Disclaimer: I am in no way trying to discredit the practice of Flipping the Classroom. For the Year 12 Maths classes I team teach, we use many features and principles of the Flipped Classroom.
I guess the idea that I am aiming to shed light on is that there are also massive benefits to not flipping the classroom. I wanted to write a post that reflected how I have been using lesson time with my Year 10 and 11 Maths students as I feel that it fits the notion of the “Un-Flipped Classroom”. Is this different from the traditional classroom? Maybe, maybe not… I would love to hear your thoughts below!
This post comes from some reading I did about Flipped Classroom approach. Upon looking at what flipping lessons involved, I found myself looking closer at my own practice and understanding how it is different to the flipped approach. The conclusion I came to was that it is the complete opposite.
A Flipped Classroom approach enables students to learn concepts and develop their understanding through short tutorial videos that they watch before coming to lesson. This allows them to be equipped with the skills they need to tackle problems at a deeper level, extend their learning, and (hopefully) promote higher order thinking.
What I have found myself doing is flipping this idea. Students develop their understanding and fluency through tasks made available to them to complete as “homework”. In a nutshell, I spend quite a bit of time with the students exploring scenarios, finding problems to solve or think about, developing skills to solve identified problems and labelling these skills as the specific concept I was introducing them to.
Discussions about Learning
The main reason I decided to flip the flipped approach was because the discussions that I was having with students, and the students with each other, were helping develop their understanding of finding, thinking about, and solving problems. Additionally, I found that through guiding the students to inquire, explore, and discover their own learning, and connecting with what they previously knew to learn new tools to solve a problem, some amazing discussions were sparked that benefited not only those who were frequently engaging in conversation, but all learners in the room. It was the discussions that my students were having about what they noticed about a problem or scenario, hearing about the possible methods to reach a solution that they explored that was the gold for me. The students would discover their own learning and create meaning for themselves, enhancing the purpose of the content as a tool to solve similar problems and explore unfamiliar scenarios.
The Teacher’s role in Guided Discovery
As students don’t have just one way of learning or understanding a concept or theory, I don’t have one best way of teaching it. A lot of teachers ask me about the best way of teaching certain skills or procedures in maths. How I find myself answering most of these types of questions is, “Make the students value what you’re teaching them. Make them feel like they need to learn and understand it. Make the learning desirable“. We can’t learn the content for them, nor can we tell them that it’s important and expect them to agree with us, instantly valuing it. What we can do, and I would argue is one of our key roles as a teacher, is to create the conditions for them to learn.
What I mean by this is that teachers have an extremely important role in determining how best the “content” is presented to the learner. We, as teachers, can make the students value the information presented to them in class. We can make the learning desirable. When you ask teachers about what “good teaching” looks like, you will probably hear words like real-world, relevant, meaningful, transferable, engaging, open, challenging, or interdisciplinary thrown into a sentence with some other great words. What you won’t hear teachers (typically) talking about is how they create conditions for the students to learn.Why? This is because teachers are very good at “talking down” what they do in the classroom. For many teachers, this is “a given” (something they feel that they just do). I personally think that many teachers are very good at supporting students to learn and provide the conditions and opportunities for them to learn.
What the Classroom Teacher sees happening in their classroom might be learners discovering their own understanding of the content, the learners making connections with what they knew to what they need to know, and the learners collaborating and applying their understanding to unfamiliar scenarios or problems. They see the learners doing the learning.
What an observing teacher might see happening in the same classroom is completely different. An observing teacher would be able to see the conditions the teacher has been able to set, so that each learner has the best opportunity to explore, inquire, and discover their learning in an optimal learning environment.
These kind of things don’t just happen without the crafty work of the teacher. I say “crafty” because I think it is something that is carefully developed, and more teachers should be acknowledged for the fine craft they have developed!
Creating Conditions for Learning
A quote from Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam) captures what I’m trying to say much better than I can;
Teachers do not create learning, learners create the learning, teachers create the conditions in which students learn.
(Assessment for Learning: Why, What and How, 2009)
This is a phrase that I felt really encapsulated what I was aiming to do as the teacher in the room. I felt like the students were doing the learning, which was awesome, but I still felt like I was doing a lot to provide opportunities to learn for the students. What I was actually doing here was setting the conditions.
Through exploring what my own ideas about education meant in the “grand scheme of things”, I came across this really great diagram:
(Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, 2009)
Although I realise that this was developed to describe the roles of the teacher and learner for Problem Based Learning, I think it captures my approach for most lessons. One of the critical points taken from this diagram is that the teacher progressively takes on a coaching role to assist the learner to assist the students to move towards a solution.
I’d just like to finish by saying that my notion of “un-flipping the classroom” solely represents how class time is used to learn concepts and “homework” tasks used to develop the skills discovered in lesson.