Would a back flip break my career?

Image attributed to https://www.flickr.com/photos/wills94/

Before I get into exactly what I need to decide, this story deserves a little backstory. Feel free to skip, if you already know about flipping your classes.

Last year, I started building my PLN on Twitter by chatting with #flipclass. The idea of putting my students in the center of my classroom appealed to me. I loved the idea of creating interactive notes for my students and using our time in class to discuss and apply those concepts. I read Flipping 2.0 compiled by Jason Bretzmann, in which teachers who have successfully flipped their classes explain how they did it. And I tried it out, using Touchcast. I thought I was on my way to deeper interactions with my students.

And then my principal stepped in.

He had wandered through my room a few times. Every time he came in, everything was well in hand. Some students were on Chromebooks, some reading paperbacks, some discussing, some writing. Then he called me into his office. It stressed him out, he informed me, if he couldn’t figure out what on task behavior was because everyone was doing something different. He had gotten some complaints from students, he told me. When I asked who was complaining, he gave me a laundry list of students, all of which were major discipline problems in all of their classes throughout the day. These students claimed that they didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing in class, either. I discovered that he and the assistant principal had been calling these problem students in to the office and planting this idea into their heads, “You’re having trouble understanding what to do in Mrs. Crawford’s class, aren’t you?” And then he informed me, a fifteen year teaching veteran, that I only dabbled in things, never mastering a teaching technique.

Well, I survived that year. As per his request, I put the desks back into rows. I returned to everyone doing the same thing at the same time. It was boring, and I didn’t see any improvement in classroom behavior, either.

And then this year rolled around. I have all my students together in a group, working on the same stuff, in most of my classes. But I am teaching all the electives in the English department for the first time, and I have experimented with them. In fact, my creative writing students are blogging in WordPress in the NaBloPoMo challenge, and that is going pretty well. My regular English is a completely different place. They are great this year, for whatever reason.

Is it time to make a change?

Consider these changes, combining together: I have just been trained in using Blackboard as an LMS. Touchcast is offering to make me an ambassador and teach me how to make more professional and better instructional videos. I have two new electives next semester, Media Literacy and Mystery/SciFi/Fantasy, both of which might be really great to flip. How fun would it be, to analyze media together, or discuss great books together, while students took notes about those subjects outside of class?

And now, in a great coincidence, there’s a new book on flipping your classroom out. It’s called Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement.  In fact, they’re giving away a copy.

Well, should I do it? Should I keep all my students in rows? Or should I flip my electives?

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A meeting of the minds

Just before Thanksgiving, we had a meeting of the minds. All the sophomore teachers and the administration got together, to discuss “what to do with the sophomores.” By luck or by happenstance, a double handful of students in the sophomore class have been dominating the majority of our time. They throw things in class (remember playdough boy?), argue when caught misbehaving, and disrupt the learning of the people around them. As the Ohio Graduation Test looms larger in our minds, something had to change.

Well, I have spent a considerable amount of time, trying to “flip” my classroom this year. At first, my principal was supportive, allowing me to experiment, but as the year has progressed, we have both grown increasingly frustrated. For the last several weeks in my general English class, I have asked them to create meaning from our classroom novel. They have applied various reading strategies, such as making textual connections, inferring from context clues, and determining what is most important about the text, with support from me. Some days, we have practiced close reading techniques in a discussion forum, and we’ve used graphic organizers to examine indirect characterization. I haven’t been telling them what is important, but drawing from them key elements and supporting them as they explore the novel. Some students have blossomed and really enjoyed the novel, while others have been a disruption and a problem.

My principal has clearly expressed that he wants more teacher directed lessons from everyone, because he feels that teacher centered classrooms are more orderly with less discipline problems. Apparently, critical thinking and problem solving, with its messy, active space, are less attractive to him than orderly rows and quiet students. He told me that he feels the sophomores are not mature enough to handle the freedom of choice. When recording “on task” vs “off task” behavior, he observes more on task behavior when the teacher tells the students what to do.

This isn’t all bad news. The administration informed us that we should warn a student who breaks a rule, letting them know that the next infraction would result in a consequence. If a student protests either the warning or the consequence, we could tell them to report to the office and assign them a consequence. Whatever we assigned them, the office would double if they had to be removed from class. I for one breathed a sigh of relief. If every sophomore class is treated the same way, then maybe my double handful will finally start to grow up.

This Tuesday, he met with the entire sophomore class, and the outcome has been startling. I will blog tomorrow about what has happened.

Schoology Saves the Day

I dreaded this moment for more than a week. An angry parent wanted to meet about her teenage son’s grade on a project. On the one hand, I felt confident that I had sufficiently laid out expectations and parts of the assignment on our course in Schoology. On the other hand, this was an angry parent, and they don’t always listen to reason. I had insisted that the son be present for our meeting, so that we all could sit down and be on the same page.

If you haven’t read earlier posts of mine, I teach College Prep and General English to Sophomores. I have been experimenting this year on flipping my classroom, which is where you put any direct instruction online for students to complete at home and use class time to work one-on-one to apply any direct instruction. Flipping has allowed me to add a whole new dimension to my teaching. For example, earlier in the year I assigned my CP students a variety of tasks and let them decide which they wanted to work on. I had them create goal sheets to decide what task, if any, they wanted to work on during the class. Then they self analyzed to determine if they were successful in their goals.

For the next few weeks and up into exams, we are reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Rather than allow for lots of student choice in activity, I am asking them to read and annotate the book, write some higher order thinking questions about the chapters they’ve read, and discuss with others in the class. But this was not what the parent was angry about.

As a precursor to reading the book, we learned a little bit about trial procedures and had a fairytale trial. I had posted on our schoology course some deadlines and expectations for the project. We had our trial. Everything seemed ducky. But one student did not fully complete the individual portion of the assignment and turned in one part of the group assignment late. This was the assignment she wanted to discuss.

I started the conference with asking the son to get out the papers he had gotten back from his project. As he was going to his locker to get his folder, I showed the parents our schoology site. I explained how they could find the assignments that were currently due, as well as the assignments that were due in the past. The parents could plainly see that we had myriad assignments throughout this month, all with clear deadlines.

I explained that it is my policy to allow students time in class to work on projects like this and that I always circulate around the room, asking students if they need help and working one on one with them. He has rarely asked me for help, so I rarely help him. The clearly delineated project expectations and deadlines, along with the student’s assertion that yes, I really did go around and help others, ended the parent’s argument that her son didn’t understand what he was supposed to do. Although he might not have understood, neither did he ask for help. They left happy that I was preparing their son for the online forums of colleges and universities, in some small part.

Now the ball is in his court. He knows he can ask questions and get help. Will he? Only time will tell.

Haze of exhaustion

Exhaustion sweeps over me. Normally, I’d be tweeting at #flipclass, but I can barely keep my eyes open. Plus, there’s this new book by Robin McKinley, Shadows, that is sitting next to me on the couch.Typically, I resort to poetry as a blog post when I’m too tired to write longer pieces, since the November writing challenge doesn’t seem to have word count attached to it, but not tonight. Before I say goodnight, a recap of some of my educational day.

I thought I’d finally gotten caught up. I worked like crazy this weekend, finally grading my stack of creative writing prompt responses from my students. I’m hoping to use our schoology site to differentiate for my students in their revisions. I figured out one strength and one weakness, as well as resources to help students overcome their weaknesses. While 1/2 the class is working on a video, the other 1/2 will be working on revising their papers. But then I realize that I only have journals for a handful of kids in my 7th period class, and I ask them about it. It takes several hours of being at home to remember that they might be in a plastic bag at school. Sigh.

In addition, I duked it out with my new assistant principal about the advisability of sending a disruptive, swearing student back to my room after I’d kicked him out. After talking it over with the Intervention Specialist, I made plan #3 for how to accommodate several of my IEP kids who are lost. I posted to our school’s Facebook page about the latest student triumphs.  I met with my mentee about the forms she needs to fill out.

So I’m missing flipclass tonight. And I truly miss my PLN. They pick me up when I am too tired to face Tuesday.

Masquerading Online, No Fez Required

My husband asked me today if my name was posted anywhere on this blog. I looked, and although my username kind of gives it away, it’s not. We started talking about the difference between an online professional learning network and one that could be created by joining the institutions of our grandparents. I like interacting online because I can connect with my PLN on my time, be it 11 PM or 5 AM. The anonymity afforded to me via asynchronous connections is also great, as I have trouble interacting with adults in real time. Throw me in a room with 30 teenagers and I’m fine, throw me in a room of judgemental adults, and I feel like I’m always saying the wrong thing. I can’t imagine joining the local Lions club or the Knights of Columbus. I tend to be brutally honest and straight forward, and social niceties often slip through my fingers.

But online networking has its pitfalls, too.  Although I try to be as honest as I can online, nothing is stopping me from portraying me as an amazing teacher who never has any problems in her classroom. No one is going to check up on me to see if I am really flipping my classroom. No one would know if I just spent day in and day out, passing out worksheets and lecturing in class via powerpoint. In fact, since I don’t post my actual name or the school I teach at (or heck, even the state in which I teach), I might not be a teacher at all. I might be a 18 year old boy, just pretending to be a teacher. And so might you.

Student Centered Video Projects

To teach my students about indirect characterization, I created this video. In it, I discuss characters from The 5th Wave. This next part we’ll read, Wonderland, introduces a new point of view right, and I plan to ask my students to create their own videos. They can use our class novel, or another novel that they feel passionate about. I think this’ll be really powerful for them. It could be awesome!

Submerging Into The 5th Wave, Riptides Optional

Today marks our third day of reading Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave. We have been exclusively chatting on Schoology, since my classes are used to that platform, and I now have a rubric that I can use to grade their interactions. I only had to revoke internet privileges for two students, and only have three students out of 11 on IEPs that need scaffolded comprehension question to replace our chat.

At first, our chats were very superficial, as we waded into the surf.  See below:

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After the first two periods, I realized that they could not see each others’ comments before they posted, so they repeated the same comments or variations of the same comments. Also, you might notice that some of the comments were immature.

The second day, I explained what I was looking for again, and made sure that they could see each other’s posts before entering their own.  That day, we were up to our necks. I started to identify who was being pulled out to sea by the riptide, and who was ready to take off the life preservers.

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Note that they are beginning to answer their own questions and to think a little more for themselves.

Today represents the third day of our read.

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Note that is a different class. I have left first names visible, because I want to demonstrate how the interactions between the students share vital oxygen. They are beginning to make connections to their own lives, to the world, and to dive in below the surface of the novel.

I’m excited to see their progress. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring.