Flip, Only As Needed

Khan Academy was probably the first notion many of us were exposed to around the concept of students doing more of their content learning away from school, or at least more independently.  After seeing his videos for the first time, my colleagues and I started buzzing about how we could change our instructional models.  I have pulled up Khan lessons and other online tutorials many times in my fifth grade classroom and have drilled with my students, “What can you do when you are at home and realize that you don’t understand?” and they recite back the resources that are available to them.  I’ve shown my parents these links on our class website, too, but very few kids ever go there.  Why?  It simply comes down to ownership of understanding.  Most of my students, despite me vigorously trying to push them out of the learning nest, still believe that the onus for their understanding lies with me.  If they are working on their math homework and realize they don’t understand the concept or procedure, they will most often do one of two things:

1.  Try to get their parents to show them some way to get the homework finished.

2.  Say, oh well, come back to school the next day and try to push the work back to me, thereby passing the problem back to me.

I talk metacognition with them constantly.  I tell them how to observe their understanding, how to notice when they’ve stopped understanding, and what to do about it, but it requires more effort for them that way and it takes more time.  Many students long for me to be a teacher who just tells them what they need to know, gives them reams of fill-in-the blank papers, and lets them hand in the paper for me to mark, at which point it’s out of their control. I know we educators talk like kids would hate a class like that, but I have found that many students are very comfortable with that set up and some of them never get over their disappointment that I always say, keep your work, you are going to explain your thinking to other students, and then we are going to go over it together so you can add notes about what more you learn.  That is so unsatisfying to many students, but that right there is a flip.  Just pushing the ownership of student work back to students is a beginning.  Further, asking them to analyze what they need to know and how they can learn it requires many students to make a powerful shift in their thinking.

I believe meaningful flipped learning must connect students to learning they want to do, anyway.  Shelley Wright wrote The Flip:  Why I Love It- How I Use It  which struck me as balanced.  She advocates looking for learning opportunities to build up where you can set students loose to build on their own levels of thinking.

Following are some increments of flipping that I think can lead students toward a greater level of understanding and then hopefully on to higher levels of thinking, too.

1.  Create curiosity

Students don’t always know what they are interested in learning or pursuing.  Setting them up with a NetReader feeding dozens of current articles and blogs on topics can spark an interest in something they weren’t previously even thinking about.  Simply responding to the foundational questions What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  Sets them up for deeper or continued learning.

2. Build ties to background knowledge

Independent reading and research can help students relate new learning to what they already understand and analyzing where it fits in their schema.

3.  Synthesize an inquiry learning activity

We hope that students understand, at least, the basic learning goal of inquiry-based instruction and that most will make higher-level connections as well.  They may need to do extra reading, thinking, and reflecting, however, to gain those deeper insights, which they can continue to pursue on their own.

4.  Differentiate learning

As with point #3, some students will need to do extra reading and thinking to understand the basic concepts of an inquiry-based activity, while others will be ready to explore the big ideas or pursue tangential learning.

5.  Use of technology and practice of social networking

This isn’t just nice to know.  Our students must continually push their skills at using current technology to research, capture, and communicate their learning, and then share it with others.  Social networking is not just a shout out about what we have produced at the end, but it is integral to the acquisition of the learning.

Andrew Miller supports cautious methodological shifting toward a flipped classroom.  Taking a lot of teacher time to create vodcasts for students to watch at home doesn’t seem like a great trade off in time vs. benefit.  Not all students will have consistent access to the technology they need at home and it has been often said that they are still just watching a lecture, which doesn’t seem like a brilliant learning engagement.    Also, there is great value in the shared learning of knowledge in a class, so we don’t want to eliminate that rich communal exploration of information either.

I completely believe the power of flipped classroom thinking lies in the gradual building of the message to students that they are really their most important teacher and then consistently engaging them with tools they can use to teach themselves for the rest of their lives.  I know it’s true because I’ve taught myself everything I know.