Sunday, April 22, 2012

3 month blog-aversary... What I have learned thus far

When I first heard the phrase "lifelong learner" in my teaching credential classes, I don't think I realized how true that would be for me.  I really do feel like I am constantly learning new things, trying new ideas, and modifying the way I do things to fit student needs.  In my five years of teaching thus far, no year has been identical to one in the past.  While certain consistencies definitely carry across the years, every year has brought about changes and tweaks to not only try to make my methods better, but to suit the needs of the learners I have each year.

Today celebrates my 3 month "blog-aversary".  It's hard to believe it was only January 22nd that I delved into the world of blogging and twitter, but it was.  I feel like I have grown so much in these three short months and learned so much about being an effective teacher, especially in the "Flipped Classroom" setting.  The ideas that I have been able to try out and the feedback/conversations I have been able to have with others have been absolutely essential in my professional growth.

So, with that, I would like to do two things in this post:
(1) Reflect back on the last three months and look at some of my "favorite" blog posts (other than my Weekly Reflections, which I think have been essential in my growth as a Flipped Teacher)
(2) Reflect back on the last three months with the most important lessons I feel I have learned

My "favorite" blog posts

  • What does my Flipped Classroom look like? (letter to parents) - This is the first letter that I sent home mid-year explaining the change.  I'm hoping to adjust and modify this to use for next year since I will be starting to flip from Day 1.
  • My Favorite WSQ  and Using the WSQ to deepen student understanding and academic conversations in my Flipped Classroom, as well as my WSQing strategies pagewhen I came up with the idea of the "WSQ" over Winter Break, I really had no idea if it was a good idea :).  I thought I would give it a try and see how it worked.  I had no idea how central and vital it would become to my flipped class and how much the idea would spread to other teachers in all content areas to use a similar tactic in their flipped classes.  I really like how the WSQ has evolved (going from "open summaries" to "guided summaries" with questions, requiring the students to seek out a written answer to their question, starting to have portions of it submitted online so I am ready to support and give feedback at the beginning of class, teaching my students how to have focused conversations about the math and how to discuss problems and misconceptions, etc)
  • The following are posts that show student growth my class.  I still remember these exact days, these exact moments.  These were the days that reminded me that using a Flipped Classroom really is helping my students think deeper and better.  These were the moments that showed me WHY I use a Flipped Classroom. (1) Today my flipped class was... amazing (2) Conversations and Observations - Every Single Student (3) Truly differentiated instruction... (4) Getting students to talk about math... (5) Student-Directed Teaching
  • My Goals for the Flipped Classroom - I set these goals for myself near the beginning of the semester.  So far, I feel like I am reaching most of them.  I am seeing improvement in test scores, improvement in A's/B's and decrease in D's/F's on almost every exam this semester.  I am seeing an increase in homework completion by some students who struggled first semester (there are still those that don't do it regardless).  I am meeting my goal of talking with every student every day, although I can continue to work on trying to spend a little more time with those who need it, because sometimes they get the short end of the stick.
  • 9 reasons why I'm a flipping convert - a great summary of some of the best reasons why I truly believe the flipped classroom is one of the most effective ways to "run" my class.
  • Craziest Hour of My Life... first #flipclass chat - reflections, thoughts, and MORE QUESTIONS! - My very first Twitter Chat.  While this first one was an overwhelming experience, it has become a highlight of my Monday nights and always gets me thinking.  I get to connect with new teachers every week and share ideas, thoughts, struggles, and concerns.  #flipclass has completely changed my attitude towards twitter - I used to think it was a useless site where celebrities posted stupid stuff that nobody should really care about except people read it because they are obsessed.  Now I realize how valuable of a tool it really is when used with a purpose.
  • John Wooden and the Flipped Classroom - I really do want to start a new blog dedicated to John Wooden and his sayings - and how they apply to me as a teacher and a coach.  His maxims, as well as the way he modeled them and lived them out during his long life, have so much impact on the way that I think and the way that I teach and coach.
  • Struggles with Motivation and Efficacy - I still remember writing this post during my 2nd period conference period after a very rough 1st period.  I was so incredibly frustrated and I just had to get it out.  I did not expect the amazing amount of support and encouragement I received on twitter and my blog after writing this post.  While there are still days like this, I am reminded that I am not alone, teenagers are still teenagers, and that me implementing a flipped classroom ideology is a complete and total mind shift for students and it sometimes is really hard to understand.
  • Initial Impressions (Part 1 of 3) - this post gives the reflections from the first official visitors I ever had to my flipped class.  While I was a little nervous to have guests, it was one of the most exciting moments to "show off" what was going on in my classroom.  To see the excitement and the wheels turn in this teacher's head after seeing a flipped class in action was truly rewarding.
  • Critics of the Flipped Classroom - My post "criticizing" critics of the flipped classroom who have never really tried it themselves and who just take the opinions and words of writers and speakers online of what the flipped classroom is.  I was a little nervous in pushing "publish" on this post, not knowing what sort of response I would get.  It has actually become one of my most read posts, right underneath my posts on WSQs.
  • The day without the flip and the two days that followed Back to the Flip and Flipping over my flipped class this week :).  It was a great experience to go back to traditional for a day.  For one, it was nice to mix it up.  But, most importantly, it verified and clarified so much for me about why I flip my class.

The most important lessons I feel I have learned so far...
  1. Every flipped classroom is different, and that is okay.  I have loved being able to share my flipped classroom with everyone and feel honored when someone else finds something useful that works in their classroom as well from my blog.  And, I love finding new ideas from other people's blogs and from twitter.  But, one thing I have found is that there are a lot of ideas that totally work for others that just don't work for me, and that is okay.  The flipped classroom should help to increase student responsibility for their learning as well as engagement with / deeper understanding of the content.  However that plays out in an individual teacher's classroom may be completely different than mine.  I have learned to not get so caught up in finding the "right way" as a whole, but the "best way" for me and my students.  I have also learned that what my flipped class looks like this year may be completely different from how it looks a year from now because I am sure I will change and progress as well. 
  2. Student feedback is vital and important to a successful flipped class.  I want my students to have ownership of their learning, and I want them to feel like it is "our" classroom and not "my" classroom.  I am constantly seeking student feedback and ideas, both formally and informally.  I am willing to try new things and am willing to admit when they are "flops".  Student feedback is essential because it is truly about their learning and what will help them succeed most.  As I have grown closer to my students this year, I have learned to distinguish between what is a "teenage complaint" (and tried to brush those off, especially those expressed to me in anger or frustration) and what is a valid issue or concern that needs to adjusted or changed.
  3. Students need freedom, but they also need accountability.  In a traditional class, students could show up to school, be "present", and "receive" the content.  For some students, this would be enough to pass the tests, pass the class, and move on.  Now that the initial delivery of content is done outside of class, it takes more initiative and responsibility on the part of the student to succeed.  However, when they are held accountable to doing "their part", they are able to truly receive the benefits of the flipped class (which, if you haven't figured out yet, isn't the amazing videos I make [sarcasm intended], but the engaging and active class environment and activities that the flipped classroom frees up time for!) My WSQ chart has really helped with both giving them freedom and accountability.  I never used to have a way to keep tabs on every student and how they were progressing.  If a student was absent, they usually never made the homework up because I never remembered to check it because I never remembered they had been absent in the first place!  Now the students are fully in charge of their own progress.  They are in charge of keeping track of what they have gotten done and when it was completed.  With the WSQ charts come the "Weekly Deadlines" I have set for them.  I feel like my system of "Blue Signatures" (on time) and "Red Signatures" (late) has been working quite well, and provides that little bit of extrinsic motivation our students still need.  I still have not yet figured out the best balance between freedom and accountability for all students, but I feel like this has been a great start.
  4. Relationships with students are so important. Because the flipped classroom gives a lot more ownership and control over to the students, there does need to be a certain amount of buy-in from them that this, although different and weird, will be worth it to them.  Building one-on-one relationships with students helps to aid in having them "buy-in" to the whole idea of a flipped classroom because they know that I am a teacher who cares about them as people (not just students) and who believes in them and their success, even when it is challenging for them.   I know this is an over-used phrase with flipping teachers, but I really do get to "talk with every student in every class every day". I don't know how I used to do it!  I have always had great relationships with my students in the past, but I think it was more of a great relationship with the class as a whole, and certain students who would stand out or who would talk a lot.  Now I am able to have that same relationship with all students, even those shy ones that would normally try to hide in the corner.  Now, when I say this, I definitely still see areas of growth and certain students that I want to try to reach out to a little more, but it is better than in the past.  It is still a challenge to reach out to those shy ones when the loud and vocal students still cry out for your attention.  However, now there is time set aside every day to do that, as long as I am intentional in doing so.

Thank you for being a part of my PLN these last three months.  There are eight weeks left until summer and I can't wait to see what I will get to learn in the next two months!  Then, it will be summertime when I can try to make sense of all this amazing new knowledge and experiences to start flipping from the beginning of a school year!  My summer to-do list related to the flipped classroom is already growing much too rapidly...

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