Answering a College Student’s Flipped Classroom Questions

First years teachers are bad.  The research shows that, but even without research, we know that from experience.  I was a horrible teacher in my first year.  I know that now, but I sure didn’t know that then.  We all develop and grow as teachers and, hopefully, continue to develop and grow.

I mention this because I received an email yesterday from a former student.  This was a student I had in my first 2 years of teaching and she is now in college studying Education. This student was always a very hard worker.  She was also very kind and considerate.  She regularly took the time to help me by cleaning the classroom, filing papers (this was before Google Drive), and other odd jobs. She even pretended to learn something from me now and again. She was one of the reasons I was able to keep my sanity in that stressful first year.  I’m sure she never realized it, but that kindness she showed me throughout that first year is why she stills holds a special place with me.

To the email….Since she is in Education, she had an assignment in which she needed to research the Flipped Classroom and she had some questions for me. If I can make her entry into the profession and provide some solace when she goes into her first year of teaching, I won’t hesitate to help her in any way that I can.  Since my blog is a reflective practice for me, I decided to answer her questions via blog post.  So, here they are:

1. Flipped classroom is a rather new way to teach in the classroom, how did you come across flipped classrooms?

While the term flipped classroom is relatively new, reverse instruction has been around for much longer than that.  Since I’ve flipped for several years now, I don’t remember the exact moment I came across the flipped classroom. What I do remember is that it was in roughly December and I was doing an internet search for something and came across the video by TechSmith (Camtasia) about Aaron Sams.
I saw this video and thought the idea sounded interesting.  However, since I was an English teacher and was using the Writers Workshop model at the time and didn’t immediately see the benefit to me.  I shared it with a colleague that taught Math and then put it on the back burner. The term kept crossing my path in various social media interactions and I came back to it over the next couple months and did more research.  In the summer of 2011, I attended the Flipped Classroom Conference in Woodland Park, Colorado, still not 100% convinced I wanted to flip.  I met Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, as well as many other Flipped Classroom gurus at that conference and soon realized how valuable flipping my class could be.
2. How effective did you find using a flipped classroom approach?
Quite honestly, the approach saved my career.  When I decided to flip, I was very stagnant and wasn’t enjoying teaching.  This student-centered, personalized approach made teaching much more rewarding for me.
But, me aside, was it effective for the students?  While my students continued to score relatively the same on standardized test scores as they had previously, their engagement was improved, their ability to explore topics more deeply was enhanced, and the overall culture of the classroom changed to one of inquiry, learning, collaboration, and community.
So, while other teachers have reported great gains in test scores, I did not. However, my students gained many untestable intangibles and I could not go back to the traditional model after that.
3. Do you think a flipped classroom benefited  the students, or was it better for the teacher?
In my case, as mentioned above, it benefited both. Obviously, the students are the most important and if they weren’t benefiting, I wouldn’t have continued. But, the majority of students loved the flipped classroom and the quality of work they were turning in was significantly improved.  While initially, the flipped classroom is more work for the teacher, the results are worth it.  As the teacher iterates their classroom, the approach becomes extremely student-centered and the technology we have now allows for very personalized instruction.  So, both the teacher and students benefit.
4. Where there any obstacles that you faced in using flipped classrooms?
I chuckle when I hear this question.  The obstacles seemed daunting at first, but looking back where minor bumps in the road. Many of the obstacles you face with any classroom were still present in the flipped classroom.  If a student struggles to do homework in a traditional model, they will still struggle to do homework in a flipped model.  It doesn’t immediately solve that problem.  You still have a certain amount of reluctant learners in any group of students. The flipped classroom, however, allows you the time to have private, individualized conversations with each of those student and begin working on the solution to that problem.
Obstacles inherent to the Flipped Classroom approach were more technical in nature. I had to make sure all students had adequate access to devices and the internet.  If they did not, I had to work with them to find a way to make the content available to them.
Students who were good at “playing school” at first resisted the Flipped Classroom.  However, they quickly adapted and many enjoyed it within a few weeks.
Time was on obstacle at first.  My students were consuming information faster than I could produce it.  I was running out of content and it seemed like I was always making videos.  Once I found a balance and also learned to pace students by using inquiry activities, time was never an issue.
On a very positive note, the initial obstacles forced me to question some of my beliefs and practices about teaching. Why, how, and when to assign and assess homework came to the forefront on my reflections.  The work of Ramsey Musallam greatly influenced the directions I took (and still take) at that point in my journey.  I really became a sponge of knowledge and teaching pedagogy and the time I freed by flipping my class provided me the opportunity to explore and iterate all kinds of new and innovative ideas in my classroom.  All because of the decision to flip!
5. What advice would you give a future teacher about using flipped classroom?
That’s a good question. I would say explore it deeply and learn what it truly offers you as a teacher.  It is a tool.  You don’t have to flip 100% of your content or class.  Only what fits in your instructional practices.
Once you successfully flip, you’ll realize the flipped classroom is not about the videos you create, but more about the activities you do in class with your face-to-face time.  That being said, the use of video as an instructional medium is only going to become more prevalent.  Learning to produce quality instructional videos would be very beneficial for any future teacher.
Flipped teachers are some of the most reflective teachers I’ve met.  The movement has been a grassroots movement built by teachers searching for better ways for students to learn. Even if you ultimately don’t decide to flip any of your content, adding flipped teachers to your PLN will help you grow as a teacher.
There’s also a very untapped market, if you will, in the flipped models.  Research shows that currently only about 3% of teachers actually flip.  That will only continue to increase.  When I started flipped English, there were very few ELA flippers I could find.  That allowed me the opportunity to be an explorer, a navigator, and an inventor.  I was able to write a book on Flipping English in order to help others.  Teachers entering the market willing to take on those challenges will be highly sought after by good principals.  My job title now is Director of Innovative Teaching.  I get to help other teachers concept and implement innovative teaching ideas. When I watched that Aaron Sams video some 4 years ago and began my flipped journey, I never imagined this is where it would take me.  If that interests you as a future teacher, get on board now!
Readers: feel free to share your answers to these questions in the comments or privately via email.  I want to help my former student have a rewarding career as an educator. Helping her build her PLN would be a great start!
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