Why high school seniors should take hybrid courses

At a time when high school parents (and teachers) are doing more and more hand-holding and college deans are doing more and more hand-wringing over incoming students’ lack of efficacy, hybrid courses can fill a critical gap.

In my opinion, every college-bound student should take at least one.

By hybrid (also called blended) courses, I mean courses that meet once or twice a week face-to-face and the rest of the time online.

Eight years ago, I started teaching AP Micro this way — meeting every Tuesday and monitoring the students’ learning through assignments on Moodle — but not for any good reason.

I did it because my school’s course approval process had blocked my attempts to offer Micro as a normal class for years. I was tutoring a lot of kids (unpaid, of course) in an independent study — since some colleges wouldn’t accept their Macro scores without Micro.

I jumped at the chance to offer a hybrid. Better than nothing, I thought.

That first year, I was genuinely surprised by how well the students did. I figured it was pent-up demand or a self-selection bias, but over the years my Hybrid AP Micro students (and now my Hybrid AP Psych students) continue to over-perform.

Often, everyone in class passes the AP test.

I no longer think it’s self-selection or coincidence. I think there’s something critical about the level of independence woven into a hybrid class. Unlike most high schoolers, these teenagers have to take responsibility for their own learning. There’s no way for them to passively absorb the information — which works for many bright kids in high school but fails them in college. There’s no way for them to “get by” on in-class work. There’s not enough in-class time for that.

My students have to read, think and work — without my constant supervision, on their own.

Here are a few of the benefits of hybrids:

  • Flexibility for students. Thanks to my class, students can fit seven classes in our six period day. Or have a free period 1st or 6th hour, so they can get extra sleep (most days). Or leave early for sports, music lessons or work. Many students take online classes to gain this flexibility, but hybrid classes are superior because they’re taught at our school, by our teachers, to our standards. (And most who enroll in online courses don’t finish them.)
  • Flexibility for the teacher. “Teaching” no longer means filling five hours of seat time a week. It means finding creative ways to make sure students engage with new material — like posting intriguing on-topic videos/articles and posing thought-provoking discussion questions. I also have a lot more time — four additional hours each week — to read and reflect on my students’ work. I know so much more about their understanding and their questions than I ever did before.
  • Like college – but not. In college, students will have class 1-2 times a week and do the remaining work on their own. Sounds familiar? But unlike a professor in a traditional college class, I don’t just assign reading and expect them to do it. (“We’ll see what you know on the midterm!”) I know I’ll have to provide scaffolding and support along the way. They’re not independent learners; they’re learning to be independent. When “Nick” couldn’t figure out how to read the Moodle calendar, I was there to help him navigate. When “David” missed a few assignments, I emailed him (and his parents) a reminder — something you won’t get in college.

Best of all, high school teachers still build relationships with students in hybrid courses. They’re not just names on a screen or video clips on Flipgrid — they are students who I see every week, who can come in to ask me questions or just to talk. I know their names, their stories, their families.

Getting used to a hybrid course is tough for many students, especially for my sophomores. But once they’ve build good habits, they are light years ahead of their peers. They know how to learn on their own — and how to monitor their own progress.

That’s a lesson worth teaching before handing them a diploma.

Martha Rush is a teacher, blogger, author and speaker. Visit NeverBore.org or like the NeverBore LLC Facebook group for more information. @MarthaSRush #beatboredom