Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Students taking Responsibility for their Learning in a Flipped Class

One important difference I see between students this year and in previous years is the amount of responsibility students take for their learning. In previous years, students generally took responsibility by completing their assignments and following directions. However, when I moved to a flipped model, all students were forced to take more ownership of their learning. A simple example is that students have to watch the videos to learn the content; they can't just show up to class and take notes. They actually have to visit a site to learn content. It's a minor example but it sets the stage for everything else. 

I have an asynchronous mastery model where students work at their own pace. However, I do have suggested weekly benchmarks. Most students treat them as deadlines but the deadlines are my way to inform students whether or not they are on pace to finish the entire course. To help with forcing students to stay close to my desired pace, I do have hard deadlines on lab reports and the 3 unit exams. Students decide which assignments to complete during class time and which, if any, to do for homework. I only get involved in these decisions if a student is a complete disaster. There are students who plan ahead and map out their week in science in order to compensate for an after school rehearsal or a family outing. Students who are absent no longer reach out to me for help but adjust their homework plans to catch up. 

Students decide when they take their quizzes. At the beginning of class, I poll the class for individuals who plan to take a quiz. It's their responsibility to decide if they are prepared to take a quiz, not I. If they want to use class time to study or push off the quiz for next class, it's all in their power. 

I post answer keys to most assignments. When students complete assignments, they have to check their answers and decide if they need help from me or a classmate or make small adjustments on their own. I also provide optional remedial assignments. They have to decide which, if any, parts of the remediation plans they need to complete.  

Students also take responsibility for their groupings. The groups are fluid and ever changing. Some students work with their friends, others work with whomever happens to be on the same step and some work alone. Some students might work in a group for one step and alone the next step. Some students jump in and out of groups. I only intervene when there are issues because my sense is that I ought to let students figure things out, even fail once in awhile before I "rescue" them. If a group isn't working out for a student, then I empower them to make necessary changes. If a student isn't holding their weight, then the group is free to move on without certain individuals. Some groups plan out which assignments to do at home individually and which assignments they will reassemble in class for. Some clarification is needed here. Most assignments can be done individually and students have the freedom to collaborate if they choose to do so. Some assignments, like labs and data collection have to be done in groups and some assignments have to be done individually. If some groups are noticeably dysfunctional, I will step in and make mandates. I also help students find group members to work with because they might be unaware who else is on the same step of the learning cycle. Some assignments like POGIL require group member roles. I've also checked in with individual students to inquire about specific individuals to make sure each person is contributing. I share this to say that it is not a complete free for all but students do take ownership of their groups. 

Students are responsible for checking in and showing their work to me. Some steps in the learning cycle are designated as mandatory or suggested check-in time with me. I ask conceptual questions to check for understanding and check off assignments during these checkin times. Students have to call me over to initiate these conversations. They must also update a tracking sheet to indicate when they have completed a step. 

I find it interesting that adults want youngsters to take more responsibility for their learning, yet rarely give them an opportunity to do so. Are they supposed to magically figure it out? I'm happy to say that students are forced to take responsibility for their learning in my course. And even if some students don't immediately internalize this message, they are aware of the expectations and have plenty of opportunities to do so -- courtesy of the Flipped Class.