Things I Know 244 of 365: We only need to half-flip the classroom

Chatting with a friend today, I explained the premise of the flipped classroom:

1. Teacher makes videos of shortened versions of lectures.

2. Students watch lectures at home.

3. In the physically shared space of the classroom, the community practices at the learning.

I think I’ve got a way to make the whole experience better.

Stop making the videos.

I hesitate to write this. The flipped classroom is as close as we’ve come in a long time to an institutionally-backed shift from teacher-centered to student-centered classroom practice. The mastery system is an improvement from the traditional way of doing things. The model frees teachers to provide students with individual attention. These are good things.

Part of me wants to say, “Keep the videos so long as it transforms classrooms to studios, labs, workshops and playgrounds of learning.” But there’s a way to make less work for teachers and students in this equation:

1. In the physically shared space of the classroom, the community practices at the learning.

The Internet is replete with videos, how-tos and step-by-steps explaining almost any lesson a teacher could conjure. What’s more, many of these resources are better than what a typical teacher has time to create.

Some tips for a half-flipped classroom:

  • Use diigo, stumble upon, delicious or another social bookmarking tool to collect any and every resource students find in connection to the learning they’re engaging in at the moment. Come up with a class tag, unit tag, lesson tag and challenge students to find the resources that make the learning work best for them.
  • Give time in class to talk about what they’ve found and how they found it.
  • Have a class space for the curation of content. It doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t be, any one kind of space. Wiki? Great. Google site? Tremendous.
  • Be available and encourage student availability. For me, this meant creating a google voice number that fed student text messages to my e-mail account, being available through Facebook, twitter and IM. For anyone else, it might mean any one of these or something else.
  • Learn along. Nobody likes a know-it-all, but everyone likes to know it all. Any chance I had to learn along with my students, I took it. They knew more about more than I did. I knew literature, grammar and writing. That’s what I brought to the room. From there, I was genuinely curious to learn what they knew – not from an assessment standpoint, but from a learning standpoint.

I’ve two other arguments against the fully flipped classroom. They are the natural derivatives of the Law of Unintended Consequences. First, we’ve taken enough of our students’ time already. Though our hours or 45-minutes with them at a time might seem always too short, they experience a school day full of these bursts. Giving them more to do “for us” won’t make our classes more important. They’ll merely seem more urgent. Play is an endangered species. Let’s respect the ecosystems of our kids’ lives.

My second argument against full flipping is that we’re fooling ourselves if we think our students will continue to watch these videos over years. At some point, the novelty will wear off. The Freakonomics folks posted today about the Indian government’s issuance of masks to workers in the field who were in danger of tiger attacks.

Because tigers attack from the rear, workers wore the masks backwards to fool the tigers.

It worked – for a while. Tigers have started to learn the masks are just that.

Rather than masking students’ experiences in the novel, let’s outfit the experiences with the authentic.


12 thoughts on “Things I Know 244 of 365: We only need to half-flip the classroom

  1. Thanks so much for this… I was just debating with someone yesterday about this and this is more along the lines of what I was eluding too.   Motivation is still a big factor! Thanks again!

  2. I've been flipping the classroom at the university level for three years now. The first time I did it, I was teaching a programming class and there were these extremely well-done videos by the company that makes the software that I used. They were perfect for students — pitched at the right level, not too long, even had embedded multiple-choice quizzes so you could check your knowledge as you go. And students hated them. Why? They really wanted the professor to be the one doing the videos. Anything else, and they assumed I was just phoning it in. So I started making my own videos, and did nothing else different in the class, and students were fine. So I totally agree with you about curating rather than creating the content for the out-of-class component. But, at least with the students I've had, there is something about having the teacher IN the class delivering the content OUTSIDE the class that is a psychological need.

    • You make an interesting point. I wonder where that comes from. I wonder if it needs to be videos. What if you had a live chat open. What about a Google Plus Hangout in a sort of office hours mode? The thing that bugs me about the videos (specifically instrutor-created videos) is the implicit nod they make to the idea of the teacher being the source of knowledge.I realize there's still a taste of that in the chat idea, but it's more about concurrent learning than a monologue.Thanks so much for sharing your practice.- Zac

      • Is the idea of the teacher as a source of knowledge something that should be discarded? I know I've had grad classes where the professor was a leading figure in a field, someone who had been studying and thinking about the issues covered in the class for years. And in some cases, I've been frustrated because the professor sat back and let the students drive the conversation. Thing is, the students were all as new to the material as I was – and frankly, sometimes they hadn't done the reading or assignment as carefully as they might have – so a lot of times I felt frustrated that I wasn't able to take my questions to a deeper level. (In other cases, my classmates have been sources of great insight and questions as well – don't let me give the impression otherwise. I never would have made it through school without a bunch of them.) If the teacher's not bringing some expertise in the content into the mix, why not drop the school idea altogether and just create online repositories of course material and let students create their own spaces to discover them? Or am I reading too much into your comment?

      • Dave said, “If the teacher's not bringing some expertise in the content into the mix, why not drop the school idea altogether and just create online repositories of course material and let students create their own spaces to discover them? “This is EXACTLY the question I am asking right now! My 12 year old 7th grader is enrolled in an online public school this year. There are many live sessions throughout the week, but the live sessions often do not reflect the course content. Instead, they are used to make sure the kids know what they need to know for their state testing. In once sense, this means that the teachers are doing some live, real-time assessment and material review, but this also means the bulk of the curriculum IS being delivered through the online learning system.My daughter was also benchmark tested in vocabulary, reading, and comprehension as proficient above a 12th grade level. When I spoke to the teacher about how I could best continue to support my daughter's education in this area, not many ideas were provided, so I sought input from other places. But the left me wondering, why do I need the teacher at all?

      • Not all children “need” a teacher. Some children need guidance on how to learn and what to learn and other students are curious enough and intelligent enough to learn it on their own. School does hinder some students. I see this too much.

  3. Interesting post.  I'm curious about your thoughts about a student-centered classroom.  Do you think the classroom itself is limiting the shift from teacher-centered to student-centered.  The classroom was designed in an era of industrialization and is based on the production line model–classrooms aligned along a corridor where students move from subject to subject at the ring of a bell.  With the notion of a half-flipped classroom and going towards student-centered learning, should classrooms and bells even exist?  Maybe the physical space should be designed as learning communities with more varied, agile, flexible, and open spaces.Thanks for you post!  Very insightful.

    • James,I'm certainly in agreement with you on the bell angle. My last school had no bells. I didn't realize how human it was until I started observing other schools. Some of them have playful little jingles. Still, it's exactly what you describe – a throwback to preparation for working the line. Working the line is perfectly excellent. So is being an artist. We need schools that allow for the emergence of passion for both – and everything in between and beyond.As for the physical space. Every school we build from here on out should be a space that reflects values of creativity and collaboration. That said, I've seen some amazing student-centered learning happen in spaces that were certainly designed with an eye toward the teacher as the center of the universe. Beautiful and imaginative things can happen in the most cramped and underinventoried spaces.Thanks so much for your comment. It put a spin on the post I hadn't considered.- Zac

  4. Good points, and all things worth thinking through. I'm curious, though. As a Language Arts teacher, you never assigned reading outside of school?

  5. I completely agree, I flipped my classroom, Algebra I (7th grade), and I feel like the “homework” is still my homework, not theirs.  I have been leaning towards a model were the students have a task, a world of resources, choices and a learning goal….I think this is the way to go…..I think it is working better….students seem more motivated, I think are spending more time on task and learning a lot more about learning than they were when it all belonged to me….

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