“Start flipping, don’t wait.”
– Warren McMahon
After Jon and Aaron’s keynote speech, I was registered to attend a panel discussion on flipping in the Primary School context. Jon Bergmann facilitated the panel, which was made up of Warren McMahon, Matt Burns and June Wall (I have been unable to find June on Twitter). There were, according to my notes, thirteen questions over the course of the session. Some of these questions were somewhat expected, and others were rather unexpected.
The first question was about equity and access to devices and content. In-flipping (watching the video’s in class) is a great way to overcome this obstacle, however, beyond this, there are some great options. Utilising USB/flash drives, DVDs or cheap MP4 players will allow you to send the video content home with the students. Another option, which I had forgotten about at the time, and only recently re-discovered, is iTunesU. It allows you to build courses or units of work, and to either link to videos (or other content) outside of iTunesU, but you can also upload the content intoa post. This means that those students who have a device, but no internet access at home (which is still sadly common in 2015) can download the content they need during the school day, ready to go when they are at home that night.
The second question is a common question; what if they fail to watch the video? It is, in my opinion, both a great and a terrible question at the same time. It is a great question because the concept of the videos being watched at home is often the only thing that teachers and parents alike know about flipped learning, and so they see not watching the videos as ‘breaking’ the system. On the other hand, It is a terrible question because what if they (students) fail to do their homework now? In conversations with teachers who are already flipping their classrooms, they have indicated that this is rarely a problem, for a number of reasons. Initially, you gain traction from the novelty factor. Beyond that, however, students often will not only need less time to do the homework, but they will be able to do the homework as it is cognitively easier than what is currently being set as homework. The point was also made that if your videos are enticing, through being short, concise, clear, and interactive (such as I wrote about here), then students will want to engage with them.
Beyond that, if you set, and hold to, the expectation that the videos have been engaged with at home, prior to school, and that the higher order learning tasks may not be done until the required understanding has been demonstrated (Jon and Aaron have said in the past that they have used a range of methods to do this, including conceptual check lists that are ticked off after reviewing student notes, or through conversation) than students will quickly learn that they need to watch the videos. It was noted that some students will not engage with the videos outside of class irrespective of the consequences, and will only engage with them in class. When (part of) the point of flipped learning is that not all students need to be on the same page and doing the same thing, then that is ok. As long as those students are engaging with the skills and concepts, and are moving through the required learning, then their choice not to engage with the videos outside of the classroom is potentially not detrimental to themselves, or to their classmates.
Here is a short video from a secondary teacher, Katie Gumbar, about her thoughts on this very question.
Someone then asked about the investment in time to train students how to engage with learning in this new and different way, compared to the normal game of school. There were two key points to the responses to this question. Firstly, it needs to be done, you need to invest the time to teach students how to engage with flipped learning, as it is so vastly different, and many will not engage, without the training, for fear of getting it wrong. So the investment in time, initially, is significant and involves heavy scaffolding. The exact amount of time with vary from context to context. Upper secondary students fill need far less time to acclimate to this new way of learning than lower primary, but even within the same cohort, there will be differences. You need to make a professional judgement as to when your students are au fait with flipped learning.
The second point that was made was that having interactive videos will make a large difference. Tools like Educannon (which I have previously discussed) and VersoApp can add a layer of interest which helps drive engagement with the learning. I do not recall where I heard it, but someone told an anecdote about a teacher who taught a class how to engage with flipped learning by asking them to learn a card trick. A link was provided to a video tutorial (perhaps something like this), and students were asked to learn how to do the card trick. Afterwards, the teacher engaged students in a discussion about how they went about using the video to learn the trick, discussing the use of pausing and rewinding to re-watch sections of the tutorial. This had the students engaged in a metacognitive discussion, and facilitated the introduction of flipped learning to the students and showed them how it works without the need for a long explanation.
What does success look like in a flipped classroom was answered quite simply. It varies context to context, both across cohorts of students, across different subject areas, across the grade levels, but the important thing is to determine a measure of success that will be SMART for your specific context.
The impact on teacher time as a result of flipping generated a significant amount of discussion. The initial investment is significant and unavoidable, however, it is also transformational and the long-term gains outweigh the initial lost time. The comment was made by someone that implementing flipped learning, initially, is like being a first-year teacher all over again. Do not flip because you think it will save you time, it will certainly not do that, not initially. The time benefit is in the classroom where instead of doing lower-order thinking teaching, you are able to engage with students, either one-on-one or in small groups to drive deeper learning, thus building stronger relationships and developing your understanding of how students learn. This is something that should be part of our professional knowledge; flipped learning allows us to develop that knowledge more authentically, and more deeply.
The additional point made about the impact on teacher time was in relation to re-using videos that you have developed. All panellists agreed that you absolutely can and should re-use videos (though I would personally recommend re-watching just to double check that it is the video you want) in order to save time, however, there is a very important factor to remember, in this regard, when it comes to creating your videos.
You may create sequences or playlists of videos in a specific order for specific concepts, however, avoiding numbering the videos allows you to drop any video into the students’ learning at any point in the particular unit of learning.
How do you flip all the KLAs in a primary context was answered succinctly, one brick at a time. Jon made the observation that in primary classes which he and Aaron have visited, there seems to be a tendency for primary teachers to flip mathematics in the first instance. I can certainly understand that tendency, as my first exposure to flipped learning was in a Year Five and Six class where mathematics was being in-flipped, and it seems, to my mind, to be naturally suited to being flipped. That said, having spoken to a number of teachers from across primary and secondary over the course of FlipConAus, I can certainly see scope for flipping other areas, including English, Creative Arts, the Parent-Teacher night, or Physical Education.
Why should teachers record their own videos was the subject of a long discussion, however, the key point is that you are the students’ teacher, not Khan Academy, or any other resource; it is you.
Not only will it build relationships with students, and those parents engaging with their child’s learning by helping them at home, but it also ensure that the concept is taught the way that you want it taught.
How critical reflection is embedded within flipped learning is something that I only took one note for, flipping allows for it to happen naturally, which reading that note a few weeks after the fact, is not particularly clear. Thinking it through, however, I believe that embedding critical reflection is a part of teaching students how to engage with the learning in this context. Part of your expectation could be a metacognitive discussion in class or through a writing task of some type (class blog, in learning journals etc.)
When someone asked whether flipping removed grouping structures, such as maths groups or reading groups, the answer was, essentially, no. Traditional grouping structure can be, and often are still utilised, however the way they are utilised may change as students may be at various points along the learning continuum any given concept.
One person or a whole school can work was the response when someone asked if flipping needs to be implemented across the board to be successful. The caveat is that flipping works best when it is implemented from the bottom up, and spreads through the school organically as teachers see what is happening, see the benefits to students and take it into their own classroom. It is also highly beneficial to have someone with whom you can collaborate your flipping who is in a similar context to yourself. Whether this is a teacher in your own school, or someone on the other side of the country teaching the same grade or subject as you is not particularly relevant. It is the ability to discuss barriers, wins and new techniques and ideas with someone who is in a similar context that matters.
How do you engage parents? was a topic of interest for many, and the biggest suggestion from the panel was communication and education around what flipped learning is about, how it works and why you are implementing it, beginning with flipping the parent-teacher night. Sending home a video introducing yourself and going through the basics that you would cover in person allows the parents to engage with your ideas and come to the evening with questions as they will have had time to think about and process what you have said.
In a job-share context (where two teachers share the load of one class with one teaching three days and the other teaching two days), where one teacher wants to flip and the other does not, communication before the year begins and during the year is absolutely critical. If the teaching load is split down subject or concept lines, with one teacher being responsible for the arts; or dividing mathematics up by concept area, then it will be relatively simple to implement flipped learning. If any other arrangement is made vis-a-vis splitting the teaching load, then it will be significantly more difficult.
In closing, all panellists were asked to offer one practical piece of advice to the audience. Warren advised everyone not to wait to start flipping, but to just do it. Matt backed this up with the caveat of doing it one brick at a time. June also reiterated Warren’s advice but cautioned the audience to identify the learning scaffolds needed and ensure they are available or in place beforehand, and Jon closed out the session by advising to flip with someone in some way if it is at all possible.
Thank you for reading through this rather lengthy article. I found the panel session very worthwhile. There was also a secondary panel that took place at the same time, and if someone has written a review on that, please send me a link so that I can include it here, with credit to the author (you can find the twitter discussion around it in the day’s Storify). My next article is likely to appear tomorrow, and will include a review of sessions from Warren McMahon, Katie Jackson and Crystal Caton.
To view the other articles in this review of FlipConAus 2015 click here.