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 Self-Paced Classroom

Generic Definition of Self-Paced Learning:  most commonly encountered in college, self-paced classes are classes in which students don’t actually attend class, but instead complete coursework on their own. The basic expectation is that by the end of the course, students will have completed all requirements with a passing grade.

The actual idea of a self-paced classroom for high school students (or even younger) often makes teacher’s cringe.  We think that by doing a self-paced curriculum, students will naturally err on the side of laziness and simply not do the work at all.  I was a skeptic at first as well.  I envisioned students holding all assignments until the end of the 6 weeks and me sitting on mounds of assignments trying to catch up with grading.

I have been doing Self-Paced with my Junior and Senior classes so far this year, and I have to say that it works BETTER.  When combined with Edmodo, it produces competition and students actually want to be the FIRST to get their assignments done.  It also makes grading easier as instead of grading several essays and assignments at the same time, I get them at different times and can give more focused feedback.  Students are more willing to write several drafts as a due date is not looming before them.

However, the self-paced class has been hard on some of my students.  The students who struggle the most with self-paced are the students who are used to meeting deadlines and not being asked to redo assignments (students who prefer that once something is turned in, they never have to see it again unless it contains an A).  Also students who are used to lots of whole-class instruction with modeling and pre-teaching will struggle with self-paced.

In my self-paced classroom I do a lot of pre-assessment in which I assign work that shows me what students can do.  Then I tailor assignments that help students improve.  Students must meet with me on an individual basis to receive modeling and specific instruction.  As the class is self-paced, everyone may be working on different things, so it’s rare that I give whole-class instruction.

This means, that initial assignments will receive lower scores (which is expected as students have not yet learned the material).  For students who are used to getting A’s on all of their papers, seeing pre-assessment scores causes a lot of stress.  For students who are used to a classroom which moves from Teacher to gradual release of responsibility to student, a self-paced classroom will be a challenge.  The concept is that all responsibility goes to the student and that the teacher acts as support model to help scaffold learning.

If you ask my students whether or not they like the self-paced class, you’ll get a mixed response.  Some will tell you they hate it and wish they were back in their old English classrooms.  Some will tell you that the love it and feel more motivated to participate in class.  Others will tell you that they are overwhelmed but like the challenge.

Today I had to stop today to remind my seniors not to stress out about due dates.  I explained that I place dates on Edmodo to help give advanced students something to do in case they finish early, but that other students are not expected to rush their current assignments in order to complete the new ones. The general idea is that I have 2 benchmark dates that assignments must be turned in…3rd week grades (there will always be at least 2 assignments that must be turned in by this time)  and 6 week grades (all unit assignments must be completed).  I’m hoping that by the end of the semester we will see that students are taking ownership of their learning and determining how to better organize their time.

The truth is, they need this kind of preparation for college and for life.

Why We Blog

So, when looking over the CSCOPE curriculum during the summer, I kept coming back to the exemplar lessons for the first weeks of school.  I was to spend at least 3 days teaching students how to keep separate notebooks: 1) reader’s notebook 2) writer’s notebook 3) Vocabulary notebook.  I tried this last year and I completely understand the philosophy behind it all but wasn’t seeing any improvement from my students in their writing or reading.  In fact, students spent a majority of the time complaining that their hands hurt.  I realized that a majority of “writing” that we do every day involves short text messages, typing on a computer, or swiping on an iPad. Any handwriting we do amounts short notes or signatures.  I thought about all the writing I do on my own. I cannot sit and write a story by hand in a notebook anymore.  I used to fill notebook after notebook of poems and stories when I was in high school, now I’ve become just like my students: plugged in.

I decided this year to replace reader/writer notebooks with blogging.  We use a website called kidbog because it allows for private blogging.  Students can read each other’s blogs and provide feedback, but their blogs are not visible to outsiders (unless we make them public).  This has been a very positive thing for me.  Students do their “quick writes” on their blogs and then expand quick writes into longer blog essays.  I see a lot more improvement in their writing because their blogs are visible to others. They are also able to save drafts and revise before posting–allowing them more time to think about what they want to post.  Blogs have a more “Diary” feel to them as they can decorate the layout and make the blog their own.  It also means students are thinking about content and not about how cramped their hands are after 5 minutes of writing.  The only down side to blogging is that students can easily overwrite a post, which means I don’t have evidence of several drafts.  Still working out a way around this (having them copy and paste drafts into google docs?)

What are your thoughts about students blogging?

Feeling a bit of Flow

I’m on week three of my first flipped year.  I’m feeling a bit better about what I’m doing and looking forward to seeing some results.  There are a lot of things that one should consider before using a flipped method with a classroom of deaf students.  Here are some interesting things I have found:

1. Students are not quite “Trained” to view ASL in 2D format.

Several of my students struggled watching my videos.  It wasn’t the content they were complaining about, but watching signing on video was difficult for them.  When planning your own flipped classroom, you may want to include mini-lessons on how to view ASL in 2D.  My remedial level classes were struggling with finding good places to pause, take notes, rewind, and review as needed.  They had a habit of watching the video once and then exclaiming “I don’t understand!”  It never occurred to me that they may need to be taught  HOW to view a video.

Also it is important that you record yourself on video separate from any content you do.  If you try using something like Screencast-o-matic.com, the recording is streamed making the final video a bit difficult to view as signs look blurry.

2. Take the time to teach students specifically how to access sites you will be using.

I sometimes take for granted that my students are tech saavy and I often assume that showing them something will be enough for them to get it.  However, a lot of my students needed a lot of practice with the sites I used: Edmodo and Kidblog.  I had to specifically teach them HOW to turn in an assignment or how to find their drafted posts in Kidblog.  These mini-lessons have taken up the bulk of my first 3 weeks of class but I’m hoping the benefits will be HUGE.

3.  Not all students love technology or even want to use it

Every year I assume that students will be excited to use the iPads or thrilled to play with a new website on their laptops.  Truth is, many of them do not enjoy technology because it adds to their frustration.  In addition to whatever academic issues they have to overcome (reading and writing especially) they are now expected to have some sort of media literacy.  It’s a lot for them to take in.  SO, if you are going to do a flipped classroom, keep it simple and small.  Don’t have a bunch of websites that they have to continuously log in to.  Keep the student log ins to a maximum of 3 and give them time to explore without worrying about grades.

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So, these are three things I learned in my first 3 weeks.  I’m also learning that mastery grading might be a worthy tool for me.  Mastery grading is a pass/fail sort of mentality to grading student work.  Students continue to work at their pace until they master the content.  You don’t give them the grade until they prove they have mastered the skill.  I haven’t quite begun mastery grading, but definitely something I might try down the road.  I’m also getting used to the idea of letting go of trying to get all students caught up on the same activities.  The whole point of flipping in the first place was to bring differentiation to my classroom.  I have to be able to allow students to work on skills long enough to master them. It might take some students a day, others a week.  I have to rotate activities so that all students are participating and actively involved in their learning.

I have to say preparation was a lot less than I thought.  If you have a good clear plan of what you would like to do or teach, then posting assignments to Edmodo takes a lot less time than heading to the copy machine to print out worksheets.  I find that while they are working on their warm-ups I can quickly post a class assignment or attach a worksheet.  I highly recommend Edmodo.

The rewarding part of everything, even with all of my trial and error, is to see every single student engaged throughout the entire class period.  It’s also wonderful to see them asking questions and stopping by outside of class to seek additional help.  This has got to be the first year out of my entire 7 years that students have willingly come to me for tutoring.  It shows that in this short amount of time, they are already taking responsibility for their learning.  That makes my bungles a lot easier to swallow.

I’ve got a long way to go before this feels comfortable and successful but I’m a step in the right direction.

The Tip of the Flip…

Ok, so here goes my first post. It will most likely be long, simply because I have so much to say!  This is my first teacher reflection blog.  I’ve decided that I needed to share what I was doing in the classroom.  I became super frustrated trying to find others in deaf education that were flipping their classrooms.  Not many people are out there sharing what they do.  Even if I’m not successful in my attempt, at least someone else out there can learn from my mistakes.  Another reason is that reflection is an important part of lesson planning.  Teachers who reflect on what they did in the classroom will more likely create better instruction throughout the year because they are constantly reviewing what worked and what didn’t.  Now this particular post is more about the WHY I’m flipping my classroom rather than the WHAT I have done so far.  I promise to post where I am in the process, what we are doing, and how I am doing it.

So, why am I flipping my classroom?  In deaf education, especially in the Language Arts classroom, teachers are met with very reluctant learners.  Deaf students struggle with English and often times by High School, they may have completely given up on trying to read/write better.  They are dual language learners who have often had very little exposure to either language (ASL or English) before entering school, so they automatically come into their education 5 year behind their hearing peers.  Even my students who grew up with ASL as their first language since birth, still find learning English difficult, because English is an auditory/oral language.  Much of the nuances surrounding English are based on how things “sound”.  So for many of my students, completing assignments at home becomes a chore. Where do they get extra help? Especially if their parents are not able to sign very well?  Or if dorm staff are not able to assist.  Students often end up not doing the homework at all or copying from each other.  Information is absorbed and wrung out on a slew of worksheets, journals, assessments, etc.  Not much of that information actually stays with them.  Are they actually learning anything?  I’ve begun wonder.  I want to do better.  I want my students to do better.

I’m tired of the 4th grade plateau that deaf have been pigeonholed into. This has followed me ever since I was a kid in school.  As a deaf child, I constantly had to fight to prove I could do just as well as my hearing peers, if not better.  I am proof that we are quite capable of breaking through this glass ceiling but the pedagogy surrounding the HOW has left educators with more arguments than solutions.  I want students to be able to think critically.  I want them to take ownership of their learning.  I want them to make choices that lead them to continuing their education beyond the classroom.  I want them to think of literacy as a journey of exploration rather than a means to an end.   I don’t want to teach anymore.

Over the years, I’ve found that my students do better with me as a tutor than with me as a classroom instructor.  Why? They get individualized attention, I get to use inquiry more frequently when working 1:1 with students, and they get to work at their own pace.  How can I transfer this to whole class instruction?  The flipped classroom model attempts to put the instruction and teaching directly into the hands of the students and create teachers who are not so much instructors, but instead coaches or facilitators.  Having a truly flipped classroom allows for different pacing (differentiation), and giving students a wider variety of options for demonstrating mastery. The downside is that it requires a lot of pre-planning and preparation.

I’ve always been fascinated by the flipped classroom model but have never been able to put it into good solid practice.  I’ve dabbled in putting worksheets and notes online for students to access.  I’ve created the occasional “mini-lesson on film” for students to watch at home and return ready to work in class.  However, these things didn’t really FLIP the classroom.  I still felt like I was doing a lot of lecturing or teaching but none of the information was being owned by the students.  They sat their mindlessly paying attention just hoping to pass the class and graduate.  This year I am determined to get students to take some ownership of their learning.

My first step was to sign up for Edmodo and attend the Edmodocon webinars over the summer.  I learned so much!  Second, I happened upon Cheryl Morris’s blog.  She’s a HS English teacher in California.  She has been collaborating with another teacher in North Carolina.  They actually Co-teach their classes using the flipped model.  As I read about their endeavors I realized that was what I needed to do with my classes.

To make a long story short, this is the year that I FLIP.

So, for the past 2 weeks I have been introducing my students to the technology they will be using in class, at home and in the dorms.  They are extremely overwhelmed, but when I asked if they would rather go back to the old model of my lecturing and sending home worksheets, they all gave an emphatic NO.  The freshmen are struggling a lot more than the seniors but that is to be expected.  Even though I’m getting a lot of grumbles related to the technology aspect, the work they are turning in these past two weeks is wonderful and full of effort.  They are writing their own blog posts, participating in discussions on current events, and helping each other with new concepts.  One of their first video lessons was on creating leveled questions (based on Costa’s Levels of Questioning).  They struggled with the concept but as they were watching the videos, they stopped and discussed the information with each other.  They would work and use me as a “tutor” to help scaffold their learning.  I walked around the room to help as needed. I’ve also seen an increase in students coming to see me after school or during their advisory period because they “really want to GET the assignment.”  I’m able to document discussions online and demonstrate their mastery of a wide variety of ways.  I’m not looking forward to the daunting task of redoing my lessons in video or online demo format but I think the benefits will far out weight whatever challenges I face.

If any of you are interested in taking a look at what we are doing, send me a message!