As has been mentioned in several articles on this blog, the task of flipping a classroom is a significant, yet worthy undertaking. Many educators, after trialling the concept, are convinced of its merits. Those who are considering such a step obviously wonder whether or not flipping a classroom will work for their students. After all, there are many hours to be 'lost' if it doesn’t work. And the issue for a teacher with little or no experience with flipping is this - the teacher is in a poor position to ascertain whether or not the experiment is likely to be successful.
This article aims to address some common teacher concerns when flipping a classroom. It is part of a collection of several blog articles focused on creating online units for students. Some of the articles specifically address teachers of mathematics (who have a heavy requirement for content delivery). This article addresses all teachers.
Occasionally, teachers embarking on one of the online guided learning journeys express their concerns about flipping. The two most common concerns are listed below:
Concern #1: Despite all my students having internet access at home I suspect some of my students will not watch the required videos.
Concern #1 relates to the original flipped model (students watch videos for homework; homework tackled during lessons.
Although the “some students won’t watch the videos at home” concern may be valid, it is not a reason to abort a flipped approach. In fact, adopting a flipped approach may be an ideal course of action for this situation!
The “some students won’t watch videos at home” concern is an engagement issue. It is tempting when addressing an engagement issue, to spoon-feed the information which the disengaged student is avoiding. However, it is not possible to spoon-feed videos to students in their own homes! Therefore, to deal with this issue, some teachers are tempted to abort the flipped model or to resort to punishment.
We need to realise that the engagement issue described here means that we have students unwilling to take responsibility for their learning.
A suggested approach:
Expect there will be some students who will, at times, not watch the videos. (If you realise this then you won’t be so disappointed if/when it occurs!) Therefore, plan for this outcome.
Talk to your students before you start flipping. Say something like “OK folks, about the videos … some of you will be tempted – occasionally – to not watch the required videos. So let’s talk about that …” And proceed to explain your desire for them to want to learn, that in-class collaboration is (at least somewhat) fun but requires that they know the theory from the videos, that given time, they will enjoy maths more if they do the right thing and watch the required videos.
Decide on some consequences for students who don’t watch the videos. Notice I said consequences rather than punishments! Think this through. There is a multitude of options.
Have a few computers (with headphones) in class so they have to watch the videos in class and do some questions in their own time i.e. they miss out on the collaboration.
Give these students an opportunity to realise what they are missing out on.
Spend a few minutes with the student having a person-to-person chat (not a telling off). Ask the student to stand in your shoes and answer the question “Why do you want the student to watch the videos?” Ask the student “What would it take for you to watch the videos?”
Allow for some 'sink or swim'. In other words, allow students to experience the consequences of not being prepared for a lesson due to the fact that they didn’t watch the previous night’s videos. This works especially well for higher grades and more motivated students.
Be encouraging. When students come to a lesson having not watched the videos see this as a “cry for help” rather than as a call for you to “wield your stick”. Remember, some students have no idea what it is to take responsibility for learning. Yes, they need boundaries and consequences, however mostly they need your support to help them to become responsible for their learning.
Concern #2: My students are not independent learners – it won’t work – they need me to teach them
This concern relates to the flipped mastery model (using a comprehensive, student-centered online unit of work) Closely related to concern #1, the key here also lies in the fact that students are not taking responsibility for their learning. Setting up a flipped mastery classroomsimply makes those students who are ill-equipped to deal with the student-centered nature of the process stand out from the rest. This should be seen as a positive rather than a negative, as long as we are prepared to support the students into becoming independent learners.
We need to expect some students will struggle with a flipped mastery unit. The transition from dependent learner to independent learner may take some students several months, or more. Guiding students into becoming responsible for their learning is, however arguably, more important than is the short term goal of learning the immediate content.
A suggested approach:
Show students what independent learning looks like. You will likely need to do this for the entire class. Paint the picture of what independent learning looks like. Introduce the ‘3 before me’ principle, namely, "You need to have sought 3 sources for the answer to a question prior to asking me".
Initially, one way to help students transition from being a 'spoon feed-ee' to becoming a self-directed learner is to scaffold the unit. In other words, break the unit into multiple, short-term milestones and require students to show you their progress. Give students plenty of encouragement. Don’t look surprised when students struggle to take responsibility for their learning. Show them that you understand their plight and are there to help.
The 21st Century is here to stay
Videos can be powerful. Well–designed, comprehensive, online units of work can be especially effective when supported by socially-based, collaborative learning. The transition from a traditional, teacher-centric approach to a technology-rich, student-centered approach is a significant transition to make, requiring support, guidance and time for both the teacher and the students. Embarking on such a transition should not be about trying to get it perfect on the first attempt.
On a final note, remember that any quality pedagogical strategy is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the ride!