“Students shouldn’t come to school to watch the teachers work”
-John Hattie. Interview with BBC4’s The Educators
Day Two of FlipCon Adelaide was all about the school tour and lesson observations. Visiting Glenunga International High School (GIHS) was something I was looking forward to and the opening addresses, which I wrote about here, were very interesting and gave a clear message of pedagogy and relationships as the key to flipped learning and improved student learning outcomes. After those addresses, however, was the all-important morning tea (the strawberries were spectacularly good) where we would have an opportunity to speak to the various staff members present as well as the Prefects before being taken to observe some lessons.
It was interesting watching the way in which the Prefects engaged the groups of delegates with such confidence and poise. The two Prefects whom I and some others were speaking to were very comfortable speaking about the way the school had changed and were comfortable sharing their lessons. One of the Prefects myself and a few others were speaking with was completing the International Baccalaureate Diploma program whilst the other was completing the South Australian Certificate of Education. Additionally, one of the students had only been at GIHS for about eighteen months and so was able to speak to the differences between his prior, more traditional school and GIHS.
As I previously wrote, when questioned, both students acknowledged that in terms of homework as opposed to how much studying and revision they do, that there is less homework than there used to be, prior to flipped learning. When asked about the late start no Wednesdays, their faces lit up and you could see that they liked the idea. Both of them said they tend to use it sometimes for extra study and revision in preparation for exams or for some extra sleep depending on what they have going on.
It became apparent very early in our tour of GIHS that there is a strong and vibrant student interest group community. The sign in Kendall Wong’s photo above is only one example of the many that we saw during our tour. The number and diversity of student clubs that we saw signs or posters for was phenomenal, especially for me where we had Interact, school band and a chess club in high school, as well as sporting teams, and that was all. It is a testament to the diversity of the student body and the school’s own culture that a number of them were based on social justice issues or charitable causes.
The first that our group visited was a Year Eight French class. The teacher was just getting things started when we arrived and to his credit, he did not miss a beat, merely welcomed us and continued on. It was a small class of approximately twenty students and their task was well constructed and demonstrated some quality pedagogy. The students had been tasked with watching their flipped content and were applying that new learning. In groups of four, students were tasked with reading a short comic strip which was written in French and translating it into English. Rather than being a worksheet, however, the teacher had shared a link via GClass to the students and they were all working within a GDoc to translate.
They were given a few minutes to translate their initially assigned panel from the comic and then they had to move on to the next panel in the rotation and either add to or correct the translation that had been provided by the previous student. Watching the task occur in real time on the main screen at the front of the room was both funny, with the various coloured cursors flashing madly everywhere as students worked to translate their comic strip panel, and exciting, seeing this sort of pedagogy applied in a subject I would not normally teach.I appreciated, at this point, not observing a primary class or a subject or content which I would teach as it freed me to really focus on what was happening within the classroom rather than on the content and skills which were being covered. This was, of course, the point of being arbitrarily assigned to groups.
There was a group of three boys sitting just in front of me that I could see switching back and forth between the GDoc and Google Translate. I wanted to find out more about how they used GClass as an LMS and about how the were completing the task. They were quite happy to answer some questions and show me their GClass stream. Typically, it seems like it was used to push out content or links to content, set questions and facilitate the delivery and collection of assignments. As they were explaining things in response to my questions, the message came through once again, unprompted, pedagogy and relationships are key and that was something which I feel spoke strongly about the buy-in from the school community to the philosophy and approach that GIHS was taking.
I did observe during that lesson one student who was sitting in the front row on the other side of the room to myself and was slouching in his seat, with his feet up on the chair next to him using his phone below the desk. The teacher could clearly see that the student was using it, there was no deliberate act of trying to hide that the phone was being used. I queried our Prefect on the school’s mobile phone policy and there was a wry grin in response. The school has a strong policy of student ownership of their learning and student responsibility for their choices and owning their own distractions. Students are mostly free to use their phones as long as they are completing the required tasks in a timely fashion.
Our Prefect related that when she was in the process of applying for jobs earlier that year, that her phone had rung (silently) in class with the phone number of one of where she had applied recently on the caller ID. With a very brief explanation of the situation, she was allowed to take the call outside and then return to class. This works without negatively impacting hers or her peers learning due to flipped learning. In a traditional classroom context, there is a likelihood that to step outside would have meant that she would miss some explicit instruction about the concept being covered and would thus be behind the proverbial eight ball when she returned. In a flipped class, however, she was not listening to explicit teaching instruction as that had been completed via the flipped content prior to entering the classroom and therefore was able to stop what she was doing and resume it when she re-entered the classroom.
Placing responsibility for the learning back onto the student is a great move which, when properly supported by teaching students how to manage their time, take high-quality notes, how to study and revise efficiently. As we moved through the school for the next lesson observation, we were taken through one of the school’s media arts workshops where we saw an Apple Macintosh computer! My grandfather taught me how to use a computer on one of those and I remember being blown away by how cool it was and some of the games that it could support.
When we arrived at GIHS and entered their Performing Arts Centre (PAC), the room contained a stage and chair that reminded me of the fold down chairs you see at many cinemas which were stepped to create a minor theatre effect. When we returned to the space to observe a drama lesson in action, the room had completely changed. You can see in the photo above that the whole chairs had retracted back into a single block which was a very efficient use of the space. Outside the PAC, there were a number of posters from shows that had, presumably, been run by drama students at GIHS. When I asked one of our Prefects about it, she confirmed that tickets to the shows are sold to the community and that all proceeds are donated to charity. Having the students perform their shows in front of paying audiences and then donating the proceeds to charities is a great way of building community relationships, contributing to worthy causes and also providing the students some genuine theatre experience.
Observing the drama lesson was intriguing. The dozen or so students arrived and went straight into practice. The teacher spoke to use very briefly to explain the context of what was happening and indicated that the students had been asked to read a short script and learn some associated movements and that they were running an exercise on group space and interactions in a group space where they needed to use the space in such a way as to complete particular movements at certain times in specified ways. I enjoy theatre, but have only been in school productions as a student and one production of Oliver with the Tamworth Musical Society when I was in Year Seven, and so I was not entirely sure what I was seeing, even with the brief explanation from the teacher.
Each of the groups convened back together at this point and we were back onto the mini-buses to go back to Brighton Secondary School. The trip to GIHS was very interesting and demonstrated how flipped learning can occur in a range of contexts. I am excited about continuing my flipped learning journey into 2017 in a new context. I was very impressed with the fact that the driving message from everyone at GIHS that I spoke to, both staff and students, was focused on pedagogy and relationships. Even the students that I spoke to in the French class, were talking about pedagogy and relationships, even if they were not using the specific language thereof. It was a fascinating insight into the way in which a change in culture can permeate a school community in a short period of time. I want to thank the GIHS staff and students for opening up their school to us and providing us with the opportunity to hear and observe the way they have embraced flipped culture.