During the 2020-2021 school year, I had the misfortune of teaching in the hybrid model. In my 20 years of teaching in a variety of schools, boards, and instructional models, this was by far the worst model for learning. For those that may be unfamiliar, the hybrid model was introduced by some school boards across Ontario during the pandemic. The model requires educators to teach students that are learning in-person and online simultaneously throughout the instructional day. This meant that I taught students in the classroom at the same time as teaching students online. It was a lose-lose situation for all my students who didn’t get my full attention throughout the school year.
When the hybrid model was introduced, I was a teacher for a specialized program in my board. All the students in my class were diagnosed with a Developmental Disability, which meant that they required additional supports in the areas of personal care, academic achievement and/or self-regulation. Before the pandemic, I had an incredibly thriving and rich program for the students that focused on a combination of life skills and academic skills. Our class ran our own successful business, did many activities with other classes, and worked hard at developing life skills in the classroom and community. The hybrid model put an end to much of the growth my students were displaying prior to it being introduced.
There were a lot of challenges that arose when instructing and learning in the hybrid model. The first and biggest challenge of all was dealing with technology issues constantly. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. I think there are so many amazing uses, programs, and aps available for rich learning and collaboration. My students with exceptionalities rely on the amazing functions of technology to access so many of their learning goals. Technology is great! However, relying on technology as the only way to access learning was a consistent problem in the hybrid model. I spent so much time talking parents through the act of fixing headphones, opening new aps, and logging into the virtual classroom. For every minute I was online talking to parents and students about technology issues, it was one minute that I was not supporting my students in class though challenges with self-regulation and learning. So much of the day was taken up with these issues that the students at home, in school and I were often frustrated by the end of the day.
There were many other problematic issues that came up while teaching in the hybrid model. First of all, equitable access to instruction was an ongoing and consistent issue. Some of my most vulnerable students at home were not able to access their classroom instruction regularly due to poor internet at home. This ultimately meant that families who had more financial means had more consistent instruction. The model also limited my ability to move around the class to meet the needs of my students. Due to the fact that I was onscreen for the entire day, I often stayed in one area of the classroom. My in-person students had many needs that required support and trying to support them from across the room was very, very difficult. Another problem was that this model provided no privacy for students. My students had multiple challenges in the area of self regulation and sometimes they cried or yelled to express themselves. Even without the camera facing them, the students and families at home could hear my students in distress. My students expressed their embarrassment afterwards which was not fair for their privacy and well being. Another major problem was that students at home could not hear the discussion or the ideas that kids at school were contributing. I ended up repeating everything that was said which was very time consuming. A further issue with the hybrid model was the fact that my students learning in person had way more screen time during the instructional day than they normally would. We had no choice. To do instruction simultaneously, the students in my classroom participated in online activities with their classmates at home. Sick Kids hospital in Toronto came out with a study recently about the impacts of extended screen time on students. I saw firsthand what they described in the study that “increased time spent watching TV, on digital media and video games was associated with more irritability, hyperactivity, inattention, depression and anxiety.”
I could go on and on about the reasons the hybrid is far from ideal, but it basically comes down to it not being a good model for learning. I could share many stories of each of my students and why it didn’t work for them, but I’ll just share one: Before the hybrid was introduced, my student received direct instruction, supervision, redirection/re-teaching, and assessment regularly in the area of literacy. She was learning how to read and required intensive support for 60 minutes a day by staff that were trained in teaching students with cognitive disabilities to read. We used manipulatives, books, words, pictures, texts, and materials to support her ability to make sense of words. In the first year in our program, she went from being a non-reader to reading anything and everything she could get her hands on. During the hybrid model, some of her progress slowed down dramatically because I spent so much of that 60 minutes, dealing with computer issues, supporting students both at home and in class to stay on task and some of the tools we used during in-person learning didn’t translate as well to online learning. Introducing the hybrid model directly compromised my student’s ability to be academic successful.
I understand that the 2020-2021 school year was unique and that it required unprecedented actions. However, the hybrid model needs to end. We should return to bricks and mortar learning in 2022-2023.