Public PK-12 School District in Dalton, Georgia

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Coffee, Chocolate and a Creative Classroom Setup
Mrs. Brayford and student working on zoom

If there is one thing that this school year has taught teachers, it is how to be adaptable. Barbara Brayford, Advanced Placement (AP) teacher at Dalton High School, continues to make adjustments when it comes to her classroom to best set up her students for success.

Last week, in the Dalton High School Cyber Cafe, an open room with high ceilings and Catamount colors painted on the walls, Brayford and her AP World History class hosted a class roundtable discussion. In-person students sipped on coffee and indulged in chocolate while Brayford set up tech equipment for virtual students to participate in the discussion.

This hybrid classroom format, one in which Brayford combined her in-person and virtual students into the same classroom, was a first for the teacher.

"This year, almost 50 percent of my AP students have chosen virtual learning," Brayford said. "To foster higher level thinking and communication skills they need to be actively participating and not just submitting things online."

Even though Brayford's virtual students were actively engaged in the classroom discussion, the preparation for this event wasn't completed overnight. The extensive list of steps Brayford had to take included creating a lesson, putting materials online, sending out instructions, reserving a space for the students to spread out, hooking up the computer and camera and managing both her in-person and virtual students all at once.

In the end, all of the hard work paid off. Brayford said the virtual students appreciated the opportunity to participate in live instruction.

"Many of the virtual students continue to thank me for making them feel included," Brayford said.

Brayford said she knows it can be difficult for virtual students to stay plugged in and connected.

"I have been Zooming in my virtual students all year long in an ongoing attempt to keep them connected and make sure they get the same help as my in-person students," Brayford said.

Students at roundtable discussion

Brayford allows her virtual students to join whatever class period works best for them and their schedule. Unsurprisingly to Brayford, most of the virtual students usually join during the last Zoom period of the day. However, this works well for Brayford as it gives her more time to focus on her virtual students.

"When the in-person students are dismissed for the day, I can stay online longer with the virtual students and answer any questions they have," Brayford said.

Brayford hopes that through the success of her hybrid classroom set up, many other teachers across the district will think outside-the-box and get creative with how they teach and keep students involved.

"At the beginning, it helps to offer bonus grades to all that participate," Brayford said. "I have found many more virtual students participate when that 'carrot' is dangling in front of them."

Looking back on her first hybrid classroom experience, Brayford said she is hopeful for many more virtual immersion classes in the future. She continues to work on new and exciting ways to engage with her online students.

"The in-person students enjoy getting to see and hear from their classmates, so it is well worth all the work to get these classroom experiences set up," Brayford said.