Thursday, October 30, 2014

Just because you use video doesn't mean you've flipped your class. And just because you don't like the "flipped classroom" doesn't mean you shouldn't use video.

Long title. I know. It's late and I couldn't think of a shorter one.  Think of it as a title/thesis statement all in one.


I am finding more and more that people in education use the word "flip" to refer to anytime students watch an instructional video.  That's frustrating to me.

For me, flipping my classroom was about
finding a way to support my students more in their learning, and to
better differentiate my instruction and time with them.  It was about
getting out of the front of the classroom and
allowing class time to be more focused on them, their questions, and their needs.  It was about
freeing up class time from lower-level direct instruction so students could have engaging mathematical discussions,
participate in inquiry and discovery activities,
create and solve their own problems (which requires higher levels of thinking and deeper understanding of the concepts), and
get individual or small group support if they needed without the fear or pressure of being surrounded by 39 of their peers.
There was time for inquiry and discovery.  
There was time for discussion and problem solving.
There was time for collaborative and "fun" activities.  
There was time for whole group "big idea" talking.
There was time for individualized, asynchronous formative assessment.  
There was time to re-watch a concept that was tricky.

Flipping my class gave me and my students more TIME to do what was more important, more valuable, and more challenging.  It opened up more opportunities for collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. It was a completely different environment with completely different learning activities, only made possible because direct instruction was removed from the group learning space.

I just happen to use video as an instructional tool to help free up that time.  It's not the video that makes my class flipped.  It's the mindset of answering the question: "What's the best use of of the face to face TIME you have with your students?"... and then going and doing that.

"Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter."

Was my flipped classroom perfect?  No!  Did flipping my class make my classroom perfect and always ideal?  No!  However, it was better than the four years I had a "traditional" class - it was far more effective, efficient, engaging, and enjoyable for students because of the way class time was focused on them and not on me as the master of knowledge (student-centered), focused on active learning activities (not passively sitting there to receive information), and focused on higher-order thinking activities (actually doing something with the information like applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating).
 I think it's important to mention, that even after THREE YEARS of "flipping", there are still things I would have changed this year from last year if I was still in the classroom. It is a continual process of refining and discovering ways to make class time more effective, efficient, engaging, and enjoyable for student learning.  
A few ideas?  I would have included more problem-solving and critical thinking activities (even one a week in time-crunched math analysis, but I have such a better picture of what my Common Core Algebra 1 class should have looked like now that I went through the curriculum once).  I would have done a better job with spiral review (I like the 2-4-2 idea for homework from Steve Leinwand's presentation that I still have to blog about...).  I would have used more tools like InfuseLearning, Socrative, Padlet, TodaysMeet, Google Drive/ Doctopus, and maybe even Haiku as my LMS instead of my blogspot.  I would have continued to refine my Peer Instruction processes and developed more hands-on WSQ chat activities.  I would have worked on finding ways to make the student blogs more meaningful and try to connect with other classrooms around the country/world.  I would have chosen certain concepts to introduce as a whole class first before having students take notes on the vocabulary and examples.  I might have even restructured some of the videos and WSQs so they only had them 3 nights a week max instead of 4-5.  I would have remade some of my videos that could have been presented in a better way... and so much more that I would have thought of as the year went on.

I'm learning that one of the best ways to understand a well-structured and successful flipped classrooms is to go visit one, and I definitely had my share of visitors when I was in the classroom.  But now that I'm out of the classroom, I am trying to describe something to those around me that is so foreign, and it so hard to even conceptualize.  I find myself describing the goals I mentioned above to others and never actually mentioning the word "flipped" at all.  It just brings up too many misconceptions and wrong ideas because of what culture, social media, and other people have come to define a "flipped classroom" as.
In my new role, I am helping teachers to transform their classrooms to be more student-centered, focused on active learning and higher-order thinking...Technology is a great tool that can help allow this to happen.  Using video to remove direct instruction, content delivery, and vocabulary or background information can be extremely valuable.  Not because it's cool to "flip" your classroom, but because we want class time to be more effective, efficient, engaging, and enjoyable...We want students to be able to collaborate, communicate, and engage in critical thinking and creativity...And if a video lesson is a way to help meet those goals and transform the class, then do what's best for students, and just do it.
Direct Instruction --> OUT! 
Engaging, Collaborative, Challenging Learning Activites --> IN!

As a final note - if you are able to structure your class where there is no direct instruction needed - it's completely project based, discovery based, etc, then that's great!  Maybe flipped learning isn't for you, and that's fine.  It's not the answer for everything, and you definitely shouldn't try it just because you think it's the latest thing to do.  However, in the moments you find yourself up front delivering the same instructions for the fifteenth time, or realize at the end of an exciting day of discussion or inquiry you wish you had a way to capture the key ideas or points that were made in class, consider using a video to communicate that information for students to access individually at their own time, in their own space, at their own pace.  That doesn't mean you've flipped your class, but it means you've used an awesome technological tool to help support your students in their growth and learning.  Heck, you could even have the students create those videos.  But, that's another post for another time... :)

See the definition of Flipped Learning and the Four Pillars of F-L-I-P, by the Flipped Learning Network, here.

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