Monday, April 30, 2012

Steps for a successful flipped class

With the influx of new tools and press for the flipped classroom, there is so much information both good and bad about the flipped classroom. I find myself comparing all of the criticism of the flipped classroom to the Harry Potter books when they came out. So many people and various groups complained about the books, but were basing their opinions on what they had heard about ...they had never actually read the book. It is impossible to judge the flipped classroom by reading an article or a few blog posts. In my opinion, these are the steps a teacher does when flipping a class, in order of importance!
  1. Research - Do all you can to find out about flipped classrooms. Think outside the box. Don't just rely on looking in your content area. You never know where you are going to find good ideas.
  2. Train - Go to the Flipped Class Conference, find webinars, find someone flipping in your area.
  3. Plan - Plan how you want students to complete assigned work. Decide if you are looking at a basic flipped structure, or if you are going to go for a mastery system.
  4. Create Objectives - Create objectives for every unit of study, making sure they meet the standards. Make sure that they are measurable and achieve the overall goal of your class. Constantly ask yourself, "What do they need to know at the end of the unit, semester, class."
  5. Evaluate your assignments -  Make sure that every assignment you give is meaningful, thought-provoking, and on target with your objectives. Make sure assignments have a tie-in to the bigger picture and there are higher level thinking questions. Expect kids to make connections. 
  6. Evaluate your assessments - Create good assessments with a variety of types of assessing. Use written, spoken and presentational assessments. The best advice for an assessment? Make sure your students can't put your question in a search engine and immediately get the right answer.
  7. Plan - With every unit, plan a combination of activities that will reach a variety of learning styles. Have a combination of group and solo work. Every unit should give students a chance to
  8. Videos - Create videos of your lectures that are meaningful and SHORT. Remember that students on average will take 3-4 times as long to watch the video as it is long. Students will check out if the video is too long, just like they check out in class. apply what they have learned in a "real" situation.
  9. Technology - Use technology, but make use it appropriately for your class. There are many great tools out there, but not all of them are effective classroom tools. Find 2 or 3 you like and stick with them.Allow students to use technology in class. Determine "acceptable use" practices and consequences in advance. Have a back-up plan for technology problems.
  10. Set class policies - Decide if students must watch videos outside of class and how you will check to ensure that they do. Set collaboration parameters. (i.e. - how big of a group can work together). Determine where groups can work. (Can students only be in the classroom, can they work in the hall?)
I wish I could say I did all of these before I started, but I did do most of them. Notice that making videos is far down the list, and planning and evaluating are on the list twice. If these steps (even most of them) are done by the teacher, the results are amazing. Students are more engaged, take more responsibility for their learning, and (on the whole) have a better grasp of the information presented. I want to meet the educator that can argue with that!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sydney TeachMeet Presentation

Wanted to send thanks to everyone at the Sydney TeachMeet yesterday. Although I am sure I talked for longer than my seven minutes, I got some great feedback and there are some future flippers down under! I look forward to hearing from all the new and old language flippers. The best ideas are those that are shared!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Is it possible to teach listening?

One of my main reasons for flipping my classroom was to have more time to work on listening comprehension with my students. We have done tons more listening, with CDs, videos, movies and Google Voice. My students have improved their listening skills close to 30% more than my students last year. Much of that has to do with how much more practice these students are getting, and I am doing a better job choosing level appropriate listening selections.

However, there are still so many struggles. For our latest listenings, we did two selections that accompany the story, Rosa, that we read. This is nice because now the students are familiar with quite a bit of new vocabulary found in the selections. This is a tougher listening, and does require the students to understand the listening, not just listen for key words. Although on the whole the students did well, I was amazed by one of the questions where the students obviously grabbed on to a phrase they heard rather than use their brains. The question asks something along the lines of "what did the narrator want to do with technology". Most of my kids chose the answer "return to prehistoric times" when the answer was really "slow down the speed to be able to enjoy life". When the first two or three I checked had that answer, I chuckled a little, but when I realized it was the majority of them, I started thinking about how to fix the issue.

Now, if I had come up with an answer, I would have quickly sold it to the highest bidder. I did look back through my notes from past CCFLT and ACTFL conferences and tried to find some possible solutions. One presenter that I saw about a year ago discussed how we teach everything, but throw the students in the deep end when it comes to listening. I thought I had been doing a better job, but realized that I am focusing so much on the listening, that maybe I forgot about the THINKING! I encourage my AP students to think about the answers they are choosing and do they make any sense. I obviously forgot to teach that lesson with my 3's. Reverting to prehistoric times is not what any person in their right mind would want to do, so they should have been able to eliminate that answer right away.

So, the big question, what to do now? I decided I am going to give them the answers again and look at just the answers. Which ones seem to make no sense? Is there an answer (or two) that seem to go together and are closely related? Is there an answer that seems very far fetched or implausible?

Then we are going to do the listening again and see what answers they choose. (They did the listening the first time about 2 weeks ago, so I doubt they will remember their answers!) Hopefully they will do a better job. We might also look at the transcript and listen to it again to see where things are going wrong.

Listening is in my mind, the MOST important part of communication, why is there so little time dedicated to HOW to teach this most valuable skill? Maybe because it is so very hard to teach......ideas? .....suggestions?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

World Language Day and ideas...

Today, I took all of my Spanish III, PreAp, IV and AP students to World Language Day at University of Northern Colorado. This day is full of cultural activities, competitions, and opportunities for the students to speak the target language. It is also is a chance for the students to get a small glimpse of a college campus.

My AP students were the only ones that competed, in extemporaneous speaking. They were given a questions, two minutes to prepare, and two to three minutes to present...with no notes. Both of the students were disappointed in their performance, but I applaud them putting themselves out there and trying. My other students were excited to compete next year.

All of the students participated in a variety of activities, from dancing, to bingo, to soccer. They had a great time and many were "caught" using the target language. I am very proud of them all.

Being at this event gave me some ideas for how I can implement more speaking events in the classroom. Next year, I am going to have the 3's plan a speaking event. First semester it will be for the 2's, second semester for the 1's. I am imagining them setting up the room like a store, cafe, bus station, whatever they decide. Then they will ask the lower levels questions, award prizes, etc. I think it would be a cool way to get them all talking, and something to look forward to as they move up the "food chain". It would be a great "project" without having to be a huge thing that I grade! (bonus!)

On a side note, I just have to say how great my students are. My day started with a students bringing me a hot chocolate from Starbucks. Then, all of the kids were assembled and ready to go ON TIME, which was 20 minutes before classes start. When it was time to leave, all of the kids were assembled ON TIME. As if that was not enough, on the way back, multiple kids thanked me for taking them on the field trip. I love my students, and I would not want to teach anywhere else!

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.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Reading reveals all problems!

We have begun our last unit for the semester, Technology. In many ways, this is also the most challenging unit for the students. In the past, this had been the first unit of level 4, but since we have ramped up the curriculum in levels 2 and 3, I am using it at the end of level 3 this year. It is not the vocabulary, or even the grammar that is hard, but some of the readings and listenings that are challenging.

We are reading a story, Rosa (for the Spanish teachers out there), that requires the students to put together almost all of the concepts that we have learned this year. I know the story is a little tough, so I broke it down into three sections, and each section has pre-reading vocabulary and comprehension questions. The first section of the story was due Friday, and I was watching a percentage (15%)of my students struggle to get through it. As usual, this made me second guess myself and really reflect on whether or not I had made the right choice using this story.

After school on Friday, I sat down and really thought about what the issues were. First, the students that struggled were the ones that have always struggled. I about 7 students in Spanish III, that should never have taken the course, and although I have been able to spend much more time with them as a result of the flipped classroom, there isn't enough time to reteach all the vocabulary and grammar concepts from Spanish 1 and 2.

The second struggling group, were some of my "middle" kids. These are kids that have found a good group to work with and have been "gleaning" all the information from other kids rather than really learning it for themselves. Many of the working students in the groups are tired of carrying these kids, and have worked ahead so that they cannot work with the gleaners.

So the real questions are, How do I fix the problem? and Can I fix the problem? (I have to say there is a small part of me that wants to say, "Sorry you couldn't be bothered really doing the work the first time!" But luckily that voice stays in my head!)

Can I fix the problem - maybe not completely, but I can make it better. How? I have told the struggling students to focus on the dialogue. They need to make sure that they TOTALLY understand that. Then, get what they can from the narrations using the vocabulary I have given them, and the clues that the book has given them. I make sure I spend more time with these students, and I give them encouragement and have them explain to me what they think sections of the story mean and I give heads up, or the sad head shake. Then, they either smile, or sigh and go back and look at it again. I have decided that I am NOT reading the story to anyone, period.

Of course these students are a small percentage, and the other students are having to work a little harder at comprehension, but they are getting it. Most of them are actually frustrated by reading the story in small chunks and not really understanding what is going on, so they have read ahead! Bonus!!

I did want to thank all my new friends out there for checking out my blog! Please comment and/or question because that is how educators always find the best ideas! I am going to write another post later about some of the listening issues we have encountered so far, and get down some of my ideas for using PBL in this unit next year.