Monday, December 5, 2011

The Flipped classroom

So much is in the news these days about the new model of classroom which relies on the "flipping" of instruction that I felt it meet to put in my 3 cents. I'm just that important that I get to put in an extra cent.

Flipping the classroom means establishing a pedagogical model in which the student is instructed to watch a video at home and then does the practice with the teacher in the classroom.. This decentralizes instruction from the teacher and makes the teacher more responsible for a one-on-one and individualized supervision of review and practice of skills -- as it is practice which allows for and ultimately demonstrates mastery. I would like to say that I am of a single mind about it, or at least that the system on the surface this leads to one particular conclusion and only on reflection does one reach any other. But it just so happens that I see two sides even on the surface.

First off, I chafe at the suggestion that the teacher is replaceable by a computer. Instruction is dynamic and the spot checking requires that students make eye contact, watch body language and get a sense of comfort. Can we expect that students will take of their home time to watch (and focus on) videos? What happens when a student doesn't "get it" while watching a video? Or doesn't have internet? Or doesn't really want more sitting time after the school day is over? What about non-visual learners? Where are the manipulatables which will allow tactile learners to construct meaning? So I see why this method, even when used sparingly, is problematic.

But hold on. We are holding on to a traditional model of instruction simply because it is traditional. Why do we believe that sitting in a group and hearing from a single expert and practicing in solitude is the best way to teach? In the past, we didn't have the technology to record lectures and presentations and have students engage in them on their own time. Maybe had we had the ability to let students work on their own, we would have adopted this system many years ago. Maybe a teacher supervising actual work as opposed to trying to present information to a mass gets to better learning and students need the different presentation which outside lecturers and the internet can provide.

Should we be stressing more engaging presentation initially or more effective remediation the next day? When did we decide that validity lies in face to face as long as face to face happens during the first interaction with the student and material? But how can we expect that students will truly get all the subtleties when the mode of instruction doesn't allow for asking questions?

The bottom line is that flipping a classroom is an interesting method. And sometimes, it is a really neat and innovative way for some classes to pass along some information to some students. But it is a singular approach in a pool of other approaches. Technology is a tool. And so is lecture. And so is drilling for homework. And sometimes, each of these methods really can work. Or really not work. What we need is a not a new model but a teacher who can, on any given day, choose one of a hundred different models and try it out. And if it fails, try something else. Maybe that's what bothers me about videos. If they are failing as instruction on a given night, who realizes this and what steps are taken before the kid shows up to class to do the practice work? Wouldn't this simply lead to a larger division between "abilities" in the classroom the next day (not as a matter of intellect but of being able to demonstrate based on learning independently and from video)?

And can a teacher effectively monitor the progress of widely differentiated students? Can students, in the social setting of a classroom, truly do their work without being distracted by everyone else in the room? How does a student ask for help from friends who are working on something separate?

OK, I think I have decided. I don't like it on its own, but see no problem with it as an occasional resource. Use this and all other systems wisely if at all.

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