The Flipped Mentality

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Classroom flipping involves significantly more than merely recording and posting instructional videos online. For starters, this developing approach involves giving students more control over their learning, while allowing teachers more time and freedom to offer quality instruction.

The best, most enterprising flipped champions do so much more. They don’t pay lip service to wanting change. They use evolving technologies to promote self-directed learning. They actively encourage self-reliance over conformity, perseverance over idleness, and care over apathy.

Few defend this stance better than Jason Bretzmann, who recently compiled entries forFlipping 2.0: Practical Strategies for Flipping Your Class. “[Flipping 2.0] is normally characterized by focusing on higher-level thinking as a goal, creating a more student-centered classroom, and determining the best use of face-to-face time with students,” he writes.

Last week, I reached out to Bretzmann to gain deeper insight. He’s also concerned with making students the “lead learners,” as well as helping them develop comfort in—and eventual preference for—pursuing learning on their own, without yearning for traditional, sage-on-the-stage instruction.

All of this speaks to a larger flipped mentality, or Flipping 2.0, as Bretzmann calls it, which transcends any use of educational technology.

Along these lines, Bretzmann adheres a policy of what he calls “ask three and then me.” He tells me, “When a student asks me a question, I try as much as I can to say, ‘What did your research show you? What does somebody else in the class think? Have you connected with anybody else, an expert or somebody else, another opinion?’ Then ask me if you can’t figure it out.”

In my own teaching experience, I’ve lost track of how many students (however bright) have fielded questions they could have easily answered on their own. Unfortunately, I know I’m in good company in being asked what assignments are due when, or what I have planned for class, even as I post weeks’ worth of detailed lesson online. When it comes to tackling adversity, some students are quick to have me spoon-feed them resolutions.

But all of this isn’t their fault. For too long and too often, otherwise well-meaning adults (at times, myself included) have acquiesced rather than challenged students to do things on their own. As Bretzmann tells me, “The real flip is from the teacher making all the decisions and having all the voice and choice to students taking the responsibility for their learning.”

Bretzmann reminds me that the role of “teacher” is changing. In the classroom, no longer are adults the only source of knowledge—and often they aren’t even the best. Now more than ever, we should use technology to help kids take learning into their own hands. The best teachers embrace this development and don’t feel threatened by it. Instead, they revel in a changing dynamic, in which students and teachers learn together to improve their collective understanding and mastery of relevant subjects and skills.

It’s plain to me that the best pedagogical advancements happen in tandem with accessible, flexible, and effective technology. Along these lines, flipped learning caters extremely well to “mastery,” where students rely on online lessons, but also work with teachers to move through content at their own pace. To learn more about this model, last year,I interviewed flipped learning pioneer Jonathan Bergmann.

In 2012, he and fellow high school science teacher Aaron Sams chronicled their findings in a brave, forward-thinking book,Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.

“Our classes have become laboratories of learning where the entire focus of the classroom is on what students have or have not learned,” Bergmann told me. “No longer do we present material, provide a few extra learning opportunities, give a test, and then hope for the best. Instead, students come to class with the express purpose of learning. We provide them with all the tools and materials to learn, and we support them by helping them develop a plan for how and when they will learn. The rest is up to the students.”

Of all the teachers I know in the public, charter, or private sphere, none makes better use of flipped learning than Stacey Roshan, the upper school technology coordinator at Bullis, a terrific independent school in Potomac, Maryland. Roshan also teaches a host of advanced math classes, including AP Calculus AB, and she offers a professional development course on blended learning for the Online School for Girls.

I met Roshan last summer through the National Association of Independent Schools, where we both serve as “Teachers of the Future.” I admit my ignorance of most things mathematical (I teach history and journalism), but Roshan’s screencast makes me want to learn about logarithms.

I love how students can listen to Roshan, who moves clearly and slowly, at their own pace. She also offers step-by-step examples, allowing viewers to understand why any particular solution is correct. If students still have questions, then they ask Roshan during class.

“The misconception of flipped learning is that the kids have to learn the material on their own,” Roshan tells me. “That couldn’t be further from what I think is happening, because in class is where the learning happens. I think better learning happens now. What happens at home is just the building blocks, just the foundation of what they need to know. In class is when we hash out the details and get into the, ‘Let’s take it to the next level, let’s do it together, let’s work on the problems and let you work out the little pieces.’”

Roshan frequently writes and speaks about how to make flipped learning more interactive, and during out chat, I learned about embedded quizzing. At any point during her screencasts, for which she uses Camtasia Studio, students can be assessed on what they have learned—all through the existing video lesson.

I encourage you to read Roshan’s LessonPaths article,Guide to an Interactive Flipped Classroom. “A variety of question formats can be asked: multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and short-answer,” she writes. “The benefit of the first two options is automated, instant grading for student feedback while the advantage of the latter option is the ability to assess beyond recognition. I find the short answer option to be helpful in asking more inquiry-based questions, which can provide a nice segue into class discussion the following day.”

True to the self-directed nature of flipped learning, Roshan also has her students create their own screencasts. In Roshan’s classes, students help each other with peer tutoring, rather than relying only on her for support. I’m sure that Bretzmann would approve.

These videos remind me of one of my favorite quotes from Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Interview transcript

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