Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Emperor's New Clothes, a Sheep in Wolf's Clothing? Mixing Metaphors for Flipping Instruction

So, I'm very intrigued by the flipped classroom concept, but I have a sense of deja vu. I've been teaching for over 13 years and I've seen my share of trends: curriculum mapping, student-centered learning, cooperative learning, authentic assessing, NCLB...and the beat goes on...and will go on... and on and on.... and  on....

I remember when I first started teaching, a venerable and veteran teacher bemoaning the professional development and having to do curriculm mapping AGAIN. I was taken aback by her jaded position, but now I understand that she has seen the trends come and go with a lack of follow-through and longevity.  I get it, because I've been on the educational merry-go-round too.  Why spend all that time on training for something that will not be around in 2-3 years? Teachers need positive reinforcement and structure just as students. Likening it to athletics (and mixing some more metaphors), why train for a race that one will never run? But, shouldn't entering the race be up to the athlete? Does the coach have to be the one to tell the athlete when to run? Maybe it is the fault of the administration for not following through with the implementation of a trend, but shouldn't it be the teacher's job to determine the longevity and use of a trend?

This same teacher got irritated when administrators would dictate how/what to teach, but yet, she was bemoaning the fact that the administration was not following-through and making sure the teachers stuck with the trend. Her complaint is contradictory: she was irritated with being told what to do, but was equally irritated when she was not being told what to do.   The longevity and follow-through of trends should be on the shoulders of the teachers. There will always be trends in education and progressive supervisors/teachers will want to explore the trends and see how they can enhance one's teaching.  Education/teaching cannot be stagnate-- I have been teaching the same texts for the majority of my career, but I can state that how teach those texts is not the same year after year. Educational trends should not be dressing up concepts in "new" clothes, regurgitating the old and making it seem new. The trends cannot be about false appearances. The trends should be tools in a teacher's toolbox. Not every job requires a hammer, so change tools as needed,  but make sure the right tools are in the toolbox --invest in a solid, well-built hammer the first time instead of  buying a new one every time the handle breaks. Educational trends need to be more than trends; they need to be solid, well-built tools for longevity in education.

Is the flipped classroom model one such tool?  I like the concept for revitalizing classes and encouraging student responsibility.  Especially for traditional teacher-centered classes flipping can enhance the classroom experience. "Well, duh, that's an obvious statement," I'm saying to myself as I type this. Flipping seems akin to independent study and just another version of student-centered learning. Am I dressing my class up in new clothes that aren't really new? Is flipping a sheep in wolf's clothes? Will it amount to nothing, cool in appearance but lacking in substance? Will flipping have longevity? Or is it just a cool trend that will fade only to be recycled and repackaged again in 7-10 years? Is this a hammer that I will actually use or will I just drop it on my foot?

I need to wrap my brain around the logistics of flipping. Without daily access to computers in class, this won't be easy. BYOD will help, but without the computers or a consistent use of technology as a base for allowing all students to be more independent, I'm afraid to totally flip. But are daily computers absolutely necessary to flip? I do want the students interacting with each other, not just being absorbed by the computer. And do I need to flip? Aren't I flipped enough already with all the cooperative learning, teacher-as-facilitator that goes on in my class? Some of the more traditional & mundane units can be enhanced through flipping-- grammar instruction definitely needs to get jazzed up-- talk about dressing up a sheep in wolf's clothing! 

My spring drama unit seems to already to be flipped.  Students studied Pygmalion outside of class, completing assignments through Edmodo, while in class  we watched/read/analyzed West Side Story and Romeo & Juliet.  Most of the concepts in Pygmalion were reinforced and connected to WSS and R&J. Assessments were personal, varied, formative, and summative. Students really enjoyed learning about appearances, dreams, ambiguities, the use of language and connecting it to their lives. If you ask nicely, I could give you the group code to see this past year's class on Edmodo and you can poke around and see what I do.  I'm still stuck though: is this really flipping or is it just independent study? And does it really matter what it is as long as my students are engaged and accountable in their learning?

Some quotes to consider when thinking about appearances and reality:

"The world more often rewards the appearance of merit than merit itself." -FranÁois de la Rochefoucauld

“If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a horse have? Four, calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg”  - Abraham Lincoln

And, those of you who are flipped, may be thinking that I'm being as negative and contradictory as the venerable and veteran teacher I mention above. I'll admit, I'm wearing my skeptical black hat ( http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php/ ), but in order to make an informed decision about how I teach, I need to deconstruct in order to reconstruct. First I question, then I create. 

Quoting Albert Einstein, "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning." I will learn from previous trends/educational models; I will use/apply what I can as I teach today; I will do more than hope for the education of my students: I will continue to question to make myself a better teacher. Through questioning, I will always find answers.


  1. As one who wants to flip a class next year, I totally understand all the feelings you expressed. Is this a passing fad? Will this be around in a couple of years? Who knows. The only thing I do know is that putting mini-lessons and genre lessons on video or in folders so kids can use them when they want makes sense in the context of my creative writing class. So that's where I will start. I don't know if I will try to flip another class or not, I just know that I will take this one day and one class at a time.

  2. @Deb, it is good to know we are not alone! :-) I agree, I like the use of mini-lessons and videos for students to access. I will learn to somersault before doing a triple lindi when it comes to flipping. Are you on Edmodo? I will the teacher connections were more developed. It would be nice to share resources.

  3. I tried to comment a few weeks ago, but my mobile device ate it.

    My definition of flipped is this:

    1. Students take responsibility for their own learning, with me as a resource
    2. Teacher makes use of technology to facilitate that.

    And the guiding question for flipped instruction is always: What is the best use of my class time?

    I think this is how I answer that:
    1. All my direct instruction should be on videos
    2. Most things that I assume my students know how to do (good Google searches, how to look up words and apply that to figure out what it means, using showing language, find patterns in text, summarise, etc.) should also be on video because A) they probably don't know it, and B) it's helpful for differentiation.

    I think it's also useful to think about this long-term. Even if "flipped class" ends up being a fad, having your information on video cannot be bad.

    You don't have to be 1:1 to make flipped teaching work. Sure, it's nice to run everything through Edmodo, but that's not the only way to do it. Using class time to write (on paper), have discussions, work on projects, do guided reading, having students give presentations, etc. is what makes it flipped. Using technology to facilitate that is awesome, but not required.

    Personally, I don't think it will disappear. Here's my blog entry on it: http://www.morrisflipsenglish.com/1/post/2012/06/reflections-on-flipped-conference-12.html

    Enjoying following your blog!