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How to Make Learning Centers in Hybrid Classrooms Work

This school year has been a combination of so many different types of learning and teaching. From face-to-face, virtual, or hybrid, life has been a little bit chaotic to say the least. One thing that doesn’t have to be chaotic are your learning centers! You can use learning centers in hybrid classrooms and see huge changes in your students' success! Michelle White, a kindergarten teacher in Alabama, has been teaching in a hybrid classroom this year. During this time, she found a great system to see her students every instructional day while they were online or in the classroom by successfully using learning centers. By doing so, she maximized her time with her students every single day!

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What is Hybrid Teaching?

While some teachers have been all virtual all the time and others have been face-to-face, many have been battling both at the same time. In many schools, to limit the number of students in classrooms, there have been only a few students in the classroom with the rest online. This is how a majority of Michelle White’s year has been.

Meet Michelle White

Michelle White has been teaching for 19 years. For the first three years of her teaching career, she taught first grade. Then she spent a majority of her time teaching fifth grade until this year. At the end of last year, Michelle was told she would be teaching kindergarten for the FIRST time in her career. What a shock! However, she made it work. One of the activities that made it work was learning centers.

Michelle’s Hybrid Classroom

To set the scene, Michelle had one group of students in person on Mondays and Tuesdays with the rest online. Wednesdays were set aside for teacher meetings and time to work. Then on Thursdays and Fridays, Michelle had the other group of students in person while her Monday and Tuesday group was online. How did she get any instruction done? Simple. By using learning centers in her hybrid classroom.

A System for Scheduling in Hybrid Classrooms

How did Michelle make this crazy system work? She put a system into place that made sense for her classroom. First she came up with a schedule that would work in her classroom while keeping safety restrictions in mind. With this schedule, she had a set of expectations that her students (and their parents) needed to follow. This included being on time, staying on task, and following the rules set in place for her classroom and her learning centers.

What did this look like in Michelle’s classroom? Her online students were scheduled to log in at a certain time. They would complete a mini lesson first as a whole group; then they would break into their centers to review and enrich their understanding of other concepts. After they met in a small group, her online students were free to log off and work on the rest of the activities that needed to be included.

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Setting Up Learning Centers in a Hybrid Classroom

To set up her learning centers, Michelle came up with a framework that worked for her. While there is a system for this in face-to-face classrooms, Michelle found it was easy to implement a framework for learning centers in hybrid classrooms too. In Michelle’s classroom, she has five groups and their center time for math and for literacy run an hour each. For example, Michelle has a two-hour block for literacy. For an hour, her students are in learning centers. Therefore, her five groups spend 10 minutes in a center before they rotate to the next one. How do her students know where to go?

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Michelle has folders that are color coded for her students. In each of the student folders, the students have their tag which tells them where to start and it never changes. For example, if Johnny has a yellow star tag, he starts in the yellow star section every single day. Johnny will go to that center where there will be an iris box. Inside the iris box are all the pieces he and his partner need for the center activity in Ziploc bags and other organizational tools. Then, the student would put their started work in their folder. When their center work was done, they put it in the done folder where Michelle can look at it and put it where it belongs.

What about the students at home?

For the students who were at home, Michelle would have them work on the same centers, just digitally. When it was their turn to go into the small group center with Michelle, she would simply hold up their shape and they would turn up their volume and unmute their mics. This makes working in groups during learning centers in hybrid classrooms possible! Admittedly, sometimes she would need to send a student a message to get them into the center but for the most part holding up the shape worked.

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What’s the coolest part?

Michelle could still group her students by skill-level so she could differentiate during her small group instruction. Therefore, when she taught her small group, some students were online and some were in person. This allowed students to get the small group instruction that was appropriate to them. Plus, students at home and in person could interact with each other. When students who were online finished with the small group instruction, they would log off so they could finish other work that may require video or sound without Michelle distracting them.

Implementing Learning Center Activities in Hybrid Classrooms

Before Michelle put students into centers, she went through the different activities they would encounter in class. This helped lessen the amount of interruptions during her small group time because students knew what they were supposed to be doing. While Michelle found a way to make this all work, her activities weren’t always perfect.

When Michelle first started using learning centers in her classroom, she was spending 40 minutes on learning center activities just to have students finish them in 5 to 10 minutes. This was a problem. Michelle was working harder than her students were, and they weren’t getting everything out of the activity that they could. That’s when Michelle found Learning Centers Made Easy. This course taught Michelle how to schedule and run centers. In addition, it gave her activities that took students more time and were already done for her!

Using Learning Centers Made Easy

Michelle has a great system in place that allows her to see every single student every instructional day she has whether they’re at home or in person. However, it wasn’t always this smooth. When Michelle first started using centers it was time consuming for her and it didn’t run quite as smooth. It wasn’t until December that Michelle found the Learning Centers Made Easy program and she jumped in when school started back up in January after break.

Wait, what? Yes. Michelle got a system that worked like clockwork for her in just a few months. How did she do this? Michelle took the class, became a member, and utilized my office hours to be a success! You can see the same results in your classroom just as fast whether you’re in a hybrid, in-person, or virtual classroom.

What are Michelle’s Big Take-Aways for Learning Centers in Hybrid Classrooms?

Michelle learned so much from implementing centers in her hybrid classroom successfully.

Take Away 1

To start, Michelle suggests complete transparency with parents. Because kindergarteners, much like first graders, might need help getting logged into everything, she was very reliant on parents when her students were at home. Therefore, she created a schedule and shared it with parents on Google Classroom. She actually learned that putting EVERYTHING on Google Classroom really helped with at-home instructions. It allowed parents to take an active role and learn with their child.

Take-Away 2

Another big take-away for Michelle, who was once a fifth grade teacher, is learning centers work in every class. There are so many misconceptions out there that centers are just for younger students. However, Michelle found that with the right activities, math and literacy centers can work in fifth grade classes and every grade in between.

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This year has been a learning curve for so many reasons but Michelle took the hybrid classroom and knocked it out of the park by implementing learning centers in her hybrid classroom. By doing this, she not only got to group students together so it was easier to differentiate, she also got to see every student every single day. Being able to reach students near and far is essential for creating normalcy in this very not normal time. Plus, now that Michelle has used centers in her hybrid classroom, her students will be ready to implement them when they come back face-to-face.  

Until Next Time..

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