Re-Evaluating FLIP

I embraced the flipped methodology whole heartedly as I researched it during the summer last year. I entered the fall fully believing that it would revolutionize my classroom. I still believe in the flip but have now come to re-evaluate it and redefine it. After thinking about all I have done half way through the year, I’ve found that I don’t really “flip” all that much in my classroom. At least, not by original Khan Academy definition. I don’t send home lectures/lessons to students and then do work in class. In fact, the flip has made me realize how pointless homework has become. Just by seeing that my students don’t even watch the videos I so painstakingly put together, I came to realize that it doesn’t matter if it is a worksheet or a cool video lesson. Students do not want nor seem to have time to complete all the homework they are assigned.

I’ve changed my view on what I want my classroom to look like. I want students to LEARN not just DO. I want them to MASTER concepts, not simply be EXPOSED TO concepts. I want QUALITATIVE results, not QUANTITATIVE results. I want AUTHENTIC learning objectives, not STANDARDIZED objectives. I want all students to feel a level of SUCCESS with their learning. I don’t want them to obsess about grades.

This fall I am making an effort to get rid of homework all together. If students are not able to finish in class, it gets pushed until the next time I see them. I’m also making an effort to allow for self-pacing. I want students to be able to master skills at a pace that makes sense to them. It is possible to have a set of standards for all students to master, but it is NOT possible to have all students master them at the same time, especially within one classroom.

I find that I stil make the occasional video or keynote for students to view on their own time but these are resources for students to access. They are still responsible for their learning. I rarely lecture in front of the class and I spend most of my time roaming around the room checking in on students and helping where needed. I like this the most. I hand out a list of assignments/skills for students to work on and they go through the list deciding what they want to work on and when. They check their own work and move on when they feel ready. They see me if they want extra practice in a particular skill and they take quizzes to gauge their mastery. Today a student came up to me after class and said…”I like this class.” He managed to complete all of his assignments and found that his reading level had jumped a grade level (this was a big deal to him and me). He said he finally understood how to improve his reading, and he’s anxious to see his reading improve even more. He is proud because he knows HE did all of the work. He is motivated because now he has something that applies to him on a personal level. He has a goal that is not something the teacher set for him, but something he decided for himself. This is empowerment.

I have a long way to go before my classes become what I want them to be (or better yet, what students want them to be). I still have troubles relinquishing control over the assignments or control over what students should be doing during class. I had one class where I was constantly shushing students and asking them to stay on task. I deducted points for chatting, and constantly became frustrated and angry that they would not listen or pay attention to each other. I finally said, “you know what, as long as you complete the work and understand what we are doing today, then I don’t care if you chat or get all silly, etc.” Of course, several students took this as a sign to chat through the whole class and I sat there literally on my hands with my mouth in a tight line, but at the end of class, every one of them turned in their assignments and could respond to exit slip questions. I realized that I was trying to control something that really wasn’t important. Now, if my principal were to come into the classroom for evaluation, it might look like my class is a zoo, but they are learning in their own way.

Then I think to myself about attending workshops or department meetings in which sometimes teachers chat with each other while a person is presenting. These side conversations may or may not be related to the information being presented, but I also don’t believe that they are not getting the information.

We have to begin to instill a sense of responsibility in our students. They have to take ownership of their learning and their behavior. We have to let go of control and give students the opportunity to tell us what it is they want to learn and why. They have to be able to leave the classroom and take something with them when they move on into the world. It’s a BIG lesson that will take me time to master, but I’m hoping that I can begin to connect with my students more and encourage them to make the most of school.

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The Case for Flipping PD

010611085517clipart_board_meetingI read a very interesting article that reiterated everything I believe about effective professional development (you can read the article HERE).  For the longest time I have sat in workshops or department meetings and wished that I was just about anywhere else.  It was never about the topics being uninteresting or that I didn’t feel the information applied to me, but rather I always felt that time was not being used effectively.  We are constantly told to give students more hands-on experience and less “stand and deliver” teacher-centered instruction.  We know that project-based authentic instruction works better for student retention.  We also know that differentiation is essential to the mixed ability classroom, and yet we assume that all of our teachers have the same needs, same abilities and are able to learn information the same way.

How can we expect our teachers to put into practice things that are constantly given in traditional methods?  Time after time, I hear teachers saying: “well that information is great, but I need you to SHOW me what this looks like in the classroom.”

I feel like I’m always sitting through presentations in which I could easily google the same information that was placed into a powerpoint.  I dislike being asked to “bare with a presenter” and “hold questions or discussion” until after the presentation.  I would much rather watch a presentation on my own, which gives me time to digest the information, write down any questions that I have, and be more prepared for discussion.  I love workshops that allow me time to discuss topics with other teachers, share current trends and practices, as well as demonstrate what effective teaching looks like in the classroom.  I love being asked to be a “student” and experience education from my students’ perspective.  It helps me reflect on my own teaching habits and find better solutions to certain problems I face with behavior, content, and instruction.

A note to administration:  I know professional development like this takes time, but keep in mind, this kind of time investment is exactly what you are asking your teachers to do.   If you can put in that time and effort to design professional development that invigorates your staff, provides an effective instructional model, and places your teachers at the heart of open dialogue, you will not only improve on morale, but you will have developed a professional learning community that extends beyond the workshop.