Monday, March 12, 2012

Struggles with Motivation and Efficacy

Disclaimer: This is a very honest and frank post.

I need a place to think and to try to put together my thoughts on using the Flipped Classroom with my CP Algebra 1 students (I love it with my Math Analysis Honors!).  There are pros and cons, but if I am going to continue to use this teaching ideology, I feel there needs to be more pros than cons.  Here are my struggles and frustrations.  Please note that these are completely my personal views.

The purpose of this post is not so much to vent as it is to hopefully get some clarity in my own head and some suggestions from other educators who are dealing with the same type of population.  How have you found success with similar students to those I will describe below?

Please note, that as I refer to "the students" in this class, I am not referring to every single student.  There are some outstanding, hard working, successful students in each of my three Algebra 1 classes.  However, I feel like this post applies to at least 50% of my students (more than that in some class periods).

The students in this class are so poorly motivated to begin with.  One-third of all my classes are repeat sophomores who have already failed Algebra 1 once, some of them failed it again in the summer.  They already have a very poor attitude towards math, and that was only compounded this year when they struggled first semester again (before I began to flip).  Another third of my classes are freshman who took Algebra 1 or Pre-Algebra last year and received a D or an F.  Again, these students already have a poor attitude towards math.  Tie in the poor attitude with generally low levels of self-efficacy and poor work habits, which leads to the situation I am in right now.

The reason I chose to flip with these students was simple:  They would sit in class and learn a lesson (through lecture, group work, activity, etc) and then go home and be expected to complete a practice problem set on their own.  The one third I didn't mention above would be successful with this method.  The other two thirds would either BS the homework, copy it from another student, or not do it at all.  This was an issue, because they would come to class the next day unprepared to move on to the next lesson because they hadn't cemented the previous lesson through independent practice.  This obviously led to low quiz scores and low test scores - both of which even further decrease motivation, efficacy, and the desire to even try.

I thought by flipping with these students I was making it SO MUCH EASIER on them.  All they are expected to do is to go home and watch a video, take some notes, write a summary of what they watched, and ask a question.  The only skills it takes to complete that assignment is a little bit of focus and effort.  Then, they get to come to class and actually work on the problems with support and help.  They get to ask questions and learn how to do it right!  Who wouldn't want that?!?!?!  I'm not asking them to work magic and suddenly understand the math.  I am just asking them to do their best learning, to give their best effort, and I (and their classmates) will be there to work through the tough problems with them until they can do it on their own.  If they aren't willing to make that tiny bit of effort, I don't know what to do.

Keep in mind I have done everything I am "supposed" to do as an educator - I have had student meetings, parent meetings, parent phone calls, set up "work plans", talked about time-management individually with students, met with counselors, etc.  None of it has changed anything.  I can't tell you how many parents I speak with and they say "Okay I will talk with them tonight about it" and the student shows up the next day without the video watched.  

One reason I think I am more frustrated than normal is because today is a Monday.  They have had three days (Fri,Sat,Sun) to watch the 9 minute video that was assigned this weekend. And yet the amount of students that come unprepared on a Monday is twice or three times the amount of a normal school day. And, they just come up to me casually and say (like I've requested them to do), "Oh, I didn't watch the video".  Yes, I am glad that about half the students who didn't watch it told me.  But, when 1/3 of the class didn't watch it but told you, 1/3 of the class didn't watch it but won't tell you or proactively try to watch it, that only leaves 1/3 of the class that is even remotely prepared to move on with the material.

Our students these days need so much more than knowledge of the subject.  They have to be taught time management, goal-setting, strong work ethic, value in education, motivation, how to focus, how to ask questions and advocate for themselves...

It just seems like so many of my students don't even care.

I am not giving up. I know there has to be a solution to this problem.  I believe in the value of the flipped classroom ideology and believe that it can be successful with all grade levels and all subject areas.

However, the flipped classroom ideology does give students more responsibility for their education than they have ever been used to.  Many of them don't know what to do with it because they don't have that time-management, ability to focus and learn, ability to advocate for themselves.  I think that shows a problem with our educational system today because aren't those skills that we want our students to have in the real world?  They may not remember how to graph and solve a quadratic equation, but they need to remember how to use those other skills learned in the process (time management, ability to focus and learn, ability to advocate for themselves, etc.).

I wonder: Would I be having this issue if I started flipping in September and had this "mastery" and "you can do it" mentality from the beginning of the year?  Is it the switch that they have struggled with?  Is it the fact that many of them had already given up before I started flipping?  Is it the fact that they need more training and since I'm in the middle of the year I didn't take the time needed to train them in this new system?

I feel like I am a very motivating and encouraging teacher and have never struggled like this before.  My students have always come on board.  They have always jumped in and joined with what my expectations are.

If I have to hear another student say "Well, I know, I'm just lazy" as their excuse and have them continue to think that it is okay to be that way, I don't know what to do.  I just want to say: "DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Make your life better!  Make changes now!"  But, they don't see the value in that.

All day I've been thinking about the quote:
You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink

How can I make my students thirsty so they WANT to drink?  I think that is the answer that will solve all of my frustrations mentioned.

As I reflect before I post this, I realize that this post does not just apply to the flipped classroom.  I think it just applies to education and motivation in general in any type of classroom, flipped or not.  However, because students in my classroom now have to take responsibility for themselves and I am trying to give them space to learn how to do that, I feel torn...

Am I alone in this?  Is anyone else feeling this way?  Has anyone else dealt with this and found success somehow?  

I know there is not one perfect answer but it would be nice to know if others are in the same situations or if there are answers, solutions, suggestions that I haven't yet considered...


  1. Hey Crystal,
    I think your frustration is more common than we talk about. I know from my experience, that my classes have had significant gains this year, but it obviously isn't 100% across the board. I would love to have 120 students that are always engaged, all the time, but it isn't reality, and we cannot burden ourselves with that responsibility.

    I agree with your follow isn't necessarily the method or idea, its the state of education in America right now. We need to focus on re-teaching American youth to care about learning again, but the system we're in hinders that process.

    My suggestions: continue working hard and don't give up on those students that are showing zero effort. My guess is that they're used to being dropped off, so they're just waiting until you do the same. Continue to push them, continue to call home, continue to encourage, because that is what they'll remember about you. Is that easy? Absolutely not. But, you are most definitely not alone in this frustration.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. Crystal,

    What a GREAT and honest post on what is happening in your classroom.

    My initial reaction to this is... it's just the beginning. The flipped classroom is one model that is being used to make learning personalized. Unfortunately, we are dealing with broken learners! Our education system does not nurture learners, but creates "students". The work you are doing in your classroom is merely revealing what we have created with the school institution.

    Just imagine what would happen if we all just continued along in a traditional model of education, completely unaware of and/or unaffected by the true state of our children, blinded by the falsities of good "students" and good "teachers".

    This is just the beginning. I don't believe that your students are any worse off than they were before.

    We need to move the blended learning model/flipped model down into the elementary schools, create meaningful classroom activities/projects so that students grow up encourage by investigation, inquiry, and engagement so that when they come to your classroom they don't just stand at the watering hole.

    Keep it up. You are disrupting the system.

    Kristin Daniels

  3. Crystal, You are not alone. I teach General Chemistry to very similar students. They are literally on a forced march (it is required to graduate in the state of MI). Many of my students are At Risk, ELL, SPED, 504, Low achieving low (which means they don't qualify for services). Saying that my videos are not longer than 3 minutes with a response sheet of did you watch, did you understand, if not did you re-watch? Students like ours don't usually want to be at school and even less in required classes. I use two products to help make their lives as simple as possible LiveBinders and daqri (for students that want the site mobile). You also have to remember we are fighting 10 or more years of traditional teaching methods that they are used to and can cope with. This is something new that needs for them and us to shift our paradigms and it takes training. We have to continuously work with and modify what we do to make what we do interesting to them which is hard when we teach Math and some concepts in science that involve Math. Right now we are plowing through Stoichiometric calculations. Keep your head up. You are making a difference.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Crystal,

      David just posted this video -

      Sometimes it feels like we're not far off from this! BUT before our kids change WE have to change the way we are teaching. Disruptive change - slowly!

      Plus, someone once told me that when you change things... "it will get worse before it gets better"


    3. Brian, Kristin, David,

      Thank you all for your encouraging and thoughtful comments. They seriously helped me to make it through the rest of the day with a much more positive attitude and outlook. Thanks for being a part of my PLN :) You guys are the best!

  4. Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I had the same thoughts today. I have two sections of my classes that are just as you described above both before and after the flip, and for whatever reason today I just felt like it had been a failure with them. I'm glad to see that I am not alone. I'm struggling to motivate students who don't care if they fail, and additionally have no motivation to do well, I too thought the flip would make things easier for them. I do think that had I flipped from September on that there would possibly be a difference. I also have to keep in mind that they are not given this kind of independent learning expectation in other classes, and like anything its going to take some time for them to get used to. Thanks for your honesty, you made me feel better about my mini (not in front of students of course) melt down. I look forward to seeing any suggestions that other educators post here as well!

    1. Elizabeth,
      Thanks for your comment. I think sometimes we feel like we are all alone in our struggles, and that is how I was truly feeling this morning after 1st period. But, lo and behold, it seems like we are all in this battle together :)

      For the rest of the day today, I really tried my best to focus on the kids who were trying and who do care. There are always at least a few.
      I am even thinking about making a new seating chart for period 1 and grouping the Students into two groups. I feel like the bad rub off on the good more than the good rub off on the bad. Don't know if I'll do it tomorrow; might think about it some more.

      What grade level and subject do you flip? When did you start?

    2. Hi Crystal,
      I agree, as I build my PLN I am finding not just ideas, but support! What a wonderful thing. It is amazing what talented educators are out there, and how generous they are with sharing ideas and information, it truly is a community.

      I have flipped my 7th grade history classes, so they are a bit young for so much independence, I have to remind myself of that. In addition to my regular ed, I have three special ed inclusion programs in three of my classes. The flip has worked really well for two of those sections. We are currently in Week 4 of the flip.

      I am interested in seeing how your seat change works out. I think I too will have to do something to separate the students, though I'm not sure what that will look like yet.

      Thanks again for encouragement, I look forward to continuing to see how your journey turns out!

    3. Me again!

      First, just a thought when I read about you switching the seating chart. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I had a wonderful instructor in my graduate program who would give a 2 question quiz at the beginning of class and then split the group into two: those who read and those who did not. Provides for greater discussion and students quickly caught on that she wasn't going to waste time dealing with students who did not do their work.

      Second, we had a 5th grade teacher struggling with having her students watch the video and so we encouraged her to do some sort of "fun" activity at the beginning of class each day (in this case, it was using the student "clickers" to answer some questions). Kicker was... the students that did not watch the video the night before had to go at the beginning of class to watch the video in the lab so they missed this fun activity.

      Subtle LOGICAL consequences.

      Good luck!

    4. So, (just in period 1) I switched up the seats today. Either the best or worst decision I've made; we'll see. I split them based on effort - the kids that show up prepared and actually work on one side. The kids that don't watch the videos, don't get work done in class, etc on the other side. I only have four computers in my classroom, so when any more than that show up unprepared, I can't really send them anywhere to watch it and they just have to wait their turn (and thus feel the need to just sit there and do absolutely nothing).

      We'll see how it turns out. The kids knew what I did right away and there were a few kids upset that they were on the "bad" side, but I talked with them individually about how to make it to the "good" side. We'll see how this goes. Definitely not my ideal move, but anything was worth a try at this point.

      My goal is to do exactly what you said - provide for greater discussion with students who are prepared and not get stressed or upset over those who don't.

      Thanks for the ideas/tips and I will keep working on ways to have "subtle logical consequences" for my students.

      Don't you just wish they all WANTED to learn every day :)... in a perfect world...

  5. Thanks for this awesome post! I flipped my Algebra II class just two weeks ago (flipped Anatomy at the beginning of the year) and had to deal with some of these same issues (everyone has to take and pass Algebra 2 at our school).

    Two things I have done to help combat "not watching" before class.
    1) If you don't watch the video and complete your online summary, you owe me 20 minutes of time after school that day or before school the next day. In explaining this to my students, we discuss that in order for our flipped model to work, they must come to class having watched the videos (5-8 minutes) and ready to move on to our practice/applications/labs. If they cannot find the time to watch the video before class (i.e. they come to class unprepared), then I help them "make the time" with the 20 minutes they owe me. I had 5 students not watch the first day -- 4 came for their 20 minutes; 1 didn't and was referred to the principal (we have solid discipline support at our school and my principal is 100% behind the flip). After that first day, I have only had 1 student not watch a video before class. I'm not sure if this is the "right" approach, but it seems to be working so far.

    2) At the beginning of class the day after a video was "HW", we do a quick texting poll from (LOVE!!) using our cell phones. Usually I post a question (similar to content from video) and ask something like "What would you do next?, Tell me something about this function., or "Where is this wrong and why?". Everyone texts in a response ("anonymously" -- I can look them up, if I want to) -- if you're not sure what's going on, you can text in a "?". Usually there are a LOT of good, thoughtful responses -- I think this positive showcase helps to drive the learning, as well. Students want to be able to text in a thoughtful response the next time we do a poll.

    Just some ideas on my end. Thanks so much for your honest, thoughtful discussion!!

    Michelle Rinehart

    1. Hi Michelle,
      Thanks for your comment. It's so great to continually connect with other educators who are in the same boat as me!

      I actually really like your idea about the owing 20 minutes. All but 2-3 of my students have internet access at home, so them not watching is not an equity/access issue, it's a laziness/forgetfulness issue. I think a few days of either serving time or getting a referral would be worth it. I am pretty sure I would have the full support of my administration if I attempted something like that. I might try it :) Right now, I don't think my students see any consequence to not watching, so they don't necessarily make it a priority.

      Thanks for the ideas :)

  6. Crystal,

    What about creating some sort of competition based on the videos in class that create a fun atmosphere where those kids start to feel like they're missing out if they don't watch the video. Maybe some flash cards and a relay race to answer the quickest. Or possibly, your videos have special factoids that become the game questions. If they haven't watched the video, they don't "get" to participate. Might increase interest. I am playing with the flipped idea as well and always looking to improve classes to, thanks for the post.



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