Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why has the Flipped Classroom evaded English Classrooms?

Why has the Flipped Classroom evaded English Classrooms? or Why has English instruction avoided the Flipped Classroom model?

I attended the NCTE convention in Chicago the last few days and these two questions, virtually the same, have been bouncing around in my head.

What led me to really begin asking these questions?
Up until 2 years ago, I had been gradually introducing more technology to my classroom. One piece this year, another piece the next. However, I decided one of my strengths as a teacher was my ability to infuse the curriculum with technology. I worked formerly as a Television Writer/Producer and was required to continually learn and be on the cutting edge of technology. I was stupefied to come into the classroom and see such an aversion to technology in a lot of areas. I decided to take the leap to more technology by cannon balling in and stop the piecemeal disorganized way I had done it in the past.

I already used the Writing Workshop model. Then I read "The Digital Writing Workshop" by Troy Hicks and got inspired to forge forward. Last school year, I also attended the NCTE Convention in Orlando. One of the biggest highlights happened on day 1 when I saw Troy Hicks, Bud Hunt, and Sarah Kajder present in a session titled "Creating Opportunities for Learning with Newer Literacies and Technologies: Three Reports from Cyberspace". Hearing these speakers not only gave me great ideas and inspiration to bring into my classroom, they also validated my decisions on the uses of technology.

After that, the convention sessions where informative but not mind-blowing until day 3 (Saturday) morning when I lucked into a session called "Using Google in Ways That Haven't Even Been Invented Yet: Visionary Reports From Cyberspace." In this session, I watched Andrea Zellner, Sara Beauchamp-Hicks, and again Troy Hicks talk about their uses of Google Apps. I sat in that session seeing small snippets of what they could do and said to myself, "I want to do that." Their presentation inspired me to become a Google Certified Teacher, which I accomplished this past summer in Seattle.

One of my biggest take-aways from the convention was there were people doing what I was trying to do. And, these people were getting respect and adulation for that work. There was hope!

As my teaching and technology infusion progressed, I came across the Flipped Classroom. As I researched this, I saw it as a way to effectively implement the Writing Workshop model. I previously blogged on my decision to move to a Flipped Classroom, so I won't rehash all that here. However, up until this point, the most support I've found in building my Flipped Classroom PLN has been from science and math teachers.

A few weeks back, in a twitter #edchat, the topic of the Flipped Class was discussed. As I have done some presenting on the Flipped Class and had been researching it extensively, I followed the chat and contributed when I felt I could. Brian Bennett was going a great job of answering many questions. Then one of my responses drew criticism from Bud Hunt. Yes, the same Bud Hunt that I had admired just 11 months ago (and still do). It seemed to me that Bud didn't agree with the Flipped Classroom model. I felt he was oversimplifying the issue, but in his defense, in 140 characters, everything is oversimplified. I don't think I swayed his leaning much, if any. I told a colleague the next day that it was difficult for me to have someone whose work I admired be against something I had so embraced. I hoped maybe I mis-interpreted Bud's argument because of the concise nature of twitter.

When the online program was released for NCTE11 in Chicago, I immediately began searching for sessions that I would like to attend. I typed "Flipped", "Flip", "Flipping", and any other variation into the search box and came up with zero results. There were still many other good sessions I planned to attend.

On Thursday evening, I participated in a Google Plus Hangout with a handful of Flipped Class gurus (Aaron Sams, Brian Bennett, Dan Spencer, Jerry Overmyer, Ramsey Musallam, and Karl Fisch) discussing a project. I was the lone English teacher in the discussion. All the others are math and science. I was the "red-headed step-child" of the group. Here I sat in a hotel with 6000+ English teachers and I was spending my time talking with math and science teachers. It didn't quite seem right (no offense, guys).

I sat in 8 hours of sessions on Friday and got some good information. Almost every session, I noticed, brought up Google in some way. I saw presentations by fellow Google Certified Teachers, and learned small tidbits of useful knowledge here and there. But, nothing was said about the Flipped Classroom anywhere.

Things changed in my second session on Saturday. I have been considering implementing a NaNoWriMo project with my students. For those that don't know, NaNoWriMo refers to the National Novel Writing Month and helps writers gain the skills to write a novel in one month. I attended a session that included Tracy Becker. She seemed very knowledgeable and well-read as she quoted John Jazwiec, John Steinbeck, and others. Her work was clearly researched based. Then it happened....she mentioned the Flipped Classroom. My ears perked up and my tail started wagging like a dog hearing its name. Tracy was looking for ways to get more in-class work time and had decided to try the Flipped Classroom model later this school year. There was no reaction from the audience. None. Almost as though they hadn't heard her. And, like that, she was on to her next point.

I listened to the rest of her presentation and the two presenters following her. After the session, I introduced myself to Tracy and told her about my experience with the Flipped Class. (Jon and Aaron, since she is from Michigan, I also told her about the Flipped Class Conference coming to Chicago in June!) We only had a few minutes to talk, but listening to her verbalize her decision to move to the Flipped Class, I saw she was where I was about 7 months ago. I was thrilled to meet another English teacher, a respectable, intelligent one at that, come to the same conclusion about the Flipped Classroom that I had. Coincidentally, she got the idea from some math teachers at her school.

This leads me back to my original questions: Why has the Flipped Classroom evaded English Classrooms? or Why has English instruction avoided the Flipped Classroom model?

I'm not saying the flipped class is right for every teacher. But, I'm surprised more English teachers haven't embraced or even tested the Flipped Class in a small way. I was discussing with a parent early in the school year the amount of English teachers that have flipped. I said, "I realize that if I am one of the few people doing something, I am either 1) extremely progressive or 2) terribly misguided."

The Writing Workshop, while a great method that I am still implement, wasn't fully meeting the needs of my class. So, I toil forward, either being extremely progressive or terribly misguided, hoping to find more English teachers willing to try Flipped Instruction. Thank you, Tracy, for giving me hope. Thank you, Bud, for challenging me to really assess what I am doing. I am still committed to the Flipped Classroom because I am seeing great learning happening in my classroom and wonderful work coming from my students.

I've proposed a session for ISTE in June titled "Flipped Instruction in the Language Arts Classroom". I am considering a similar proposal for next year's NCTE. I know it's a gamble (that's a joke for the NCTE folk as they know the conference is being held in Las Vegas). But maybe it will put the Flipped Classroom on more English radars.

So, in answer to my initial questions, I have no idea. Do you? I'd love to discuss this with any English teachers either for or against the Flipped Classroom. Comment here, tweet me @tcockrum, or accost me at an upcoming conference.

Friday, November 18, 2011

21st Century Skill: Adaptability

Currently, I am in Chicago attending the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention. The events of the day made me really think about what we should be teaching our students. I decided to write this post. And, although some people may take offense to parts of the post, as all good blog posts, it is intended to generate thought and discussion.

We hear this term "21st Century" learning/tools/skills/etc thrown around a lot in the educational field. The implication being we need to teach children skills that will help them in our ever-changing world.

In Adam Bellow's Tech Commandments, he asserts that the most important 21st Century skill is Collaboration. He argues the tools we use aren't that important because tools will change, the skills needed will not. I agree with Adam. After the events of today, however, I believe adaptability should be right up there with collaboration.

As Karen LaBonte said in her session, "The first rule of technology is something will go wrong." Those of us that use technology frequently in the classroom understand and accept this.

Reliance on Paper
I use Google Docs extensively with my students. Before I left for NCTE, I told my students their most recent assignment needed to be submitted to my by printing it on paper. My students were stunned. I explained to them that I would be traveling and may potentially not have access to the internet and I wanted to be able to grade their work regardless. I was planning ahead for my own sake, but also modeling that skill for my students.

The first session I attended today was called "Power of Audience: A Collaboration in 21st Century Literacy". I will admit, it wasn't my first choice, but that session was full when I arrived, so I moved to my next choice. To my delight, it was an excellent session by Tom Zuzulock and Perri Sherrill from Bozeman, Montana on using Google Docs for collaboration. Their presentation was well organized, demonstrated at a level I thought was appropriate to the audience, and gave some good "take-aways". They opened the last 10 minutes up for questions and the very first question was, "Do you have a handout available?" The presenters handled the question well and responded, "Send me an email and I will send you a Google Doc." I wanted to scream, "Have you not been listening to this entire presentation?"

Why such a reliance on paper? I was taking notes on my iPad2 and saw many others as well. I saw some taking notes with a notepad, which is fine if that's what works best for you. But, to sit through a "21st Century" presentation and expect a paper handout seemed unreasonable to me.

Until the next session that is. I won't mention the session title nor will I give many details as I don't want to insult the presenters. They seemed to know their content well and were very qualified to be presenting. However, their presentation relied heavily on paper handouts. When many participants didn't get a handout, they had no back up plan. If you didn't have the paper handout, it was difficult to participate. So, I left the session and went to an informative session on using video games with writing.

The next session I attended was titled "Fly Me to the Moon: Making That Giant Leap Into Digital Pedagogy". One of the presenters was Jen Roberts. I knew Jen from our time together at the Google Teacher Academy and knew she was technologically very savvy, so I expected a good presentation. I was not disappointed.

The first presenter was Karen LaBonte and her main message was that we need to embrace technology. We need to embed it (pun intended) into our daily lives. Jen Roberts followed. Her main message, which I whole heartily agreed, was that our goal as educators should be getting to the moon (she made an analogy to Apollo 8), but many of our colleagues aren't even in orbit. Therefore, we need to help them get "into orbit."

Along these same lines, tweeted by Carl Young during the day was the statistic that only a little over 5% of teachers are using technology for writing instruction. And, the main technological tool is an overhead projector. He got that information from a session by Arthur Applebee and can be found here. It seems we have a significant amount of teachers that aren't even looking up, let alone preparing to be in orbit.

I wish our paper reliant colleagues had seen this presentation. I felt it was a gentle push in ways teachers could get into digital pedagogy. I have a Masters in Mass Communication (from a life before I was a teacher) and there are some principles of advertising known as the push strategy and pull strategy. I won't spend time explaining them. I think you'll figure them out using context clues. But, applying them to education, I'm more of a pull strategists. I move forward at a fast pace and expect my colleagues to be "pulled" along with me or to drop out. These presenters did a better job of using a push strategy than I could have. They are "pushing" colleagues through the process. I certainly admire that. I just don't have the patience to do it. And, again, no paper handouts were provided! The presenters instead posted a link to their presentation and also encouraged the use of twitter to communicate with them and others.

My afternoon sessions were great, but don't really apply to this post, so I'm not detailing them here. However, I did find out the Jon Scieszka was a very humorous individual and had great interplay with M.T. Anderson and Chris Van Allsburg. I hope to attend his session on humor tomorrow.

What? No Wifi?
Speaking of Twitter, I was following the hastag #ncte11 all day. The "trending" complaint of the day was the unavailability of wireless. Many of the tweets seemed to imply NCTE was to blame for this. Many pointed out the irony that the title of the convention included the phrase, "writing the future".

Granted, lack of WiFi was a bit frustrating, but it is far from NCTE's fault. As a matter of fact, NCTE books their conferences 5 years in advance. I'm basing this on the fact that they have the next 5 years published in their program. Could NCTE have known 5 years ago that the Chicago Hilton wouldn't provide free and/or reliable WiFi? WiFi could be purchased for like $15 for a day. I didn't check the actual price because I didn't need it. My hotel right next door had free WiFi! But, that is what I think I heard someone say. I'm sure NCTE will make a note when booking their conferences 5 years away to get WiFi included if possible. But, by then, we could all have 14G technology in our mini-tablets or whatever device is the popular choice at the time.

I heard one attendee complain that a session put on by two very good presenters ran awry when they couldn't access the WiFi for their presentation. My thought was, "What was their plan B?" Would we accept this excuse from our students? I don't. Every time my kids give a presentation, I tell them to have a plan B. If the technology fails for some reason, they should still be able to give a reasonable good presentation given the circumstances. I've presented at conferences with spotty WiFi and I downloaded the Google Presentation to my computer in advance just in case.

Interestingly enough, I just wrote an extensive grant to get multiple Chromebooks for my school. One could argue that, had I brought a Chromebook to this conference, it would have been virtually unusable. I love working "in the Cloud." I'm a Google Certified Teacher, so I embrace new technologies before many others do. I love to see technology perform the way it was intended.

However, opposite to our paper reliant colleagues, we also seem to have many WiFi reliant colleagues. This is why I believe adaptability should be looked at as a vital 21st century skill.

What do we teach our kids when we allow lack of access to frustrate us? What do we teach our kids when we panic when technology doesn't perform as expected? What do we teach our kids when someone gives a presentation and doesn't present it in the manner we prefer (no paper handouts)? If we're teaching students to be good learners, we must to teach them to be adaptable.

What do you think? Is adaptability vital? Or, should it be realistic to expect certain givens in our field? Should NCTE have provided us with free WiFi? Let me have it if you disagree. Let me have it if you agree. As I said, I want this post to generate discourse. That's how we improve our field.