The Flipped Classroom

I’m very excited about this new trend in education, the flipped classroom, because it can completely revamp traditional classroom teaching (which, in my opinion, needs some serious revamping—read any one of my previous posts, if you want to know more). For those of you who don’t know what the flipped classroom is, go here to view a graphic explanation, or read the quote below by Jonathan Martin, or watch this video:

“Flip your instruction so that students watch and listen to your lectures… for homework, and then use your precious class-time for what previously, often, was done in homework: tackling difficult problems, working in groups, researching, collaborating, crafting and creating. Classrooms become laboratories or studios, and yet content delivery is preserved.” Jonathan Martin

“Classrooms becoming laboratories and studios…” That’s practically poetry right there. What I love most about the flipped classroom is that it focuses class time on individual and interactive learning. First, it gives students the independence to learn anything and everything that they can potentially learn on their own on their own (yet another reason to hate in-class techniques that can be done more effectively at home like… cough… sustained silent reading… cough, cough—someday I really will write something positive about it). Second, the flipped classroom allows students to work with classmates and teachers during class to learn even more. Like the various universities that are now recording and posting entire lectures and courses on the internet, the flipped classroom allows teachers to record their lectures and post their presentations online, which then makes them more accessible to students and the community at large. This allows students to view and review the content as many times as necessary on their own, which then leaves more time for teachers to work with students one-on-one or in small groups. Instead of presenting new information each class, the teacher can spend time answering questions about content that the students are already somewhat familiar with.

The flipped classroom is also an excellent way to involve parents in their children’s learning. For example, if students are having a difficult time understanding some of the material in a particular class, they can sit down with their parents, watch a podcast or two with them, and then have their parents re-explain difficult concepts in a way that they can better understand.  Because most parents know their children better than most teachers know their students (at least they should), they are the ones who are most capable of adapting content to their children’s specifics needs and interests. One of the greatest tragedies and downsides of public education, in my opinion, is how easy it is for parents to be completely uninvolved in their children’s education. Because I was homeschooled, I was able to receive direct one-on-one attention from my father who has a PhD in education and who now works full-time as a professional tutor. One could argue that sometimes he was too involved in my education, but I’d rather have it be on this side of the pendulum than the other.

Another great thing about the flipped classroom and podcasts is that teachers can use these kind of technologies for formal assessments. One of the middle -school teachers I observed had his students videotape themselves quoting a passage of poetry. It was an easy way to evaluate their oral and memorization skills without taking up precious class time.

Below is my first attempt at a podcast for a flipped lesson. It’s not perfect, but I think it demonstrates how a teacher can try to make content concise, interesting, and visually stimulating through sharing a brief story engage attention, using diagrams and graphs to explain general concepts, and employing visual aides to complement spoken word. I didn’t mess with music, but that’s definitely something that I want to try next time. Basically, I think the ideal podcast would be a mini-movie or video, kind of like TED-talks or a short documentary. It could even be a film adaptation of a piece of literature or a visual representation of a short-story. Below is also an example of a digital story my classmates and I made for class. Obviously, if I want my flipped classrooms as a future teacher to be successful, I’ll have to seriously improve my skills with various movie and image editing technology.


Collaborative Learning (Done Effectively)

So, in my last post, I talked about cooperative learning and its ineffective implementation in the typical high school classroom (at least, in most of the ones I’ve observed as part of my graduate program in Northern Virginia). I also discussed how cooperative learning, even when it’s done correctly, isn’t always the most effective way to learn when it comes to more introverted students.

My hope in this blog post is to discuss effective ways to learn collaboratively that cater both to the needs of introverted and extroverted students. However, let me qualify this by saying that I have never studied nor taught in the traditional classroom before, and therefore, my experience with and knowledge of collaborative learning in such an environment is somewhat limited.

Thanks to an educational program that my dad ran for seven years when I was growing up, my experience with collaborative learning outside the traditional classroom is not so limited. The program was called Live and Learn, and it was based on John Dewey’s idea that experience and education are one and the same (read John Dewey’s Experience and Education to learn more). As a result, the goals and objectives of Live and Learn were focused on creating meaningful learning experiences and were thus more project-based and less academic in nature. It was the students, and not the teachers/mentors, who decided what to do every semester, albeit, there were two requirements for the projects chosen: they had to be worthwhile and they had to be done as a team. We did everything from building go-carts, to planting gardens, to doing service projects, to producing newsletters, to performing plays, to forming hand-bell choirs, to discussing stories, and (even!) to playing team sports. The wonderful thing about all these projects and activities was that there was enough variety and flexibility within each one that all participants were able to find something they felt comfortable with and were interested in. We did a lot of math, reading, and writing, as every project required, but what I found most valuable (and certainly most enjoyable) was our involvement in the community.

I realize that this sort of program can’t necessarily happen in the regular classroom, nor, I guess, should it. At some point, you really do need to sit down and study various subjects on your own. I’m thoroughly convinced, though, that high school juniors and seniors could use their time way more effectively if they were required to do more community service and were allowed to get all their unpaid internships out of the way before college (i.e. stay out of the traditional classroom as much as possible). Furthermore, I think that all students would benefit from a more integrated, relevant, and applied curriculum (see Raja T. Nasr’s Whole Education for more information). I actually designed my own curriculum during my high school years after my dad’s program closed down, and it was great because I was able to tailor it to my own interests and needs. However, what I liked about my dad’s program (and couldn’t replicate on my own) was the collaborative learning that happened naturally. It wasn’t something that was contrived by the teacher, which was how it was in college.

There are very few Standards of Learning that I like, but one from Virginia’s Communication, Speaking, Listening, and Media Literacy for 10th graders is fantastic: “Collaborate with others to exchange ideas, develop new understandings, make decisions, and solve problems.” I wonder, though, how this can actually happen in the classroom the way it naturally did in my dad’s program.

Bridging English (the best English textbook of all time!) offers a variety of ways to use technology and literature to improve communication and increase collaboration. Ideas range from having students record themselves reciting a poem or literary passage, to having them perform a play or produce a film, to having them go out to a local rest home and collect stories from the residents living there. I love all of these ideas for three reasons. Fist, all of the suggestions are easily adaptable and can be done individually or as a group. Second, they combine or integrate a variety of skills and subject areas, which allows all students to find something of interest or meaning to them. Third and finally, they’re all project-based, which allows the students to create or produce something in the end that is worthwhile to them and the community as a whole. The idea to interview residents of a rest home, for example, helps students naturally develop skills in listening, talking, interviewing, recording, transcribing, summarizing, writing, and editing; it increases content knowledge in language arts and social studies (and, depending on the interviewee, math, science, politics, construction, architecture, technology, art, music, etc.); and it requires students to step outside of themselves (and their classrooms, schools, and cyber-worlds) and use technology to bring people together.

I find it interesting that the only times I’ve observed collaborative learning being done effectively was at the elementary and middle school levels. Of all the teachers I observed, there were two teachers (one in elementary and the other in middle) that actually incorporated collaborative learning activities in their classrooms in effective ways. All of the high school teachers I observed stuck with very traditional tactics. (Or what I’d call lame tactics, if we’re talking about Sustained Silent Reading. This “research-based” method basically involves the teacher forcing students to read silently in class for twenty to forty minutes while he/she checks his/her email or finishes grading homework. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that teachers are overworked and underpaid and that students have way too much homework to do, but the idea behind Sustained Silent Reading—that students don’t/won’t read at home and should be forced to do so at school—bugs me. Of course the research supports it! Students are reading more than ever before and improving as a result! My only question is what’s the point of going to school now? Why don’t’ we just all stay home and read? Oh wait, that’s what I did as a homeschooler—voluntarily.)

All this now brings me to Shelley Wright, who is doing collaborative learning effectively at the high school level, and whose work needs to be applauded. After teaching a unit on the Holocaust five times Shelley finally decided to do something different the sixth time around. She realized that “because [she] was responsible for distilling the information, [she] learned much more than [her students] did” and decided to have her students create and curate a Holocaust museum instead. The end result was a successful collaborative project that the students prepared for and presented all on their own! For an entire unit of learning on a subject that is as difficult as it is meaningful, Shelley was definitely a “guide on the side” letting her students take control and be responsible for their own learning. Bravo, Shelley. Everyone needs to read her blog and then like/post it on their Facebook or something.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the perks and non-perks of the Flipped Classroom, a tactic that I think is much more effective than Sustained Silent Reading, especially when it comes to collaborative learning. I guess I will also discuss the perks of Sustained Silent Reading as well, for Susan Cain’s sake and for my own, since I was so biased about it in this post. Stay tuned! Or blogged (this is a blog, not a radio)?