In my last Fractus post, I talked about how popular flipped classes are with my college writing students. Over the past two-and-a-half years that I’ve been using the flipped technique at my current school, 96% of more than 400 students have told me to keep flipping (I think they were mostly talking about the class). This is a most encouraging response for any teacher, and I think I would be foolish to abandon the technique. Still, my flipped classes have not been perfect. Fortunately, many more things worked than didn’t work, but in this post, I want to talk about one of the main things that didn’t work and that I had to correct: coordinating the outside activities with the in-class activities.
First, let me point out that I did make progress even while I made mistakes. When I combine all the responses that said to change the flipped class or to drop it, then I see a definite decline in noted problems over the past two years, as the following charts show:
As you can see, the number of problems with the flipped classroom noted by students steadily declined from Winter Quarter, 2012, to Winter Quarter, 2014. Most of the issues (75%) were noted in 2012. I am pleased, mostly because it suggests to me that after thirty years of teaching, I can still learn something. That may be the most important lesson here.
So what issues do my students have with my implementation of the flipped classroom?
The biggest issue for my students is the lack of balance and clear coordination between the in-class activities (the local practice of content) and the online, outside readings and lectures (the remote delivery of content). I think this confusion results from two distinct causes:
- my students unfamiliarity with the flipped classroom technique, demands, and rhythms, and
- my own failure to emphasize and to make explicit the connections between the online, outside work and the in-class work.
I think my failure is the most grievous, mainly because I can’t correct my students’ lack of experience with the flipped classroom. By a show of hands, I’ve learned that almost none of my students have ever heard of the flipped classroom, much less engaged one. I suspect that this will be much the case for the next few years, perhaps forever, if the flipped class isn’t more widely adopted.
While I can’t change the experience they bring to my flipped classes, I can change how well I build the connections between the work done outside of class with the work done inside class. I attribute my early failures at this clear articulation as evidence of my own lack of experience with the flipped class. Fortunately, my students quickly pointed out my errors to me. One student wrote, emphatically,
I would make easier to understand because we had our weekly assessments but it also stated we needed to read an article but I never understood if the articles applied to which question, it was confusing at times.
Another student complained,
I feel like more emphasis on the book and assignments in class based on the book would be helpful in learning the writing techniques. I sometimes felt confused about the lessons.
I do enjoy the flipped class, but sometimes I find it a bit confusing. I think we should go more into detail in class on what we are talking about. When we have assessments to do at home that comes from the book, I feel we should go over it more in class.
It made attending class more difficult as it was clearly a more or less online class…So it wasn’t clear what the in class sessions aimed to accomplish.
Clearly, what is clear in my mind is not necessarily clear in my students’ minds. For instance, if the preparatory online lectures and outside readings are about developing a strong thesis statement in academic documents, then I cannot assume that the students will connect those online lectures to an in-class exercise asking them to identify the main point in a sample academic essay. I must use every opportunity in class to emphasize and echo the thesis meme. I must say the word thesis repeatedly, and I must refer to the online lectures and readings as those connections emerge in class. To be fair, most of my students make the connection between the online lectures and the in-class work, but not all, and this failure leads to the most complaints about the flipped classroom.
So one of the first changes I made was to incorporate the weekly, online assessment into the class discussion. I display the assessment on the class screen, along with the charts and graphs that Google generates, and we discuss the students’ answers. I try to draw out the implications for the work that we will do in class.
Then, I began asking the students to write blog posts about the topic of the week, which gives them a chance to use writing as a tool for learning, a key instructional strategy in my classes, and it gives them a chance to form connections between the outside lectures and readings with the in-class work and writing.
As you might imagine, the clear articulation between the remote instruction and local practice is not a finished process. Rather, it is something that I must work hard at every week, and there are always weeks when I lapse. I must continue to develop new strategies that help my students (and me) clarify the connections between outside and inside the class. There should be a true circular causality here, a feedback loop, by which the outside content informs and modifies inside practice which feeds back to inform and enrich the outside content. This loop is short-circuited when students don’t see the connections between what happens outside and inside the class.
My advice, then, for any teacher wanting to flip their classrooms is to look for evidence from your students that they are connecting the in-class work with the out-of-class lectures and readings. What is intuitively obvious to you may not be to them, and you must work hard to articulate the connections between the inside and the outside of your flipped class.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Natashatashtash.