Monday, January 12, 2015

Flipped: A Teacher's Reflection

What did I think about my first attempt to flip a classroom? What were some positives and negatives? What might I need to adjust or change?

Some of what I liked:

Students, as whole whole, seemed much more engaged. Students would ask questions about what they viewed and about quizzes they took. The pace and structure of class time (sans lectures) forced students to be attentive; there was always something to DO, as idle or even passive moments were few and far between.

The class was incredibly active. Not having to spend time introducing grammar material in class, time could be spent doing activities: discussions and group tasks, cognitive and physical, at the board and even on the floor. This helped maintain students' focus and kept student from always just sitting in their desks for 50 minutes.

The class was incredibly interactive. Students' questions drove "teacher time". Students sought feedback throughout class activities. Yes, I transitioned from activity to activity, but so many of those transitions were based on the pace  and needs of students. Lesson plans became lesson concepts or even lists of possible activities, all contingent on how students reacted to the activities in which the students where engaged. It was like one big feedback loop.

I could enter class with more confidence that I knew which aspects were causing students difficulty, which things they "weren't getting". I knew the content they were to have covered, and I could see which questions were proving troublesome to many students or which students were having trouble with which questions or tasks. Much more than ever before, I could enter the classroom with data-driven understandings rather than intuitions and perceptions.

Class time was maximized. At least this is my estimation. The time I most value is the time to work through the difficulties students have. Close behind is the time used to strengthen students' skills. By taking the lectures (which would have otherwise occupied time during class) and moving them online as homework, significantly more time became available to focus on those things that I, as a teacher, can really bring to the classroom.

What I didn't necessarily like:

Busy Busy Busy
Record keeping and observations were never-ending. Which students completed the quizzes? Which students watched the tutorials? Who is completing homework. You need to be aware of this every morning. (Thankfully, Moodle keeps statistics, which meant I could see the exact times that students watched tutorials, completed quizzes, or even clicked links to extra resources!)

Which quiz questions or topics are causing difficulty? If you don't know this, you won't know to address that in class. This meant that almost every morning required assessment of problems, record keeping, and adjustment to planned lessons, all before 8:30 a.m. It sometimes felt overwhelming, but it always felt worthwhile.

Also, as this past term was not a "flip" I had planned, I was doing all my work on the fly, usually only a day "(sometimes a few minutes) ahead of the students. The stress was palpable. Once done however, only tweaks are needed. I think I'm sitting relatively pretty for this next term.

There were three students who rarely (if ever) could be cajoled into participating in the flipped model. One student had excellent grammar skills already. That student only sporadically watched tutorials or took quizzes (ungraded) when he felt necessary. I wasn't worried about him. A second student was a bit more consistent, but his skills were lower and he could've used more practice. He still passed.

The third student simply would not do the work outside of class. Could he log on? Yes, he showed me. Did he log on? No. In spite of repeated encouragements and admonitions, in spite of emails and after class discussions, the student simply would not watch the tutorials. He never watched even one tutorial and completed but one quiz. It showed in his exam scores.

Had it been a traditional classroom style, would he have done homework? Perhaps not. Nevertheless, it is cause for pause when students refuse to "flip" with you.

Flipping a class is a lot of work. A LOT! (Unless, of course, you can rely on other people's Youtube videos. That would never do for me.) Nevertheless, I loved it. The students, by and large, loved it. I've spent this winter holiday tweaking quizzes, reorganizing materials, and reshooting some videos, all in the excitement of trying it again in just over a week!