Introduction to The Kite Runner
What student is going to spend 40 minutes watching a Prezi on the introduction to Afghani history? I created it, and I don't want to watch it all the way through! It took my failed first year of flipping to learn what works and what doesn't when flipping my high school English classes. Over the course the last year, I have both failed and found success with the flipped learning approach, and I have learned a great deal from both. But today, learn from my mistakes. So here it is - my confessions of failed flipping:
1) It's Not About the VideosI thought it was about the videos. It is not about the videos. In fact, it's really, really, really not about the videos. I have been live streaming my English classes since 2009, opening up access to absent students and parents so that they might join us virtually for class. So when I started to hear more about "flipping your class," it made sense to me. I am a firm believer in the power of transparency, in the power of opening up opportunities for students to engage in learning when and wherever they can. And, since I was already recording my classes, this flip wouldn't be so hard, right? Wrong.
My first semester of more intentionally using the flipped/blended approach had me sitting in front of my computer screen creating more and more presentations to screencast. And this is not ordinarily how I teach. I don't usually use a lot of PowerPoints or Prezis. Yet, I created presentation after presentation, sitting hour after hour, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning recording videos on assignment instructions, grammar mistakes, and historical connections to our class novels. And I thought I was being smart about it, asking students to use the videos to complete questions on worksheets. Occassionally, I would sneak an extra credit opportunity into the video. I would be surprised the next day when only two or three students would come in with the extra credit. But the videos were 15, 20, sometimes 30 minutes long. And they were bad. Really, really bad. I was asking students essentially to watch PowerPoints, videos without movement, without activitiy, without my personality. When I recorded many of my first videos, I did not use my webcam. My weird stories and quirkiness were absent. I was asking my students to watch the least interesting content of our class while I presented it in the least interesting way. Of course they didn't watch the videos!
It was when I attended EdCamp Philly last May that the absurdity of what I was doing hit me. In a session titled "Classroom Gymnastics: Flipping, BYOD, Paperless, 20% Time, and More," teachers Liz Calderwood, Kate Baker, Marc Seigel, and Christina Roy began a conversation with participating educators about the differences between the flipped and blended approaches to teaching as well as about how they planned and prepared the flipped elements of their courses. It wasn't about the videos. It was about the inquiry.
2) If You Build It, They Might Come...But They Might NotJust because you've posted your assignments online does not mean that students will access them online. By now, most teachers realize this. If there is not a clear purpose for students to access all those assignments and videos you've spent hours uploading, they won't. A teacher's online space should not just be the equivalent of a classroom bulletin board. It should not be passive. Our online spaces must be dynamic, engaging, changing as the learning happening in our physical classrooms changes. Students need to contribute to the learning that happens in our online spaces.
|My class Ning site at MsWard.org|
But what I have also learned from our online space is that you need to keep your content as few clicks away as possible. Asking students to "go here, click on this, find the menu at the left and click on the second option" is a recipe for disaster. You will lost a majority of your students by the second click. Your online materials need to be well-curated and as few clicks away as possible. I caught a presentation by Philip Vinogradov recently where he talked about his use of gamification concepts in teaching. His model of first curating all of his lesson and enrichment materials into one online space before ever sharing units with students makes sense. Curating lesson materials allows for students to move at their own pace and encourages mastery in that students can return to a library of online learning resources as they need. What this also calls for is planning. Success with the flipped learning model begins with excellent planning. You need to anticipate what remedial and enrichment materials you will need in addition to your planned lesson materials, you need to create a purposeful online space that students can connect and contribute to, and you need to have the end in mind. How will you know students have mastered the objectives of your lesson? When they have viewed all your materials? Or instead, will students demonstrate their mastery through their contributions?
3) Prepare for ChaosOne of the many reasons I initially wanted to move to a flipped approach was to open up more time in class for my students to practice their reading and writing skills with the support of both the teacher and their peers. It didn't make sense that for me to assign reading homework when students were struggling with comprehension. It didn't make sense to have students draft essays outside of class when they struggled to formulate ideas into a thesis. The activities that my students struggled with needed to be the ones we practiced together in the physical clasroom. Moving more of the reading and writing into our classroom time together using a writing workshop model made it easier for me to differentiate how and where I provided support. What it also made for was a lot of chaos.
20% time research projects. But if you walked into my classroom on any Friday, it would look more than just a little chaotic. I would have a student or two crouched under the counters lining my room reading a book. Another two or three students could be found in the hallway video taping interviews. Three of four students would be hovering over the computer using my webcam. Desks would be rearranged into small pods for students to watch YouTube tutorials on cake decorating and computer hardware assembly. But learning was happening in every corner of our room. On our research days, I circulated around the class conducting conferences, speaking with students about their learning process, intervening when students needed support. However, what was not successful was how I kept track of our writing and research conferences...or rather, how I did not keep track of them.
Looking back, I should have more carefully read the advice of Nancie Atwell and Carl Anderson, both of whom advocate for students and teacher to keep process notes of their writing conferences together. Although my students blogged weekly and I kept an unmanagably large spreadsheet of all our varied projects, I didn't track the conversations and strategies I shared with students during our conference times. This was a lost opportunity. Looking back, I could have intervened more strategically had I been taking notes on our conferences. This would also have helped me be more strategic in how and when I provided feedback.
4) Ask Questions...Lots of Questions
The flipped learning movement took root in the work of Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann who began flipping their Colorado science classes in order to reach those students missing class. Five years later, you can't attend an educational conference without there being at least one session on flipped learning. As of today, there are 19,632 members of the Flipped Learning Network. What does this mean? There are a lot of mentors and models out there to ask for help. Something that I have started to do a bit better this year is turn to my Twitter PLN with questions about flipping. English teachers like Cheryl Morris and Andrew Thomasson, Kate Baker, and Troy Cockrum have been invaluable inspirations for my own learning. Had I reached out earlier in my flipping adventures, perhaps I would not have made the mistakes that I did. So in addition to curating materials for your students, curate your own learning spaces and mentors. Reach out and ask questions. Ask a lot of questions. After all, isn't that what we're trying to encourage our students to do? We need to be models for the type of learning we hope to support.
Here are a few of the online spaces where I have found models to inspire my flipped learning approach for my English courses. Let me know if you find any that I can add!
Follow Jennifer's board Flipped Learning Tools for the High School English Classroom on Pinterest.