Saturday, June 09, 2012

I'm Not Flipping Over this Idea

Flipping the classroom is an idea being thrown around everywhere. I've had conversations about it with folks both in and out of education and teaching at all levels. No one has convinced me.

I may be hard to convince because it's not something I seriously need to consider. I teach first graders. I don't give them homework much less expect them to do any significant academic work outside the classroom. Plus, many of them lack internet access. So, the idea is shot down on two counts.

That doesn't stop me from having strong opinions on it. Why should it?

Valerie Strauss, at the Washington Post, wrote about the flipped classroom this week. She quotes some folks to explain their support and shares others' concerns about the idea. To my mind, nothing there hits on my really big issues.

First of all, a flipped classroom is not revolutionary. (I do understand that many folks don't feel we need to be revolutionizing education but plenty are throwing this idea out there as groundbreaking.) All it does is take traditional instruction and switch it around. Teachers are still lecturing at students.* Recording those lectures and sending them home allows students to watch them multiple times but doesn't allow any interaction. If something in the video doesn't make sense, there is no way for that to be addressed. How does watching a video, possibly more than once, equate to significant learning?

Secondly, let's imagine this really flies and most folks start doing it. How long will these videos be? How many videos will each student watch at night? Are we talking about half an hour per class? A high school student taking six class will have three hours of video to watch. Is that a good use of time? Is that even remotely reasonable? If teachers are taking their classroom lectures, from each class period of nearly an hour, that may be a conservative estimate. (Of course, I have serious issues with homework in general so these thoughts are tainted by that.)

Finally, this idea is so teacher focused it causes me pain. Students all get the same instruction at home (or possibly a teacher makes multiple videos for the same idea to offer differentiation - that's a lot of work for something that is not really specific to student needs). The message is that a teacher knows exactly what the students need to know and can just impart that knowledge and move on. The student's role is simply to listen and soak it all in.

I'd much rather see us rethinking our use of classroom time, rethinking our instructional models. Not just moving around the deck chairs.

* I do believe there is a place for lecture. My concern is that currently it is the default mode, used most often without any thought or question.


Kevin Hodgson said...

I am still on the fence with the whole idea. On one hand, for individualized instruction, it may make sense for SOME students. On the other hand, what about that middle group of kids who are not self-motivated to learn? (or am I selling them short?). And access to bandwidth at home is a huge issue.
Thanks for the rant to get me thinking ...

Kassia said...

You've articulated exactly my thoughts on what I've heard about and read about flipped classrooms. It doesn't seem like it's revolutionary at all, and it seems like it would disadvantage kids who don't have a home life/space that allows this kind of pre-class study, watching of video that the flipped class seems to require.

Jill Fisch said...

First of all, I would have to agree with you that I don’t really think “flipping” classrooms is our ultimate goal in education. We do need to revolutionize education but I think that “flipping the classroom” can be used by thoughtful teachers to meet the needs of their students while we travel the road to a new form of education.

A high school teacher that I know well, Karl Fisch, practices a version of “flipping”. He teaches Algebra and his class meets for 50 minutes, 4 times a week. He was constantly frustrated about not having the time to do a more inquiry-based approach within that limited time frame. So he decided to “flip” his classroom.

He now uses his classroom time to have students explore a new topic and have discussions about it. Only after this time of inquiry does he ask them to view short (10 minute maximum) videos at home (about 2 times a week) with the more traditional lecture approach to these topics. This gives the students context for the videos and gives them more time in class to solve bigger problems, share their thinking and reflect on their learning (each student also blogs about their understanding of topics under study).

Karl would also agree that “flipping” is not where he would like to be but it helps him meet his students needs under the current system that he is teaching in. He is working to make changes to that system but we all know that these types of change don’t happen overnight. As people see the types of things that his students can do in his class they will be more open to the discussion of how things should change.

When issues like minutes per day of instruction, amount of required content to be covered, and grading systems and credits can be changed then perhaps he can move away from “flipping”.

In this case, “flipping” makes Karl’s classes much more student-centered and provides for much deeper thinking and learning. It is definitely not for everyone but some teachers can use it successfully to meet the needs of their students. So while I agree that this should not be the trend or the “new” style of teaching, we should carefully look at how and why it is being used before we dismiss the whole idea.

Jenny said...

Kevin, maybe you've hit on something here with the idea that it makes sense for SOME. Nothing will be a panacea for all students, no matter how much we hope. As one tool this might be worthwhile.

Kassia, your comment about space is important. Folks are talking about kids who don't have access but space (physical, mental, and emotional) is equally important.

Jill, thank you for the pushback. I was hoping to hear from some folks who have thought more about this and reached different conclusions. I had forgotten all of Karl's work in this area, and his blog posts about it. When he began doing this I remember being quite impressed. Since then I have found so many others who seem to be implementing it less thoughtfully it has colored my opinion. Your reminder to me of the well thought out implementations is a good one and gives me some meat to chew on.