Confronting My Flipped Classroom Bias
A MiddleWeb Blog
Before I went to the JET Institute in San Francisco this summer, I was very anti-flipped classroom. Both my blogging partner Shara and I are committed to constructivist principles, and it is important for us to let the students uncover information, rather than be the passive recipients of information from the teacher.
So when I went to the conference, I was skeptical (at best) when the flipped classroom module began. Cheryl Morris, a Bay Area teacher, shared her own journey in flipped classroom creation. I had to admit that what she was saying seemed interesting, logical, and, most importantly, helpful for my students.
I’d always thought that the flipped classroom was mostly for teachers who lectured. So how could classroom flipping be useful to me? I only really lectured twice a year. And, wasn’t it about watching videos for homework? Not according to Cheryl, who talked about using the flipping strategy for instructions, assignments, procedures and review – in class.
The wheels in my head began turning as I remembered all those times I stood in front of my students trying to explain complicated instructions — again and again and again. I recalled the times where I modeled a skill for the students, had them practice, and then sent them home to do it on their own – and how challenging that often was for them without any ready means of support.
I began to see how some of Cheryl Morris’s ideas might have a place in my classroom. At least partially converted, I began to examine our curriculum through a new lens. What in our course could be easily conveyed by video? What concepts did students often need to review at their own pace? What instructions would be more easily explained with a combination of audio and visual rather than (me upfront) whole-class discussion?
Flipping classroom procedures
So I tried it. Here’s some of what happened . . .
Each year, we walk the students through both a digital notes and hand-written notes template. It is one of the most tedious, and yet ultimately important, things we do at the beginning of the year. We want to help them with executive functioning, and we want to make sure that their materials are easily accessible and organized.
But taking new students through this task, even if we waited until the second week of school, was always painful for everyone: “I don’t get it!” “Does it count if it looks like this?” “Can you explain that again? In a different way?” “What about if I’m taking notes on my computer?”
These are understandable responses to a step-by-step process. Teachers know that not all students learn at the same pace, or in the same way. Clearly, my delivery of instructions for the notes templates could only get better.
So here’s what I did this year: I created a ShowMe video (a platform that looks similar to what the Khan Academy uses). The video walked the students through two different notes set-up processes: one for hand-written and one for digital. What used to take (painful) hours ended up requiring about ten minutes, with minimal effort.
While the kids were watching the videos, I was able to help individual students. Another plus I’ve discovered: if students’ notes start looking disorganized later in the year, I can point them to the video for review. I do have to remind some students to actually DO what the video says to do. I have found that some kids will passively sit through a video –even if it asks them to do something. But that’s easily remedied.
Next step: course content
Buoyed by this small success, I tried making a video again, this time with more content related procedures. Would it work? I used a video for the instructions for our Constitution Station Rotation – a more hands-on lesson that has the students finding relationships between visual images and a section of the Constitution. Often, anything procedural is met with some confusion. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to have instructions students could watch at their own pace – stopping and rewinding if necessary?
It worked! Not only were students less confused than usual, they were able to rewatch the instructions on their own as needed. I was able to go around to each team, check in and help clarify. Things simply went more smoothly. Students who may have been confused about instructions in the whole class setting but who would not have been comfortable saying something, were able to ask me when I went around– before starting the activity.
Flipping has a place in the history classroom
So why can a flipped classroom strategy be good for a history teacher? Well, Shara and I haven’t changed our stance on lecturing, or memorizing dates in the digital age, but I have found I can still be true to my pedagogical leanings while giving students an option to review some basics at their own pace, and streamline whole class instructions.
Teachers can use videos to introduce map activities, to read aloud difficult text, to explain an assignment, to model a skill like thesis crafting, to review test concepts — basically to do anything procedural or to supply basic information. Here are two more examples from my own classroom: Writing Checklist and Body Biography.
This approach has freed me up to go around and work with students individually, and has actually created more time for students to work on class content. And I don’t know many social studies/history teachers who wouldn’t welcome more time to invest in the actual stuff of history.
Are you using flipped teaching strategies in your classroom? Please share some of your own ideas, experiences and examples!