By Teachers, For Teachers
In reality, there isn’t a whole lot of philosophical or theoretical information that I believe I can personally share that will be cutting edge, or not met with a new debate. I’ll let you access the flood of stories on Khan Academy if you wish to engage in that conversation.
So instead of telling you what a flipped classroom is and what a flipped classroom is not, I decided to go to the specialists, the teachers in my district, to find out how the flipped classroom is, or is not, working for them in their actual classroom.
A simple note sent to the staff began a wave of information that I’m excited to share.
“I am doing some research and looking for staff in our building and district that has tried the "Flipped Classroom" approach to learning. If you have "flipped" even one of your lessons and would be willing to tell me about, for good or bad, I would be very interested to add your insight to my research.”
The stories these teachers told me cover many sides of the flipped classroom experience…what works…what doesn’t…ways it can improve.
Matt Strayhorn, a 7th grade math teacher at Ladue Middle School, told me “I'm flipping everyday and it is going great! The kids really like it, as do I.”
I wasn’t aware that we had a teacher in our district that had flipped ALL of his classes. I wanted to learn more.
Matt continued, “I have flipped ALL of my lessons. The students watch the lessons with the notes I provided at home. We then discuss the lesson the next day and then complete practice problems in class. I useScreenr in conjunction with my iPad and the app Air Sketch to record the videos. The students go to my website to view. I also have recorded the answer keys to all of our study guides so that the students can SEE how to solve the problems as they work at home. The process is pretty easy. I have also used the Smartboard to record, but you need a microphone. The students have expressed appreciation for being able to learn the lessons at their own pace and having the ability to pause and rewind as they need.”
Now although I was thoroughly impressed by the level of use with which Matt described, the reality is that the flipped approach has not been successful, accepted or championed by all teachers.
Jennifer Tuttle, a Ladue Horton Watkins High School English teacher, responded and said, “I've dabbled in it -- just a few lessons here and there. My original idea was to assign my students to watch and listen to a Powerpoint I had created on literary elements, which are usually review for most of the freshmen. It was a lot of work. The biggest obstacle came in converting the Powerpoint with audio recorded to the individual slides into something that could be played through the website. Our original attempt was making the video into a QuickTime movie file, which only converted about 30 seconds of audio (the first slide) into a 4-minute video of slides rolling through. I ended up making each slide its own video file and uploading each slide individually into Google Docs and linking them individually on my website. It was a hassle, but it saved me about a day in my lesson planning, and the students seemed to have had the same learning experience whether they listened to my lecture in person or through the recorded files.”
Jennifer went on to say, “I found the lecture more difficult to "perform" without an "audience", so in those first few days of class, I worried that I lost one of my opportunities for the students to "experience" me teaching them, but I think I've made up for it by now. I hope to continue to utilize this approach, but I'd like to find a more streamlined method. Right now I've looked mostly for lecture opportunities to "flip". The omission of these lectures in the classroom setting allows for more time to discuss literature and practice writing techniques.”
And therein lies a major concern of educators: a streamlined approach. How do we get there? There are so many easy solutions to “flipping for beginners,” but are teachers receiving the proper amount of professional development time and opportunities to investigate those simple methods?
Harold Webb, an 8th grade Science teacher at our middle school, has tried the flipped model with some success, but also agrees that there are drawbacks to presenting information simply through a video.
“I've done a few flipped lessons with my iPad, mostly just for kids who have either missed lecture or for students on an individualized education plan. On my online video presentations, I tend to "simplify" the content and try to keep the videos short (under 10 minutes).
•Helps kids who were absent, stay current.
•Helps kids who don't get the lesson the first time in class.
•Good resource for teacher assistants or student support staff who may not know the curriculum or may not know what to focus on.
•Can attach Google spreadsheets or other online quizzes to check for comprehension, along with the video link sent to students
•I have a long way to go in my skill set in making the videos interesting (they, to me anyway, are really boring to watch).
•I’m not sure how much they (the videos) are being utilized. There are just certain items that are learned better through direct one on one contact.
•I know as I'm teaching, I get direct feedback from my students by looking at their faces and gauging comprehension. I, as a teacher, don't get that feedback as I'm designing and creating my videos.”
Harold’s concerns are extremely valid, and as I found, shared concerns among many educators who have attempted to implement this learning strategy.
Math and Science so far seem to be the most logical subjects to try out a flipped classroom. And as you have read, English has demonstrated some use of videos in the classroom as well.
However, I was also pleasantly surprised to hear from one of our Social Studies instructors, who teaches a World History class, and who has enjoyed using the flip model as a supplement to his curriculum.
Dr. Eric Hahn, fondly recognized by the students as one of the most engaging instructors at Ladue High School, explained, “Flipping the class for me was easy. I'm using the John Green Crash Course videos because they contain quick, easy to access, overviews of content we study in our course. I've also suggested that if students are about to read a section for homework, that they preview one of the videos. Or, if they already read a section, they might view the video to help with their comprehension of the material. In addition to the videos, I mentioned in class that students could have their computer on as they read- if they stumble on a section they find too challenging, they could access any site like Wikipedia to briefly read about their topic in a different format. Then, they might go back to their assigned reading with a much better understanding of what they are supposed to comprehend.”
I wanted to know more from Eric. Should students watch these videos prior to reading the text, or after reading the text for review? Do you believe these videos may actually increase literacy?
Eric explained, “The videos are beneficial because they are easy to access and very easy to understand. The textbook we use for an AP course is college level material- it is expected that students will be able to read at that level when taking an AP course. However, many students are 'learning' how to read at that level. The videos (or the Wiki sites) allow for an additional type of stimulus for better comprehension. And, the videos may be played more than once, or paused so a student can make some notes if necessary. Sometimes it is just late at night when students begin their homework. The videos are refreshing and entertaining, and may allow many to increase their literacy by having that 'access' to the text that may not have been available if they were to simply trudge through the work taking bland notes.”
What I learned from this research within my own district was eye opening and inspiring.
1. There are incredible and courageous acts of teaching occurring every single day that go unnoticed. This research reinforced the fact that our teachers are some of the most humble innovators of our time. I’m honored to work with them.
2. The flipped model, in my opinion, absolutely has the ability to positively impact students in every single classroom across the country. With the right amount of professional development, mixed in with the right amount of teachers willing to transfer some control to their students, this new “homework” approach can aid in our students learning.
3. Without the right amount of teacher training, or without the proper methods to distribute technology and video information, the flipped model is doomed to fail. As with any new instructional approach, a level of comfort and confidence must be deployed in order to be an effective approach.
4. The idea that the flipped classroom is the ABSOLUTE solution for EVERY classroom in America is false! The flipped model will work for some, and not others. It will work better in some classes, and be less effective in others. There will always be issues with access, ability, and approach. The flipped model will work if a committed attempt is offered and if the right material is incorporated in the curriculum, but it is not the sole solution to “fix” education.
5. I have come to learn, and firmly believe, that there is an absolute place for video in the classroom. As educators, we would be remiss not to leverage its power to reach and teach our students. This is the most visually literate generation of our time. Teacher and student generated videos for the purpose of instruction, motivation and engagement is something we must all consider if we want to improve our craft. As educators, shouldn’t our ultimate goal be to help students become “learners, who can learn for themselves, by themselves.” (-Aaron Sams, Learning4Mastery)
The final thing I have come to understand is that the flipped classroom model, or any other technology-driven teaching method, will forever be embraced by early adopters, questioned and tested by experienced practitioners, and flat out dismissed by other pundits and traditionalists. But isn’t that what makes life-long learning so interesting and fun? Let the debate continue.