This evening I read a blog post by Tony Richards. I wrote a response in the comments beneath his post, but for some reason my comment didn’t stick when I refreshed the page. I tried a second time, but still my comment vanished. Since I’d spent quite some time considering Tony’s post and writing my comment, and because this is something that I feel is important, I decided to post it here.
Tony had attended a keynote at the VITTA12 conference, at which the ‘flipped classroom’ model was presented. His essential concern was that when teachers flip their classroom, all they are doing is changing how content is delivered to students, they are not facilitating the understanding and development of knowledge or challenging students to think for themselves [my paraphrase]. I invite you to read Tony’s actual blog post here.
I was not at the VITTA conference this year, so I don’t know first hand quite how the flipped classroom model was presented. But it sounds (from your reaction) that it was not presented well, because I think the view of flipped learning that you seem to have taken away from it, is flawed.
I think the dichotomy between a flipped classroom on one hand and creatively challenging students to think for themselves on the other, is a false dichotomy. If done right, the one can and should promote the other.
There is a type of “flipped learning” (or really a “use” of flipped learning) that I think is dangerous (I think that must be what was presented at VITTA). In that model, nothing changes, except the time when “teaching” and “homework” take place. The only two advantages of this approach as far as I can see is that when the student has trouble with the homework (that she is now completing in class) the teacher is there to help, and that the student has the advantage of being able to re-watch the videos if she chooses to do so. The danger, though, is that because grades on standardised test probably will improve, this may serve to reinforce the old paradigm of schooling (in the mind of students and teachers) in which the ultimate goal of education is seen as performance on a standardised test. I think there is also the risk, that if all students are doing in the classroom is ‘homework’, class time may be even more boring than it was before!
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
People argue about whether teachers should explain concepts to students or whether they should stand back and let students search for knowledge and struggle to make sense of it themselves. As with most things in life, the best position is at neither extreme.
Experienced teachers have spent years, on two pursuits: understanding the topic they teach, and understanding the young people they work with. This makes them well positioned to act as a bridge between a complex idea and a student’s world-experience. That is not to say students can’t teach each other (they can) or that they cannot find other people to teach them online (they can) or that they cannot find written information and learn from it (they can), but it would be an insult to the teaching profession to suggest that there is no place for teachers to explain at least some concepts to their students.
In my version of the flipped model, those concepts are explained out of class time via podcasts or video, so that class time does not have to be used for that purpose. But this is not saying ANYTHING about what the class time IS used for.
In my experience, teaching this way enables more of the very thing that you are suggesting students should be doing more of – research, group work, collaborative projects, making their own videos and podcasts, expressing their learning creatively, performing experiments, etc. It also means that there is time for guiding students to think critically about the sources of their research, encouraging them to sustain their focus, discussions, debates, role-plays… the list goes on.
Because VCE teachers (whether they like it or not) under the current system feel immense pressure to ready their students for standardised tests – many teachers spend a large portion of class time explaining things to students because it’s an efficient way to prepare them for exams – but if class time is freed up by explaining concepts out of class time, then we can use class time for whatever we want – and if the teacher is a good teacher, that won’t be wasted time; it will be used to innovatively craft remarkable learning opportunities in the classroom.
If you are reading this post, and have thoughts of your own, I’d love you to leave a comment below. Hopefully it will still be there when you refresh the page 😉