One of the reasons I love being a teacher is that I am free to continually learn and experiment with what I am learning. After 17 years, that’s a big part of what keeps me coming back every August.
A couple of years ago I discovered the idea that one could increase student engagement in the classroom by doing something that had become known as “flipping” the classroom. At the risk of over simplifying, “flipping a classroom” is often described in terms of reversing the learning process so that what is normally done in the classroom is now done at home (or offsite) prior to the student coming to the classroom. That frees up time in the classroom for discussion, application and higher critical thinking or hands-on strategies. Direct instruction is in the form of videos (usually created by the teacher) that students watch before arriving at the classroom.
What’s your takeaway on all of this? For me, having my students learn how to learn was a high priority. Flipping wasn’t accomplishing that. Putting them more in charge of their learning was the right thing for me to do.
So when I first discovered flipping, I loved it. What’s not to like, right? Basically, that’s what I thought. I went to training, I watched videos, I asked a lot of questions, I analyzed the potential roadblocks and overcame most of them, I won the support of my administrators, and I began flipping my classroom. I even got pretty good at making my own videos.
In the past year, however, I have found that I am flipping fewer lessons. I was surprised when I felt the change taking place, because it is now easier than ever before for me to do flipped lessons; I teach highly motivated ninth grade technology students in a 1:1 environment where just about all of them have access to the internet at home.
A number of things have influenced the change, but the writing of two people are worth mentioning here so that you can follow-up on your own. (Both, by the way, came into my life because I use Twitter to connect with other educators around the world.) Check out Shelley Wright, a high school educator in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Two very old blog posts by her helped me gain some perspective and were very affirming of my journey. Check out this one from 2012 and an earlier one from 2010. The comment feed on the first one is pure gold. I also have followed the work of Ramsey Musallam, a high school chemistry teacher in San Francisco. His discussions on inquiry-based learning are incredible. This podcast, featured on Tim and Scott Bedley’s podcast feed is especially helpful.
So why am I changing my strategies? Student engagement is still a desirable outcome, and I am even evaluated by my principal on the level of student engagement observed when he visits my classroom. I still want students engaged. However, I have come to see a more important outcome as a means to ensuring student engagement: creating a student-centered, inquiry-based learning environment.
For most students, there is something highly engaging about being in a classroom where the student understands that he or she is the focal point and has been turned loose to investigate and problem solve.
My earlier strategy of flipping was tending to spoon-feed my students by front loading the course content so that they could be more prepared to discuss it when they arrived for class. My current strategy puts the student in the position of digging out the content on his own through investigation and problem solving — before I have unloaded the content myself. Then, as students move forward on their own or with learning partners, I facilitate, coach, and sometimes redirect the flow of their investigation. When they are struggling, I ask leading questions to get them on a new track. Then, after they have some to some of the conclusions, I often pull everyone into a discussion where I lay a little content on them before sending them back to work.
The result is an extremely high level of engagement, in a student-focused environment of inquiry and discovery. I love the fact that I can almost feel them taking ownership of their learning process. I can individualize and personalize the learning by adjusting the rigor of specific student’s work. I offer choices based on data provided by pretests, student passions, and the students’ previous track records for producing quality work.
I still might occasionally “flip” a lesson, but the flipped video is now less content-oriented and more motivational, designed to tease the students and create a higher interest level when they arrive in class the next day.
Check out Mr. Musallam’s blog at cyclesoflearning.com, and Ms Wright’s new blog at shelleywright.wordpress.com You won’t be disappointed and you will definitely be challenged to really think about why you do what you do as an educator.
Bio: Dr. Harrison McCoy is in his 17th year of teaching. He is certified ELA 5-8, ESL, Tech Apps K-12, Business Ed 9-12. Beginning my 11th year in Arlington ISD. 2015 AISD Junior High Teacher of the Year. He is now teaching Computer Information Applications at Arlington Collegiate HS. Master of Education from UTA. He is on Twitter.