Why I Haven’t Flipped…Yet: Reviewing Essential Questions

Last August I challenged myself to flip one class a week (Back to School Quiz: Skills Every 21st Century Teacher Should Know).  Newly hired to teach Language Arts to fifth- and sixth-grade students, I had worked a good part of the summer to determine the technology infrastructure for my classes, and I planned to hit the ground running with online discussions, blogging, and weekly flipped lessons. Some of you are probably already shaking your heads. Yeah, things didn’t exactly work out as I had so naively hoped.
What I Get
I get what flipping does. In 4 Ways Flipping Forces Fundamental Change, I had written about how flipping a class at its core forces us to shift learning to our students and to think about how we spend our face-to-face time with our kids. Both are changes in our relationship with students that I fully embrace. In fact, when I used to interview new teachers in my role as an administrator, one of my favorite questions went something like this: “So what if you filmed your 40-minute lesson, chopped it into 10-minute chunks that are more easily digested by students, and posted your videos online as homework? What would this allow you to do with your students when you see in person?”
What I Didn’t Get
What I didn’t get was how deeply I needed to consider the nature of my curriculum (at the time, I was in the process of developing and tailoring a curriculum for students I hadn’t yet met). I also didn’t get how much I needed to take into account the mixed feelings about technology in my school culture.
Now the tables are turned, and my own administration has assigned Flip Your Classroom, by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, as summer reading for our faculty. Lucky for me, this book provides a guide for the practical side to flipping a class, as well as a thoughtful discussion by seasoned educators fabout how their practice evolved.
Now that I have a better sense of where I’m going and what I need to do, I am ready to revisit the essential questions of flipping my classroom. Here are my thoughts.
1. How does flipping serve my course of study and my kids?
I have long struggled with how flipping might fit into a Language Arts curriculum.  I am not a teacher who lectures much. And when I taught older kids, they did their reading assignments at home, followed by discussion the next day in class – so by nature my class was already half-flipped. I couldn’t figure out how I’d use video to flip a class, and I worried it would take up important reading time. Yet now as I work with younger students, we do much of our reading together, and discuss as we go. At least at the beginning, I’ve discovered reading is something that is best done in a face-to-face environment.
I do recognize the need for direct teaching of grammar – so this may be the best way to use video lessons in my classes. Much of the time I spend tutoring students on the finer points of grammar could be transferred to video format that could be viewed and reviewed as needed. I can see myself developing mini-lessons in video format on the nature of a sentence, kinds of sentences, parts of speech, and punctuation rules.
I can also see a role for video as a means for introducing projects, especially projects that incorporate technology. Kids could view instruction on new processes and tools, while their parents could become more grounded in what we are doing. Students can benefit from slowed-down introductions to research, to digital storytelling, and to online discussions and blogging. Parents can feel more informed and comfortable with the new ways their children are learning.
2. How can my students best use their time at home?
As my students transition into middle school, homework becomes a new reality for them. Learning how to track, complete, and be responsible for homework are all skills my students are only beginning to develop and master in grades 5 and 6. Thus, Bergmann’s and Sams’s advice to “spend a considerable amount of time at the beginning of the year training the students to view … videos effectively” (Flip Your Classroom 13-14) seems especially important to follow.
I also hope to use the “Flipped-Mastery Model” suggested by Bergmann and Sams as a way to help my students pursue vocabulary study at their own pace.  If I set up a structure for fielding questions and taking assessments at school (the latter to guard against temptations for extra help), students can use their time at home to work through vocabulary assignments at the level and pace that makes sense for them. I can also structure ways for them to share their learning with their peers.
Finally, my students can and should continue to flex their muscles as independent readers as much as they possibly can at home.  I wonder if I can find some ways to encourage them to share their reading with peers, particularly after they have been introduced to online tools, as part of their learning at home.
3. How should I use my face-to-face time with my students?
I’ve already mentioned the importance of reading together with my students.  Perhaps surprisingly, I find it equally desirable to interact with technology in my students’ presence.
Although most of my students, like most kids these days, are adept users of technology on their own as entertainment, they are novices to roaming the Internet for educational purposes or using apps for augmenting the learning they do at school. In addition, their parents range greatly in comfort level with technology-infused learning.
So I’ve figured out that, at least at first, I can’t just assume my students can dive into sharing ideas and discussions online. They need my help as a technology coach, but they also need my guidance as a teacher who understands the impact of online communication. Thus, I need to work with them face-to-face and closely monitor their comments as they learn appropriate behaviors and digital citizenship. A better idea for flipping would be to have my students view online resources and videos on these topics for discussion before we model online interactions in class.
As Bergmann and Sams point out, flipping will allow me to use more class time for differentiated instruction and application of concepts. In particular, flipping will allow me to spend more time in class on the projects I depend upon to integrate all of the components of my students’ learning for Language Arts. It will also allow us more time to allow students to pursue their own projects in Student Learning Teams, thus giving even more meaning and purpose to the writing and reading skills we are building together.
4. What do I need to know to get started?
Though I have never really been comfortable with creating video (I’m the words-on-paper sort at my core), I’ve learned from pros like Marco Torres (see A Curriculum for Digital Media Creation) and his protégés at Alas Media about the process of translating ideas into film and what this means for learning. In Flip Your Classroom, Bergmann and Sams provide sound advice about equipment, software, and stages of production for creating flipped lessons.
I am thankful that I’ve had a year to explore digital tools like Educreations and Soo Meta, Xtranormal (for animation), and now Flipgrid, which offers the potential for creating flipped video discussions. I now know I’m looking for simple and easy, not flashy or complicated, so for now I may stick with good old VoiceThread (which wowed my long ago as a learning tool, especially in the hands of experts like Michelle Pacansky-Brock).
One nagging problem when working with video is finding the best ways for uploading and posting the videos online.  As far as I can tell, my best option, for the moment, may be TeacherTube, where I can house my work, comfortably share with others, and create embed code for posting in blogs, wikis, and discussion forums that my students will access. I need to remember to introduce my students’ parents to this safe source in one of my first videos!
Ready, Set, Go
Though I needed a year of immersion in a new school and a new program to think things through before I flipped my classroom, I didn’t hold back from turning my students on to the idea of flipping for learning’s sake. In the past year, my students have created videos introducing readers to the characters of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, reviewing vocabulary words in song, and reinforcing grammar concepts.  As a result, they have certainly raised the bar for me.
No excuses now. Time to get to work.
Photo Credit: W3155Y via Compfight cc

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