Friday, October 28, 2011

Reading and Discussing is not a Flipped Classroom

I had read the USA Today article about Stacey Roshan's Flipped Classroom a couple of weeks back. This morning, while going through some other sites, I came across a video of the same story. What jumped out at me was a quote by Ms. Roshan where she said, "In an English class, you send the kids home to read a passage, and then in class, you discuss that passage."

As I wrote this, Jon Bergmann tweeted out a story in the Virginian-Pilot about Megan Edwards's Flipped Class. This article reads, "She compares it to English teachers asking students to read a piece of literature at night, then having them discuss the work in class the next day."

Before I continue, let me say, I don't know Stacey Roshan or Megan Edwards personally and I'm not being critical of them at all. I agree with much of what was presented of them in the story. Having had a story done on my flipped classroom recently, I realize you are at the whim of what the reporter decides to use.
In addition, I am a huge supporter of the Flipped Classroom. Many proponents that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for have also presented this argument to support flipped instruction.

The gest of this argument as I understand it is that teachers in English have done the flipped method for years by assigning a novel or other reading to be completed at home and then discussing it in class. I guess at a basic level, it is similar, but I would argue it is not the same thing.

Here is how I would describe the flipped class at its most basic: a method to free up class time to individualize instruction in the classroom. Those of us who use the flipped class know it is so much more than that, though.

Using that basis, sending the kids home to do their reading is the same as sending math students home with math problems. In other words, we are still asking students to use skills at home which they may not possess yet. I'm referring to reading comprehension skills.

In my school, we have reading and English as two separate classes. In English, I teach writing and grammar. In reading, I teach reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition. Discussion is a common practice in many Language Arts classrooms. I believe discussion is used for three main reasons: 1) to promote higher level thinking, 2) to assess understanding, and 3) to link basic text to societal, historical, or cultural context. These are all great goals, but is there a better way?

I'm not proposing I have all the answers. I just know, if my students don't have solid reading comprehension skills, discussions aren't productive, nor are they the best method for students to learn.

Last year I was meeting with a parent about her daughter. My 7th graders were reading A Chrismas Carol at the time. The parent told me she liked how I posted the pages to be read online, because she would look them up, read the assignment during the day, then sit with her daughter at night and help her understand the passage. The parent wasn't complaining, but rather praising me for listing their assignments online. But, I couldn't help but feel like that parent was doing my job for me. Wasn't it my responsibility to make sure that child had the ability to read and understand the material? And, if the child didn't understand, was it not then my job to identify what skills she lacked and help her get them? How could I do that if the student was primarily reading at home?

Based on that situation and other similar ones, I am attempting to flip my reading classroom. I have successfully flipped my English classroom and am enjoying great success with it. I'm still bouncing around ideas for successfully flipping my reading class. To this point, I've added video content of terms or ideas that would come up in a reading antagonist or plot structure. I've also given days were students read entirely in class and I circulate to have individual discussions to assess understanding. But, the individual discussions don't allow me the time to have deeper meaningful discussions that can be attained in a collaborative group setting. I've also considered and dabbled with a Socratic questioning method to ignite better understanding.

When I was interviewed for the NPR article, the reporter asked me if there was a "light bulb moment" where I knew I was going to flip. I couldn't think of a particular moment. It happened gradually as I researched it more. I attended The Flipped Class Conference and had multiple "light bulb moments" if you will. However, something of this magnitude, I explained to the reporter, isn't something that just happens. It takes time to grow and develop. I believe I'm trying too hard to force flipped instruction into my reading class. I need to take my own advice, it seems, and let it grow more organically based on the students' needs.

I've preached to many that no two flipped classes are alike. Well, it appears even for the same teacher (me), no two of my flipped classes are alike!

So, back to the main topic of this post that got me thinking: I'll say it again, simply reading at home and discussing in class is not the same as the flipped classroom. I cringe when I hear that comparison, because saying that, I believe, takes away some effectiveness in one's argument. Please, keep that in mind during future flipped classroom discussions.


  1. Thanks for the insight as a Language Arts teacher. I have used that comparison before, and I will be hesitant to use it again.

    Keep the conversation going!

  2. I concurr with Aaron. I will hesitate to use this analogy again.

  3. Enjoyed the post! I'm clearly not an English teacher :) The context of what I said - which I cannot change - is that this (English classrooms - go home and read and discuss in class) was my thought process... In the English classrooms I walked by when I first started teaching, I always saw these lively, engaging discussions and that left me feeling jealous and in search of a way to change my class. Also, I must say that I had some wonderful English teachers growing up who sent me home with material to guide in my reading so that I was properly prepared for class discussion. Reading for English class was a different experience than other reading assignments because of the way my teachers asked me to engage in my reading. Anyway, on to the flip... I don't think that flipping an English class would (or should) look the same as flipping a math class (and even there, each class is unique and should be treated as such). I think flipping is all about changing up the dynamic of class so that it can be more effective and engaging for the learner. Technology enables collaborative English discussions to happen outside of the classroom in a way that wasn't possible before, for instance. So flipping an English classroom might involve taking the discussion beyond the walls of the school. And I would never say that we should send kids home to read the math textbook, because the comprehension would not be there. Sending them home with a video of the problems being worked is an entirely different story. So it seems that you are using the videos in a similar way - to promote comprehension at home.

    One note, though - I'm without a doubt a math person. But I really disliked math class growing up. I loved working math problems, but I really never enjoyed class (and not because I was bored). I have fantastic memories of English class, on the other hand. And I hate writing English essays. So perhaps English teachers have been doing something right all along in my eyes :)

    Sorry for the rambling. Lots of thoughts... Enjoyed your post and look forward to following your year!

    -Stacey Roshan

  4. Stacey,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your explanation/clarification. I have a similar debate with the Math teacher across the hall from me. Because English content is what I call cyclical, meaning it continually comes back, I can hit several standards with one project. I've joked with ELA colleagues that you can make just about anything meet some ELA standard. I encourage my Math co-worker to assign bigger projects. He claims he can't give up two weeks of class time to meet one standard.
    So, from that perspective, I can see where an English class can be seen that way. I can assign a long-term project or have several days of discussion, because I am meeting multiple standards. But, I have the make sure the students have the skills needed for content acquisition independently, before I ask them to do it independently.