Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What led me to flip my class: reflections on learning culture

Nicolas Guibal [CC-BY-SA-2.0-fr (], via Wikimedia Commons
Socratic method
The story of what ultimately led me to flip my class should answer some questions about my learning culture.
What kind of learning culture do I currently have in my classroom? What type of decisions do I make to support this culture?
I struggled all year to meet the needs of a student in my class. (This student will be named "Sue" and I'll modify the true story a bit here.) Sue had successes throughout the year but her struggles were more salient. One of Sue's parents argued on multiple occasions that Sue did not have ample opportunities to speak in class and that I called on other students more often. I accepted the criticism (or at least acknowledged that it was possible) after the first time, but was perplexed when this criticism continued into the third quarter. Not only was I more aware of Sue's participation, I prided myself on using the Socratic method of questioning (in retrospect, should be renamed "lecture 2.0") and other engagement strategies like wait-time, turn & talk, and letting students pick on other students to answer questions during direct instruction. All students spoke in my class in every single lesson; therefore, (I thought) I had an "engaging and dynamic" class. But the scientist in me sought data to determine if this was a valid criticism. I started to keep track of student participation during direct instruction days. I was happy to see that Sue spoke as often as the other students; however, the bombshell was she only spoke one-two times per lesson. Even though there was a democracy of voices, the maximum number of times a student could speak during my "engaging and dynamic" lectures was about three times. Just as Socrates is imagined above, I was at the center of the class. I thought of the questions; I asked the questions; I answered the questions. This revelation was the final proverbial straw. I knew it was time to flip my class.

Don't get me wrong, there were tons of engaging activities in my class. I was committed to doing a lab every week and inquiry was becoming a larger role in my course. The course culminated in a student-designed project presented at our annual Science Night. In fact, it was obvious that each student spoke frequently during non-direct instruction days. I wanted a way to deliver direct instruction (sometimes, it actually needs to happen) but have students engaged everyday. Flipping the class meant students getting direct instruction through video outside of class, while creating even more time for students to engage in inquiry, collect and analyze data, and ask questions.

Before the flip:
My learning culture was teacher-centered. Even though I had elements of a student-centered class, I was at the heart of everything. I made decisions that supported this teacher-centered classroom. Even during lab days, I decided the questions to test, the lab procedures (most of the time), the data to collect, how to display the data, how many days to spend working, how students demonstrate understanding, etc.

After the flip:
Over spring break, I created the videos and other activities to flip my class in the fourth quarter. The difference in the class was immediate. The first change was of course the additional class time. With that new class time, I tried a few things.
  • I created Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) activities. In POGIL activities, students study and explore models.  Guided questions force students to go through the inquiry cycle to uncover important concepts. The combination of the video lectures and POGIL lessons replaced the pre-flipping direct instruction. The POGILs mimicked the Socratic method by helping students think through and understand the content. This reinforced the student-centered dynamic because students did the work to uncover reality, instead of me doing the work for them. In addition, POGIL groups require specific group member tasks (task manager, recorder, spokesperson, etc), which ensured all students participated.
  •  I decided to increase the amount of time donated to inquiry labs. In previous years, I had two versions of each lab: cookie cutter and student designed. If I had enough time, I would opt for the student designed labs but many times was forced to use the cookie cutter lab. After the flip, I gave students as much time as they needed to design their experiment, get feedback and make multiple revisions. They also decided what data to collect and how to display this data.
  • The most important decision I made to support a student-centered class was to let go. Since all of the videos and activities were posted on the course website, some students wanted permission to go ahead. After the first student went ahead, everything changed! Instantly, we moved from a traditional flip to a mastery flip. Students worked at their own pace. Some kids re-watched videos and asked for individual help at the board, while other students blazed ahead. I also let go of the assignment sheet. As a temporary stopgap, I created a spreadsheet with each student's name and towards the end of each period, I checked their progress and recorded what assignment, if any, each student had for homework. This was an ineffective process that will be reworked next year, but this method put each student in the center of the class. Kids controlled their pace and I was available to give students what they needed. I asked students to redo work as often as I thought necessary. Some kids I let go on to the next activity even if their work wasn't perfect and other kids had to submit flawless work before moving on. I rarely entered grades anymore (our middle school does not report grades.) I just entered checks because each check represented good enough work for each individual student.
The flipped class gave me the gift of seeing a student-centered class in action. Moving direct instruction out of the community space (not necessarily out of class time), gave my students the freedom to work at their own pace. They received direct instruction only when they were ready for it. This one fact opened the door to my planned adjustments (POGIL & increased inquiry time), and my on-the-spot adjustments (individualized assignment spreadsheets and revision-until-mastery assignments.) However, I'm most excited about the implications for next year when I will introduce student choice in how they learn and how they demonstrate learning.

Although this blog article sounds like a piece on the flexibility pillar of F.L.I.P. learning, it is a testament to the fact that student-centered learning cultures require flexible classes. This is true because students are individuals with different skills and deficiencies; a class centered on all students needs to be flexible enough to accommodate all of their differences.

Works Cited
  • "6 Types of Socratic Questions." 6 Types of Socratic Questions. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2013.
  • "Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation." Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation., 2004. Web. 26 June 2013.
  •  Nagel, David. "Report: The 4 Pillars of the Flipped Classroom." T|h|e Journal: Teaching with Technology News. T|h|e Journal, 18 June 2013. Web. 26 June 2013.
  •  "Pogil - Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning." POGIL. N.p., 2012. Web. 26 June 2013.
  •  "Un-cooking the Lab - A Guide to Constructing Inquiry-based Labs in Biology" The Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching. N.p., 2005. Web. 25 June 2013.