Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Flipping is a move towards better education

I wanted to get something together for the conversation "To flip or not to flip" on the ISTE forum but could not get something together fast enough. (Silly teaching always gets in the way!) But, since I put it all together I wanted to post it here. Thoughts and comments are, as always, appreciated.

The ideal classroom, the one every teacher dreams of, is full of engaged students that are not only learning to be able to succeed in class, but are truly mastering the content and applying their knowledge to real world situations. For many, the flipped classroom is helping make this ideal a reality. Flipping a classroom is much more than creating videos of boring lectures for students to watch for homework. It is also great teachers evaluating their curriculum, assignments and assessments to ensure that they are meeting the not only the standards and the class objectives, but the life skills necessary for students to succeed in the 21st century. An effective flipped classroom requires the teacher as well as the student to approach education in a new way: not just finishing the required curriculum, but having students understand the material and be able to apply it. After all, isn’t that what education is supposed to do?

Creating a flipped classroom is one of the hardest things a teacher will ever do. I believe the key is to set attainable, measurable classroom objectives for each unit. These must be the driving force behind the creation of lectures, assignments and assessments. When classwork and activities are effective, classroom management becomes easier because students understand the reason behind the work. When small assignments lead to a larger project applying the knowledge, it is much easier to get student buy-in. Assessments should vary and students should be given choices when completing assessments when possible. Students will go the extra mile when they are interested in the topic. Isn’t is better for a student to do a presentation about video games in Spain and do a fantastic job than for a student to do yet another report about bullfighting in Madrid that is terrible because they don’t have any interest in the topic? It isn’t always possible to give students wide varieties of choices, but teachers should work to make it more of an option. The results can be surprising! Teachers can use Project Based Learning (PBL) to encourage students to incorporate their knowledge from a unit, show the real world application of what they had learned, and use 21st century skills such as collaboration and correct utilization of technology.

Classroom management in a flip requires teachers(and administrators) to be willing to change their entire perception of classroom management. Students are almost always talking – about the assignment. They are working together to read, figure out vocabulary and trying to decipher listening selections. True, it is not always in the target language, but it is about my class. There are at least 3 groups and 3 or four individuals working together at any given time, so the class can look chaotic to a passerby. It is important to explain this part to administration so that they will be more understanding should they pop in. The class is often louder than the average class because students are: playing games, presenting projects, working on skits, and getting excited about their accomplishments. Being able to sit down during a class period is something that almost never happens. There are always groups that need help, work that needs to be checked, and questions that need to be answered. Teachers work harder during a class period than in the traditional classroom. However, the reward is that no class is ever the same; the students are not only learning, but often excited about their accomplishments as well.

There are many opponents to the flipped classroom, and some of them do raise valid arguments. Yes, it is hard to implement this style when students don’t have access to technology at home. Yes, it is hard when there is little or no dependable technology in your classroom. Yes, there are still students that will not do their homework. However, I have found that the same solutions to the traditional class issues work in the flipped class. If you need access to a computer, go to the library. With the program I use to create the videos, I can even make DVDs of the videos. If that fails, there is always the textbook! If the technology in the classroom is awful, or non-existent, look for donations. If your students didn’t do their homework, they miss out on things that happen in class because they need to catch up. The bottom line is, and I think we all agree on this, SCHOOL IS NOT WORKING as it stands today. The flipped classroom is not a panacea for all the problems in education. However, teachers that are taking the risks and working hard with the flipped classroom trying to find a way to make education what it should be, are much more likely to find the solution than the naysayers that stand on the sidelines and do nothing to improve the educational system. The flipped classroom creates an environment that enables students to take responsibility for their own learning, and helps teachers recognize gaps in student learning and I believe it is a huge step in the right direction.