important to address gaps in learning as a result of disruptions due to the pandemic. There are many decisions to make regarding grouping students within a hybrid model. Some teachers have found that grouping students in mixed groups for teacher instruction, with half the small group made up of students who are in the classroom, and the other half joining virtually works well for their students because of the opportunities it affords for community building. Other teachers have found that this model is either too distracting for their students or not possible due to unequal access to technology, and it is best to keep the students who are present in the classroom and those joining virtually in separate groups.

Consider the needs of your class through an equity lens. Which approach to grouping will give students the most supportive learning environment? How will your decisions about grouping make a difference in your ability to meet their needs? Whichever grouping configuration you use, consider these strategies to further support all students:

  • When students are working independently in small groups, get them set up with shared Google docs (or similar) that have clear directions, roles and responsibilities, note-catchers, and anything else that they need all in one place.
  • Before students break into groups, provide them with clear guidance about what should happen in their small groups. If students are engaged in a protocol, ensure that they know their roles and responsibilities. Who is the facilitator, timekeeper, etc? This is related to the first point in this blog post about building community and practicing routines and transitions. Students may need lots of front-loading and support to manage themselves effectively in break-out groups. It’s worth the effort to go slow at the beginning so that students can be successful independently as they practice and build trust with one another. With all the disruptions in 2020, many teachers haven’t focused quite as much on setting up these routines in the virtual space; as a result, there are many Zoom break-out rooms where students don’t turn on their mics or cameras and remain unengaged. It’s never too late to reset expectations and norms! The reality is that, just like in the classroom, students need guidance and practice to work well in groups.
  • Allow for extra time for students to practice and navigate tech, learning platforms, and expectations for mixed groups of in-person and virtual students if that is how you decide to set up your groups. Just like with in-person learning, modeling expectations, giving students the opportunity to practice, and providing feedback is more likely to lead to success.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Remaining nimble and intentional are key when thinking about hybrid and remote learning. No one strategy will work for every school or district. Below, teachers in EL Education partner schools in New York and Tennessee have shared a few of their strategies and tips:

  • Leverage individual breakout rooms for K–5 when in small groups for support blocks. Consider having all students working independently in break out groups of one, whether they are in the classroom or virtual, until it’s time for small group instruction. Teachers can pull students into the main session online room to work with them at a teacher-directed station, then move students back out to independent work when the small group is completed.
  • If the scenario above is too distracting for in-person students, consider the above strategy for the on-line students while the in-person students follow a more typical small-group instruction model. This could also make it more manageable for teachers.
  • Use the flex time built into the curriculum strategically. Pre-plan for 1:1 feedback sessions with students, re-teaching opportunities in smaller groups and conferences.

Whatever you decide, be strategic in merging the two worlds for students. Ensure that you are creating personal, relevant learning experiences for students that thoughtfully build a sense of being ONE learning community. Make connections to home and allow students across in-person and remote platforms opportunities to share and engage outside of academic instruction.


We were intentional about giving teachers tools to run a culturally responsive classroom where students are able to show up as themselves everyday and know that their classroom community is there to support them. Sarah Maynard Upper Elementary School Director, Hyde Leadership Charter School

Stay Focused on Moves That Matter

A high-quality curriculum is one of the best supports for teachers in their efforts to engage their students in their learning, whether it is in-person, virtual, or hybrid. A high-quality curriculum reduces the planning burden on teachers so they can concentrate on all of the moving pieces of delivering instruction during a pandemic.

In addition to the strategies already discussed in this post, which focus on community building, setting and resetting routines, and strategic grouping, teaching the EL Education K–8 Language Arts Curriculum in a hybrid learning environment will require teachers to stay focused on the instructional moves that always matter: helping students understand the purpose of the lesson and their learning; ensuring, whenever possible, that learning feels relevant to students and that they can see the connections to their personal experiences and communities. Whether in-person, virtual, or hybrid, the focus should always be on the learning.

For more general information about our curriculum, check out our website or our books Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum and Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education 6–8 Curriculum. If you have questions related to this blog, please email us at: ELcurriculumblog@eleducation.org.