Sunday, 18 November 2012

Flipping the Classroom

Some call it a revolution within the educational world, others call it a gimmick. Some criticize Salman Khan for his lack of expertise in teaching, and claim his concept of "flipped learning" is trying to replace real teachers. Some say it's just good old-fashioned prep work he's advocating, under a new fancy-schmancy term.

For me, a lot of the hot air about "flipping learning" and the Khan Academy programme misses the point. Flipping is about changing the nature of your relationship with the students from didactic teacher to individual facilitator. My role in the classroom is different depending on which student I am dealing with. The key principles of flipped learning for me are:
  • Getting students to take responsibility for their learning
  • Exchanging this for an application classroom, where the teacher's job isn't about ensuring they are learning the basics, but about developing their individual ability to apply their learning, and "closing individual gaps"
  • Allowing students to learn at their own pace, something our current assessment model in England is woefully inadequate at (remember Sir Ken Robinson's comments on how ridiculous it is to educate children by "batch number"? If not, refresh your memories here).
  • Freeing the teacher up to make highly individual interventions because your diagnostics can be done at the start of the lesson: You become the "guide at the side" rather than "lord at the board" (I realise that's not how the expression goes, I just can't remember how it does, but this summarises it nicely!)
Setting the students the learning to be done as homework rather than in the class allows students to access material at the pace, time and in the manner they find most effective. With the help of new media and instant messaging (Twitter et al), students can contact me as soon as they hit a problem, and we can solve that then and there. They can even do it through comments on the video or material itself. However, this relies on them being proactive enough to want to get through the obstacle. But with flipped learning, even if they don't get through the obstacle by themselves, I can set diagnostic exercises at the start of every lesson to tell me exactly where, when and why they got stuck. Something like Socrative is an invaluable tool in this process (I've previously done a tutorial if you want to check out its capabilities and how it works in the classroom):


Once I've worked out where the sticking point is for each individual, then I can set them the next stage of their learning, whether that's a forward step or a temporary backwards one which allows the student to get it, or do more practice until they're confident. The students learn at their own pace, if this is done well (and far be it from me to tell you that it's happening well in my classroom!).

Before I close this little post (dammit, forgot the funny video again! Hold on, I'll draw you some kind of amusing cat before the end, I promise!), here are a few natural corollaries that interest me as I move through my journey to flipping, some with fairly profound consequences for me personally and my professional development:
  1. You have to be prepared to give students time to master the topic. This may be counter-intuitive at a time when we are being pushed to meet targets, but you have to find a way round that. Your alternative is to move on before the students have truly got it, and leave them with what Salman Khan calls "big Swiss Cheese holes in their understanding" which will bite you on the backside later on in the learning journey.
  2. You can't attach guilt to students not doing homework: Students need to know that homework is not a bolt-on, with additional "stuff" for them to do at home because parents need them to be quiet for longer! Homework is the basis of the learning journey. You have to make students realise that they're simply missing vital stages of their learning, and will fall behind if they don't complete it. But if there are genuine reasons they can't do it at home, you have to play it at their pace, and move them forward from whatever stage they present themselves at.
  3. While teachers could take a much more hands off attitude, the optimum response to flipped learning is to get stuck in and guide everyone individually. While this doesn't mean the end of lesson plans, it does turn you into an expert surfer, because you have to think on your feet to tackle whatever comes up.
  4. As a teacher, especially of high achieving students, you have to be prepared to let go of the notion that you are the expert in the room. Some of your students really will fly as there isn't any form of artificial ceiling keeping them down. You have to be prepared to accept that, and simply guide them towards even more progress, with or without you
  5. On a more positive note, and heaven knows you're probably craving one of those right now, the flipped classroom is an ideal environment in which to maximise the use and effectiveness of new media and new technology. Individual ownership of devices such as iPads or Android tablets, and individual choice of applications to complete tasks go hand in hand with the individualised learning and autonomy promoted by the flipped classroom.
  6. The idea of the flipped classroom seems to fit in well with the principles being developed within SOLO Taxonomy, where students work through various phases of understanding until they can truly master concepts. I cannot claim to be any form of expert in this area (thanks to @aknill for his guidance so far on the matter - If you're not following him, you should be!), but I think there is a lot of potential for meshing the two concepts together effectively. If anyone out there is already doing it, I'd love to know more.
In a future post, I'll try and be a little less vague and share some of the ways I do this in my own classroom with concrete examples, but for the moment...

Here's what you were really waiting for all this time: Your patience  has been amply rewarded I think you'll agree...