Capital “H”, Hybrid #SOL2020

This hybrid teaching thing is hard, capital “H”, hard.

I had a sense of the challenges before the school year started, but what I’ve actually experienced and what I’ve actually learned is more than anticipated in ways not anticipated. And, it’s not just technological applications, slides, and jamboards – though they are really helpful if you use them purposely – it’s actually deeper than the platforms. This hybrid model has taken me into a complex state of reflection on the doing and the being of teaching: what am I explicitly and implicitly valuing? How does the material and the mode that I use in the delivery acknowledge the humanity of each student? of me?

Evan Selinger on Twitter: "This sticker should be on every laptop! Thanks @ Autumm & @hypervisible!… "

I now more deeply appreciate the sticker gifted me by Autumm Caines and I occupy more cognitive space in the “why” of teaching these days. Feeling the need for nourishment, I picked up Kevin Gannon’s teaching manifesto and realized what we need in hybrid learning during a quadmester model is “radical hope”, capital “H”, hope.

This has me reflecting more thoughtfully on my use of technology, but I have to be honest; the preparation for the lessons – some in class, and some online at home – is intense. It needs hypervigilance with iterative cycles of focus on purpose and audience. It demands precision in text selection to avoid the default to the status quo. It forces purposeful planning for student collaboration, and an unprecedented level of explicit instructions which are often formatted in different ways for different learners (the Google Classroom wasn’t going to work for her, so I created a Google Doc with steps and links).

Quadmester hybrid learning has given me an extra cognitive load which I am embracing, but which also might explain the persistently bloodshot eyes, the dull ache behind my brow, and the twisted bed sheets from which I unravel myself each morning. I know that UDL will reduce this need, so I double down to keep learning.

And even though I don’t feel that rush of an energetic class discussion with bodies jostling, chatting, and engaging in this combined virtual and distanced space, I’m still hopeful. With each purposeful interweaving of the physical and the virtual, something new reveals itself and the very acts that we are engaging in become food for discussion, critical thought, and reflection. These are meta-moments, and they really are “a moment”, but this requires a shift in thinking. I wonder, “maybe the screen is what forces us back to our humanity”? That’s a strange irony.

It started back in the summer when my equally enthusiastic teacher friends, Amanda, Tobi, and I knew we were going into September with a quadmester hybrid model so we planned the ideas, the timing, imagining the synchronous and asynchronous, using the concepts learned from digital pedagogy sessions with Sean Michael Morris and we embedded a thread of social justice through the grade 12 University English course. We selected concepts such as identity and representation, power and privilege, and we were thrilled with the opportunities for memoir writing with hopes for rich class discussions. Yet, there is the plan and there is the execution in the “classroom”.

I posted all of the learning goals at the beginning of the first quadmester. It didn’t take long for one of the brightest and most vocal of my students to challenge me on this “not English” thread and the need for “classics”, so we booked a virtual meeting after school. I was in my feelings, heart pounding, and not really ready to defend my decisions with thoughtful words. He was animated on screen at his desk and seemed forceful stating that he didn’t “believe social justice is related to English” and asked for “tradition”, the status quo. He accused me of “playing politics in the classroom” and feared I might reduce his marks if his views are not in alignment with mine. I listened carefully, looking away from the screen so I could hear him. I let him talk, feverishly feeling my own emotions simmering and checking them carefully. Without interrupting, at his pause, some words just tumbled out of my mouth. I didn’t prepare them. I didn’t plan any of them. But they were all true.

I said, “But, teaching is a political act. It’s inescapable. Every text that I select is political, every text I exclude, every voice that I amplify is an act that indicates what is valued, what is centred as we learn. We both have choices. We can learn together from the silent voices, because you already know the names of those who are centered and you can choose to learn those on your own.” I paused to see if he was with me.

“I am listening to you right now, and I do take this very seriously. I value your views and only want to add to your growing knowledge of the world by providing other voices, own voices. Nonetheless, my politics in the classroom are not large ‘C’ Conservative, they are not large ‘L’ Liberal. In fact, they are large ‘H’ Human. English is called a Humanities course because it is concerned with the human condition. And so am I.”

I hope I made my point and later in the course thanked him a couple of times pointing out the necessity for troublesome conversations, for the growth that comes from challenging our own thinking. He probably didn’t realize that his brought me closer to mine, but I hope he grew in his sense of self, and others, the need for empathy.

And then I thought, “maybe I needed to spend more time on the human in the capital “H” in Hybrid space.”

5 thoughts on “Capital “H”, Hybrid #SOL2020

  1. Wow – brilliant post, Melanie! Your response to the concerned student was excellent. I would have been incredibly nervous as I often am “not really ready to defend my decisions with thoughtful words.” Despite feeling convictions strongly, I find it so difficult to stand behind them with power and confidence. Good luck to you this year! Hoping your student also has a wonderful year with you 🙂

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  2. I just finished a course called “New Literacies”. We were not allowed to submit traditional papers for our assignments, and every week we had to find a new way to post our reflection on the week’s reading. Power Point, Sway, blog posts, podcasts, infographics – I was okay for the first 6 weeks but then I started to struggle to come up with new ways to share my learning. That’s when I got “it”. I understood why in a course about new literacies I was not being allowed to rely on an old, classic you might say, ways of responding. I make purposeful choices about my reading and writing genres, and I should also be making purposeful choices about the tech tools at my disposal rather than always going with the one or two things I already know. You mention wondering how the platforms you choose acknowledge the humanity of others. One of the requirements in the course was that we each view the work of everyone else and comment on it. I found some people forgot they were creating something that other would need to view – they were forgetting that we, like them, were students who work full-time and have other obligations. The PowerPoints went on and on, or the narration was simply a reading of the PowerPoint. The infographics had so much information on them that I couldn’t figure out the focus, etc. So I guess I’m trying to say that you figured out something that I paid a lot of money to learn. 🙂

    Something that happened in this same course came to mind when I read about your discussion with the student who wanted to read the “classics”. On the 3rd from the last day of this course one of my classmates posted that he’d been confused the entire time and didn’t feel like he’d learned anything. From the professor’s reaction it was clear that this was the first time he had articulated this to her, as well as to us. There were so many opportunities to ask questions, get clarification, read further. But for some reason he didn’t do any of that. I wonder how different it would have been for him if he had spoken up in the 3rd or 4th week, or, like your student, when he saw the syllabus. (One of his complaints was about the format of the class, which we knew about before the course had even really begun.) You are clearly good at developing good relationships with students since your student knew he could voice his concerns to you. As an adult I am good at asking for help, but in high school I would never have felt comfortable speaking up!

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    1. This course sounds challenging and your description of your learning is so useful! The “forgetting” is not something that I included so you have taught me here and many other times before, Lisa. Thank you so much for the time and energy that you took to not only read this but to respond so thoughtfully. 🙏

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