Monday, March 17, 2014

   This past week the board of the Flipped Learning Network, a community of educators comprised of professionals from all levels ranging from elementary grades through colleges and universities, released a document clarifying the differences between "Flipped Learning" and the "Flipped Classroom". As noted, board members determined there were a number of misconceptions regarding Flipped Learning that needed to be clarified and distinguished from the "Flipped Classroom". This is a welcome development considering the fact that both terms have been used interchangeably not only by me but by others far more experienced than I in utilizing flipped learning as an instructional approach. 
   The formal definition of flipped learning not only distinguishes it from practices that could be considered characteristic of a "flipped classroom", but also provides 4 Pillars of Flipped Learning along with a checklist of 11 characteristics of flipped learning to assist both classroom teachers and administrators in making the distinction between the two.
   While the characteristics of the flipped classroom have been around as long as homework or activities assigned outside of class (see my previous blog post where I clearly use the terms interchangeably) , there are 4 characteristics of flipped learning:
  • Flexible Environment - from the design of the classroom to the pace of students within the class to the strategies employed by the instructor to meet the needs of individuals, small groups, or the whole group, flexibility is a hallmark of flipped learning;
  • Learning Culture - flipped learning places the student at the center of the class, not the teacher. Class time is used to explore topics in much greater detail or to create rich, dynamic learning opportunities designed to meet the needs of students. It is a departure from the teacher serving as the "sage on the stage" and in fact, makes the role of teacher far more vital. Why? Because the teacher is crafting activities and strategies designed to stretch and challenge students based on where they are, and uses class time to assess, either independently or in groups, where students are along the learning spectrum as the teacher continues to guide students towards objectives;
  • Intentional Content - Content in flipped instruction is selected carefully by the teacher to make the best use of class time. What should be explored by students outside of class is as carefully considered as the activities necessary to differentiate instruction and meet individual student needs during class. In retrospect, I would almost argue that "Intentional" be replaced with "Individualized", allowing students to make choices in his or her learning that are appropriate to student ability levels; 
  • Professional Educator - As noted in the second pillar, the role of the professional educator becomes more critical to learning than ever before. When flipped learning is occurring, the teacher is observing, assessing, guiding, prompting, and providing feedback. Furthermore, teachers are constantly self-reflecting and connecting with other professionals in order to improve their own instruction. 
   The recently published definition of Flipped Learning makes a distinction from classroom practices where students may be watching supplemental videos, participating in outside readings, or completing other learning activities beyond the classroom--all practices common to classroom instruction. What truly establishes flipped learning from the flipped classroom is the ability to utilize technology to deliver instruction in a manner that not only meets individual student needs at her own level (differentiation), but also preserves class time for deeper extension activities and far more personal and informative assessment practices by the teacher. 
   It remains to be seen if the recently released information by the FLipped Learning Network provides the definitive response to the misperceptions that have been occurring, but it will certainly promote discussion among educators seeking to capitalize on the value of the model to further promote student achievement. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

For Parents: The Benefits of the Flipped Classroom

   Parents may greet your use of the flipped classroom with suspicion and skepticism, particularly when that term is neither fully understood nor viewed as being as beneficial as "traditional" instruction (with which they are more familiar). Such is the case with the "flipped" classroom, an instructional approach that seeks to leverage digital media (in most cases, "video") to provide instruction or pre-learning outside of class (at home) in order to prepare students for application or activities during traditional class time. Immediately, some parents question this method, and like anything "new", it can quickly escalate into a misunderstanding and become the point of contention - regardless of other circumstances or variables - as to why their son or daughter is not performing well in the classroom.
   So what is the rationale for flipping a classroom? Better yet, what are some brief, concise reasons a teacher can give parents for flipping the class? Chris Waterworth encapsulates the beauty of simplicity in his blog "Video for My Classroom: The Flipped Classroom". For Chris, the reasons are easy to explain and quite justifiable:

  1. Flipping a Class saves time. Not teacher time, mind you. Class time. Instructional time. Flipping the class enables a teacher to pursue better options for making the best use of that face to face time with students. A skillful teacher can utilize that time to work with groups of students or with individuals. There are more opportunities for guiding student learning, correcting mistakes or misconceptions, and for obtaining data through formative assessments. Quite simply, a teacher can reach more students during class time and tailor more support and assistance to each unique learner than can be accomplished by adhering to the traditional lecture delivery to the large group all day, every day. More attention and support should translate into higher student engagement and learning. That's hard to argue against for anyone. 
  2. Flipping a Class gives students a continuous point of reference. If you're using instructional videos in your flipped model, students can pause, rewind, or review to clarify any misunderstanding. Unlike traditional classroom lectures which are delivered and either recorded through notes or lost into thin air, the instructional videos can be stored for future reference and can be reviewed by students as often as they wish. Students have greater control over the pace and "chunking" of their learning. Whereas a student might fear raising his or her hand during a class lecture or demonstration, flipping the class provides both the means and the opportunity for students to digest (and interact with) the content in a manner that is much more personalized. 
  3. Flipping a Class affords a student the opportunity to pre-learn the material - before class. Interestingly enough, pre-learning (or pre-teaching) is not a new concept. It's been around for as long as students have lugged textbooks over their shoulders with a bookstrap. And the use of video content to pre-teach is not new, either. Prior to the availability of online digital media, teachers would prompt students to watch the news for current events or view a program on videotape or television to prepare for class activities the next day. Today's digital media offers even better options: instruction tailored specifically to the needs of students and directly relevant to objectives for the next class session. 
   Waterworth's rationale represents a good starting point in discussion with parents; however, be mindful that the utilization of a flipped classroom technique must be supported by sound teaching practice and pedagogy. The three reasons above are just the beginning: there are many more positive reasons for considering how to leverage digital media and a content management system like Moodle to maximize class time, particularly when you want students using class time to engage in activities that require higher order thinking skills and the application of previously learned material. But it's a start, and these reasons may help diffuse a potential misunderstanding before it becomes a straw man that is lit on fire!