Thursday, April 5, 2012

Critics of the Flipped Classroom

I truly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  With that... here is mine :)

In the teaching profession, we are often so locked into our own worlds and doing things our own way that we can easily go days, weeks, or even years without knowing what is going on next door or down the hall.  

One of the reasons I love teaching so much (among many) is that I am pretty much in control of my classroom, how it's run, and what is important inside my four walls.  However, this leads to one of the biggest pitfalls that it is so easy to fall into - not collaborating and sharing ideas with those around you.  Staying locked in your own world, with your own ideas and own opinions - and never sharing them for whatever reason.

The community that I have found via this blog, Edmodo teacher communities, the Flipped Class Network, and Twitter have been instrumental in starting my flipped classroom and absolutely essential in my professional growth and learning with regards to not only the flipped classroom, but teaching in general.  In my opinion, connecting with other educators is an essential part of being a teacher.  We can't teach in isolation.

With that said, I have encountered so many "flipping" teachers across the globe in the last 3 months.  Their ideas and encouragement have been indispensable.  However, I have also encountered several articles, comments, etc of people who are very strongly opposed to the flipped classroom.  

Like I started this post by saying, I truly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion of what they think is good or bad, what works and what doesn't.  What I am bugged by, however (and the reason behind this post), is that (in my approximately 10 months of research all over the internet)  I have not yet encountered a critic of the flipped classroom who has actually tried the flipped classroom themselves.  They will write amazingly long posts of how bad the flipped classroom ideology is and how horrible it is for our students, but they haven't tried it themselves.  That really bugs me.  [Or, if they are out there, they haven't been willing or open to share about their failures and why their attempt at the flipped classroom didn't work.]  While critics seem to make some valid points, the counterarguments to those points are so clear to me and their points now seemed to be based off of ignorance and lack of personal experience with the flipped classroom model.  

My big question for the critics: How can you know if something doesn't work until you've tried it yourself?

I don't believe that the "flipped classroom" is a "magic bullet" or the one solution to solving today's educational problems.  I don't even believe the "flipped classroom" would necessarily work well with every teacher's style and preference.  I don't even believe the term "flipped classroom" really encompasses the changes I have made in my classroom this year; if anything, I feel like the phrase is a turn-off to some people who automatically stereotype every flipped classroom to be a certain way.

I posted earlier this year about "9 reasons I'm a flipping convert".  The reasons why I flip my classroom continue to grow longer with each passing week.  Here are a few I have mentioned before, but come to mind right now.
  • Students are taking responsibility for their own learning. It's a skill that must be taught, and they are getting better at it.  This will help them this year, next year, and as they go off to college and get jobs.
  • Students are required to do more than rote, mindless math practice problems.  They have to be able to talk about it, explain it, ask questions about it, teach it to others, and make connections with other material.  The conversations I have been able to have with my students this year are so much deeper, so much more detailed, and so much better overall than anything I have been able to facilitate in my five years of teaching.
  • Students all have equal access to a challenging math curriculum that they can go through at their own pace and that they can always go back to (because of the video lessons).  Absences due to illness, sports, or family issues are no longer a problem in my class.  Do I still have plenty of absences? Yes. But they are no longer stressful for me or the student because the student can come back to school fully up to date on the lessons and just needing the extra support to tackle tough problems, not the need for me to re-teach everything they missed.
  • Students are able to receive differentiated instruction based on their needs and their level of understanding. Students who learn at a slower pace or who have to hear something five times before it clicks have the opportunity to do so.  Students who learn at a faster pace are able to move through the curriculum faster and tackle more challenging problems that may be skipped for the general population.
  • Students learn to work with others and to challenge each other's thinking on a daily basis.  There is no longer the student who sits in the corner of the room feeling helpless, embarrassed, or intimidated. Flipping my classroom has created a learning community where all are involved and all have the opportunity to succeed.
  • Students are the ones doing the math in my classroom.  They are not sitting there watching me do amazing math and then going home to try it themselves with no support.
  • Parents love the ability to see their students actually doing math "homework" by watching the video and the relief it gives them from trying to have to keep up with and help their student with math that they don't remember how to do.
  • Students are scoring higher than last year by 2-8% on each test, the percentage of students receiving A's and B's on my exams is increasing greatly, and the percentage of students receiving D's and F's on my exams is decreasing.  (See Flip Data for more details)
Critics of the Flipped Classroom who have never tried it tend to think (based on my reading over the last year):

1. It's all about the videos
Videos are a tool that are used to help create the flipped classroom. I could use the textbook - although I don't think it would work nearly as well because I am able to reach visual and auditory learners through my videos (and I hope kinesthetic sometimes, too). I incorporate the same jokes, examples, voice inflection, songs/chants, and "fun" into my video lessons.  I can still follow-up the next day with more detail, more examples, more connections, more of anything that I want.  However, with the videos, my bases are covered and I can use class time for more discussion, collaboration, and actual student-focused learning

2. It creates an issue with equity/access to technology
I work in a district with about 70-75% of the students on Free and Reduced lunch.  We are in a low-income area.  There is absolutely no issue with access to technology at my school.  If students don't have access at home, they can use it at school either before/after school or during class if needed.  If I have to read another person say that we should abandon the flipped classroom because it is unfair for some students, I don't know what I will say.  We are in the 21 century and students must not only be able to use technology, they must learn how to use it responsibly and the value of technology as an educational tool and not just a social tool.  If they don't have the resources at home, we can provide that for them to the best of our ability.  That's not an excuse.

3. Lecture is always a poor method to teaching information
I still am a believer in the value of direct instruction under certain circumstances, especially in math.  Is there time for guided exploration? Yes, for certain lessons.  However (here is a great article), studies show that for most learners, the first time something is taught it needs to be taught directly and without all this exploration/inquiry stuff.  It just confuses them and does not help their growth in learning.

4. There is never whole-class teaching
There is whole-class teaching when there is a need for it in my flipped classroom.  It's focused on my students' needs, not mine. More often than not, I am doing small-group teaching (5-10 students), although there are times when I do 20 student teaching or 40 student teaching.  I'd much rather teach those that need it and let those who don't continue to explore and move on.

5.  It requires students to do work at home when they should be spending time with family.
What's wrong with students having homework?  I know my perspective on this issue is skewed right now because I don't have kids yet, but I don't see a problem with students having to do homework and manage responsibilities when they are in high school. [Do some teachers overdo the homework and give an hour or two a night for just their class? Yes. But that is not what I am referring to here].  When I see my students spending over an hour a day on facebook, another hour texting, another hour watching tv, and another hour sitting outside on the school steps doing nothing but waiting for their ride, that doesn't make me feel bad about asking my students to spend 20-30 minutes a night preparing for math class.  Do students have responsibilities at home (cooking, cleaning, babysitting)? Yes, most of them do to an extent.  Does this mean they should be excused from taking responsibility for their education and learning how to manage their time, making sure to do their homework, their chores, and still spend time with family and friends? No. 

Are there concerns that need to be addressed about the flipped classroom? yes.
Can the flipped classroom be done "badly"? yes.

Are there concerns that need to be addressed about ANY teaching strategy? yes.
Can ANY teaching strategy be done "badly"? yes.

Could I easily ignore all of these critics and not read anything negative about the flipped classroom and just stay in my little bubble?  Sure.  But I think there are good things that come from seeing both sides of the fence and from really thinking about why you are doing something.  If anything, reading the criticisms of the flipped classroom help me to refocus my own strategies and make sure my classroom (1) is NOT focused on only the videos; (2) provides full access to all students; (3) incorporates aspects of inquiry and exploration where warranted; (4) is fully student-centered and focuses on student needs; (5) provides my students with meaningful and do-able homework that will help them feel successful but yet still holds them accountable and responsible.

Flip or not? I believe that whether it is flipping, tutoring or any other viable educational tool, all strategies have a place. The only “magic bullet” that I know of are teachers who are willing to teach beyond understanding to accomplish more than comprehension and create life-long learners. Those teachers who are willing to try everything to reach, teach and learn from their students will become the leaders in using the flip strategy. Their students will be the real winners.

I flip my classroom not because of what it does for me, but for what it does for my students.  My students are the "real winners" now and it works for me, my teaching style, and my classroom.

All I ask is that if you don't believe in the Flipped Classroom as a viable instructional tool/strategy, please try it yourself before posting endless essays and comments online about how much you think it sucks.  Please stop generalizing the Flipped Classroom down to one single method, one single type, one single purpose.  It is so much more than that.

On a side note: Can we come up with a new name other than "Flipped Classroom"? I really am sick of the misconceptions/connotations the phrase brings with it.

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