The flipped classroom allows students to build background knowledge outside school, freeing up time for more hands-on learning in the classroom.
I thought if students learned at their own pace at home and focused more in-depth with the content at school, this would fix some of the comprehension problems my lower-level students would have, as well as add some complexity to my lessons for my higher-level students. I work in a small school in Alabama where, luckily, the principal allows me to be a little experimental when it comes to what I do in my classroom. However, I also teach five different preps each day. My schedule changes from year to year, but I always have some combination of 6th–8th grade English and History.
Being that my principal encourages his teachers to try something new, I thought employing the “flipped” classroom model in my 8th-grade Ancient Civilizations class during the 2016–2017 school year would be a great idea. Now, I had never employed this form of teaching before. My thought process was, “This will be a great way for my students to take ownership of their learning. They can learn at their own speed, they will have constant access to the material, and then in class, we will have more time to supplement our lesson, AND I will grow the smartest kids in all the land! Win for everyone!” Now, I am not cocky enough to believe that I would be transforming all of my kids into brilliant historians by the end of the year, but I did think it would be a new way for my students to learn, as well as make greater gains in their learning than with the traditional method. A little insight into my students’ academic background; four of my students had special education accommodations and one really struggled with reading. The rest were either low-average to average, and there were around five that would have been considered high learners.
The first thing I did was learn as much about employing this method as I could before school started. I watched videos and read blog posts and articles about using the method. Then, I wrote a letter to my burgeoning historians’ parents about what was to come for their children in my class that year. I made sure that I had a plan (which I did) in place to fully execute it to my students. And then, it all semi-quickly crumbled. What happened? I’m not here to bad-mouth the method. I actually see clear benefits of using it. I am here to reflect on my mistakes and hopefully not re-create them, as well as share them so that others can learn from what I did wrong.
At the time, my school was limited in its access to technology, and students had limited access to technology at home. But, I had a way to fix that. First day of school, I passed out an info page on what students would be doing in class and at home, and why. I also passed out a page with a template for Cornell notes because that would be how they would take notes from the videos they watched. I also explained how they would be graded (because I knew some might not have taken notes without a grade on the line). Instead of creating my own videos, I chose to have students watch premade ones from Edpuzzle.com. I love this site and it allows teachers to edit videos by inserting questions during the video for students to answer.
Here was my plan:
Step One: Assign videos on Edpuzzle. Students watch at home and take Cornell notes.
Step Two: Next day, class would discuss the video and their notes, as well as questions they came up with while watching the videos.
Step Three: Supplemental activity to video (e.g., articles, map activities, group projects, etc.).
Step Four: Minds expanded with the love of history!
Here’s how it actually went:
After I introduced the model to my students, I used the first chapter as a practice round. Instead of having students watch videos at home, we watched them together, took Cornell notes, and generated questions. They were completely new to the process so I thought it would be beneficial to model, model, model. It was. Students were participating. Phase 1 went by pretty successfully.
Phase 2 began with a unit on Mesopotamia. I gradually released students to watching videos on their own. Since access to technology was limited, I offered them times before and after school to watch in the classroom. They also had a resource time to watch videos (this would be the ideal time). I also gave them ideas of places that offered free Wi-Fi where they could eat and watch as a group. Most students took advantage of this time and did what needed to be done. They watched the videos at school and took notes. From some of my lower students, resistance occurred. But, I kept moving forward, encouraging them to watch, and giving them opportunities to get their work done.
Phase 3: complete independence. And this is where my plan fell like a dying star. As we moved through the units, students became lazier and more resistant to it. And if I’m being completely honest, my stamina with it died, as well. Now, some of my higher-achieving students would still watch and take notes, but most students by this point were not excited with it anymore.
As I’m writing this, a few points of what went wrong/what I should have done differently are popping into my head.
1. Be more prepared
I was prepared to introduce the model to them. I even had a full-semester calendar made out with an overview of what the lessons would look like. But, more work than I had time for was necessary to make this successful. With teaching five different preps, I was not able to devote the time needed to create consistently in-depth activities that I thought were required of the in-class work time.
2. Don’t let students get worn down
A lot of the students became worn down by the independent video watching and making sure they had their notes in on time. I tried to assign at least one video a week, which I thought would be standard, but sometimes it would be around two a week. I tried to make sure the videos I assigned were no more than 20 minutes long. Depending on the material we were covering in class and the rate in which we were covering the material, some weeks required more than one video.
3. Have a mentor for support
I was the only teacher instituting this method into his or her classroom at my school at the time. Therefore, I didn’t have anyone to immediately talk to about issues that would arise while I was practicing the “flipped” model. I think if I would have reached out to other teachers who had mastered this way of teaching, I would have been able to more easily handle the problems that sprang up in my classroom.
4. Keep it consistent
Like I mentioned before, there would be weeks when I would assign more than one video. With everything students have going on after school nowadays, having that much consistent homework can get daunting. In the future, I would try to keep my weeks more consistent, shooting for around one “video watch day” a week, if possible. Plus, I do not see anything wrong with incorporating a little of the traditional lessons (such as PowerPoint presentations) into the flipped model because students learn in so many different ways. Why not use all the resources you have at your disposal?
5. Don’t let yourself get bogged down
I really allowed myself to get bogged down with all the work needed to put into the first year of the flipped classroom, including dealing with some initial resistance from students. I would not classify the majority of the students that I had this year as “go-getters.” There were a few that were. But, usually, the more resistant students are the loudest. And, they let you know that they are worn out by something. I firmly believed this way would be a good way of learning for this particular group of students, but I let their resistance and my exhaustion contribute to the death of the flipped classroom. Next time, I will strive to keep going for the betterment of my students.
Starting something new is always complicated, and there will always be some pushback. The attitudes of my students, as well as the overwhelming feeling that would sometimes rush over me was not a good combination to keep the stamina going in my flipped classroom during year one of its existence. I believe before the next go-around, I would definitely look more into the supplemental, in-depth activities that I can do, and plan it out over the summer to avoid being bombarded by the demands of my other preps. I would also like to hear success stories of the flipped classroom and what you did to make it work!
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Jessica Hayes has been teaching for five years. She completed a bachelors’ degree in Social Science Education at Auburn University in 2009, and a master’s degree in English Education from Jacksonville State University in 2014. Recently, she has received her Instructional Leadership certificate. In her work as a certified trainer for Active Classroom, she builds curriculum maps and trains educators on using the program. In her spare time, she loves reading and learning new technology/productivity skills.