Self pacing the reluctant student

In previous years, if I had tried this lesson it might have failed. But I am excited to prove to students what I believe, so I took a risk.

In a normal week, I want my students to

  1. Work at their own pace to learn content.
  2. Get help from me when they are struggling.

And by risking the flip, I was able to do just that. You should have seen my room–students using my chromebooks, schoology and their writer’s notebooks to take notes, all on their own. Students posting a question to my google form, to further the discussion. Students in other groups, reading sample “I am from” poems, including the original one by George Ella Lyons, to write their own poems. While I circled around the room, helping the uninspired to figure out exactly what was going on in those poems.  I met individually with all my poets, having several show me their work at their request.  In previous years, I never would have been able to talk to each poet individually.

See, I decided that even the classes where I worry they will not complete their homework deserve the right to have the classroom be student centered.  To flip these classes, I have grouped the students, so the groups can take turns learning at their own pace and completing a hands on learning experience with teacher guidance. After two days, when all students have completed both activities, then we will regroup and discuss as a class before moving on to the next thing. This way, if someone was absent, I should be able to get them caught up by moving them into the appropriate group.

Even though their posted questions showed me they don’t get the idea of the online content, which was a video about Socratic Seminar discussions, they did work on completing their WSQs, (and thanks so much to Crystal Kirch, who introduced me to this concept) because I think it will really help my students to understand what to do.  Shout out to the weekly twitter chat, #flipclass on Mondays EST 8:00 p.m., who have been so helpful to me in starting the flip.

As for my advanced students, I’ll blog about them later, but it appears that they are ready to take flipping at home, to save the hands on for class. Now they just need to learn how to problem solve when their tech doesn’t work… always a great life skill.

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The Rubber Hits the Road

Tomorrow I start out my new, student-centered classroom with actual students inside. Once I get over the department or administrator mandated tests, that is.

And the answer to the big question is: I have decided to try flipping all my classes this fall. Anything that allows me to spend more face-to-face time with students, that allows me to work with smaller groups and delve deeper into student-student relationships, is worth pursuing. If I look back at my beliefs, I can’t try anything else.

Because different student populations approach school differently, I won’t be tied down to only one method of flipping. For my advanced class, who gladly do homework, we’ll have some teacher created video content to watch at home. For my regular classes, who are sometimes reluctant to buy into homework, I’ll try splitting the class in 1/2, with student centered writing/reading with one group while the other 1/2 interacts with teacher videos.

Since the Social Media class is offered for dual-enrollment credit, and the professor does not want me to post lectures to YouTube, I’ll save the Social Media videos for another time. Instead, we’ll try to do student centered exploration of social media to advertise our school.

Some years, I have had strong bonds with students, where they knew I cared and was interested in them. These students still stop by to chat, and when they see me in the grocery store or on the playground with my kiddos, they shout hello. Other years, I struggle to make that connection. Those are the years where there are discipline problems. I hope the flip will make this year a strong relationship builder.

Bring on the flip.

Does your principal know how to tweet?

My principal is a wonderful person. He knows the names of the students, pays attention to what is going on with his staff, and is passionate about student learning. My principal is also uncomfortable with technology.

How do I know this? Well, several years ago, I interviewed for a job at his high school. The school was three hours away from where we were living, so I had done my homework on the district ahead of time; I had looked up the high school online. Unfortunately, the site did not have much information about the students, staff, or community.

I have always been a straightforward person. So when I told the principal that I had tried to do background research on the school online, and he asked me what I thought about the site, I told him it didn’t communicate much information. He knew that already.

My principal doesn’t tweet. He doesn’t blog. He doesn’t use schoology for staff meetings. But does this make him an ineffective leader in technology innovation? No, it doesn’t. Because like any good leader, he knows how to delegate to the strengths of his employees.  During the interview he asked me if I’d take over the website. He didn’t micromanage the project, either.

It’s not just delegating–when I found out our middle school was allowing students to bring their own devices, last fall I wrote a proposal that explained how I would BYOD in my classroom. Even though the stated school policy prohibited the use of smart phones, like any good leader, he saw the potential in my ideas and let me experiment.

Even though he doesn’t tweet and the school currently has no official site on Facebook, when my proposed “Social Media and Digital Interactivity: Journalism in the Digital Age” course crossed his desk, he knew that using social media appropriately is a crucial 21st century skill, and he said yes.

I think the hallmark of any great leader is one who is supportive of enthusiasm and best practices. He might not know hashtags, but he does know how to support great teaching.

Student Centered in an OTES World

The door opens into a classroom with students, sitting in circles, leaning towards each other. The volume swells as the discussion gets heated. Hands wave, fingers tap on keyboards and on paperback novels to prove points. But where is the teacher?

The principal frowns. He’s coming to evaluate her teaching, knowing that only 50% of her evaluation, and the RIFF that might follow a bad one, is based on her teaching. The other 50% is based on student growth measures, which right now means a single test score. Then he smiles. There she is, crouched down next to a group of students, observing the magic of student collaboration.

Last night, I took part in a #flipclass discussion on Twitter. Just as a shout out to all my twitter peeps, this discussion takes place every Monday night, EST, from 8-9. I’ve only participated in two chats so far, but I always walk away with some deep insights into how flipping looks from around the country.

And then they asked the question: Q6 How do you help Ss take responsibility for their learning? What can counteract the “playing school” and #PointProstitution?

If you read my previous post, I really want my teaching this year to be all about teaching them how to learn how to learn and to learn from each other. But this question strikes deep into the heart of what I obsess about in the middle of the night–what if they don’t show student growth on the test? The test that I helped to write, the one that focuses on questions coming from a set curriculum. The one that could make or break my continuing teaching career.  The one that cares very little about student responsibility for learning and very much about teaching “what is expected.”

The other answer posts start to flow–asynchronous learning, mastery learning, student choice, and I think, do you be true to your beliefs, or do you “teach to the test” to save your job?

The answer is that I am committed to doing what is best for students–to scaffold them when they struggle, to present them with new ways of looking at the world, to support them in their journey as life long learners, to challenge them to always prove their points with evidence.  This means that I cannot teach to the test. I can only do what is best for them, every day, and let the test score fall where it may.

I pray it is enough.

Taking the Plunge

Right now, as school approaches, I have one big decision to make. Do I attempt a flip of all my classes, or just one? Let me give you a little background of the types of English I have ahead of me:

Social Media and Digital Interactivity–This class is totally new to me. Right now, only four students are enrolled, due to the period this class is offered. I saw it as an opportunity to show them how to use SM tools to connect with our community. It seems a natural fit for flipping, but with so few students, I don’t know if it will be worth the time.

Regular English 2--This will be the 5th year I’ve taught this prep. For the first time, I am the only one in the building teaching it.  I want to try flipping, but these students are reluctant to do homework. Since flipping makes homework truly mission critical, I am worried it won’t work. But I have 4 sections of this flavor of English, so it might be more time efficient.

Advanced English 2–This is the 2nd year I’ve taught this prep. I’m thinking that it might be the easiest to flip, as I only have 1 section of it and these students do homework.

When I look back at my beliefs, being true to my values means I ought to try flipping them all. What to do, what to do…

What I believe

Simon Sinek says that true leaders act from a core belief system, that they present to the world why they choose to act a certain way before going into the how and what of what they do. 

That being said, here is a list of what I, as a high school teacher, believe to be true:

  •  I am not the sole fount of wisdom.
  • It is more important to learn how to learn than it is to memorize facts.
  • Students learn most from teaching each other.
  • 50 mins is not enough time to collaborate.
  • Class time is wasted listening to me lecture.
  • Everyone has both strengths and weaknesses.
  • Students should be accountable for their own learning, that is, that students should use metacognition (thinking about how you think) to identify their areas of strengths and weaknesses.
  • We should celebrate our strengths and work on our weaknesses.

In light of these beliefs, I need to decide:

Do I flip only my advanced class, or all of them?