Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My real-world #flipclass lesson

Spending a week along the Gulf Islands in Alabama and Florida, I was watching for a chance to do something I've wanted to try for a longtime now: standup paddle boarding (or SUP). Yesterday, I found Onboard Fitness near Fort Pickens and set up a time for this morning.

I spent a lot time on the Internet learning about SUP and how to do it. Surely, that was enough for me to be a seasoned paddler, right?

When I arrived at the site, I surveyed the water and noticed a strong wind heading west-to-east. Being an experienced kayaker, I knew to paddle upstream first, because returning downstream when you're fatigued is much easier. I guessed the same strategy applied here. Once I checked in and got my board, the attendant told me the same thing. He suggested I start into the wind because the return would be much easier. Awesome! I had used previously learned content from another discipline and applied it here. I was well on my way.

The attendant pushed the board into the water for me and explained a few last minute details like how to find the center of the board. "Blah, blah, blah," I thought. "I learned all this on the Internet. Just let me get on the board." The attendant adjusted the paddle to my height, which I wouldn't have known how to do. "That wasn't on the Internet."

Then the time came, I got ready to step on the board and realized I had no idea how to get on without immediately falling off. The attendant held the board in place while I climbed on. I guess I needed him a little bit. Later I watched a more experienced person get on her board and learned the proper technique for launching a board yourself. Oh yeah, and that more experienced paddler was a 12 year old girl.

I paddled around the bay learning different skills as I glided across the water. Since you can only paddle one side at a time, I was inefficiently going in a zigzag line. After about 20 minutes of this, I realized if you lean your weight to one side while paddling, you can keep a relatively strait path.

My feet were getting extremely sore. I realized I was too tense trying to keep my balance with my feet. I knew from surfing, you need to relax your feet and balance with your core. So, I tried that.

Again, I knew from kayaking that you can turn tighter if you paddle backwards. But, it took a turn almost running me into a buoy before I remembered that detail.

I had the board for 2 hours, but returned it about 30 minutes early because my feet were cramping, I was sweating from the sun beating down on me, and I was just finished.

So, what did I learn about #flipclass from this adventure?

1) Although I thought I knew a lot from reading on the Internet, the was a lot I would never have learned without getting on the board and actually doing it. How many times prior to me flipping did I ask students to use material learned without them actually doing it first?

2) I wouldn't have gotten on the board successfully with the attendant's help. How many times do students need our help just getting on the board? If that was my SUP test, I would have failed. Not because I didn't know at least the basics of SUP, but because I didn't know how to get started.

3) Previously learned content from another discipline was very helpful.

4) I knew not to paddle with the wind, but the attendant advised me anyway. Had I not known and he not said, I most likely would have take the path of least resistance, literally, and paddled too far out of my ability to return safely. Some things just need to be said to avoid almost certain failure.

5) I returned early because I was too fatigued to continue and I was satisfied with my outing. How many times has a student turned in incomplete work and we thought the to just be lazy or apathetic? With a flipped class, I can see the student is fatigued and satisfied at the moment what he or she completed.

6) Once I returned, walking was difficult because of the tenseness in my feet. What would happen if I had to go paddleboard another waterway for an hour immediately after? I would certain not succeed. How many times are kids sent home with mentally taxing homework and once they finish, they have to start on another mentally taxing assignment?

I gained a lot of knowledge in the short time I was on the board. I was given the freedom,with minimal instruction, to just get on the board and practice. I remember a surfing lesson I took several years ago that spent nearly an hour of on the beach instruction telling me how to surf. Once I got in the water, that instruction was useless. And, each time I fell, I paddled to shore and the instructor would tell me what I did wrong. I didn't truly learn how to surf until I rented a board and just tried over and over again until I found success.

If I was graded on my SUP experience, I probably would have earned a C or B-. Good thing this was only practice.

As I was leaving the SUP rental dock, the attendant told me, "We also have onboard yoga every morning!" Unless this is going to be on the state standardized test, I have no interest in advancing my skills that much.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reading at Home Discussing in Class Part II

I consistently hear Flipped Class speakers, presenters, proponents, and even some opponents make the statement, "English teachers have flipped for years. They have students read at home and then they discuss in class."

I blogged on this last October, but recent events have compelled me to blog again. My previous blog post convinced some to stop using that example. However, at ISTE and the Flipcon, I heard it more often in a few presentations and discussions on Flipped Class.

I am bothered by that assertation because I believe it doesn't fit the core basis of what is a flipped classroom. Here's why:

1) Reading at home is usually not a lower level processing skill. In a flipped environment, we offload material that takes lower level processing skills and place it in a technology that can be consumed at a time and place of the students' choosing. Unless my students are reading for purely entertainment value, they need to be processing what they've read using reading comprehension skills and making connections to previously learned content. In other words, they should be applying what they've learned at this point and not simply consuming information. If they are unable to do this, I need to be assessing why that is and how we can fix that, which is difficult if they are reading at home.

2) Discussion isn't individualized instruction. As teachers, we use discussion to create connections and deeper thought on a topic. I think we've all had students that are very good at manipulating the "system" to make it look like they comprehended the reading. Whether they are mimicking others' comments, talking a lot on the easy questions so they can avoid being called on for other questions, or reading spark notes right before class to get enough of an understanding to BS their way through. And, the kids that clearly aren't getting it aren't getting the 1 on 1 attention that would be helpful for them. If some content is not understood by the group and the teacher must derail the discussion for a lesson, that usually become direct instruction. I'm not saying we should never do whole group discussions. I'm just saying they don't make for a flipped classroom.

Here's an example:
I use Lord of the Flies to teach about symbolism. I send my kids home to read and then we discuss the symbolism in class. What if my students don't know the definition of symbolism? Then I need an instructional step, maybe a video to explain it. Now, they know the definition, I still can't just send them out to read. Because, as we all know, knowing the definition and even understanding what symbolism is, does not mean a student can identify it. So, I believe I need to get my students to at least the identifying stage before I can comfortably send them home to read on their own. Then, class time can be used for analyzing and evaluating the symbolism. Ultimately, I'd like to get them to the creating stage of using symbolism in their own writing. If I can't get them to those higher level stages in class with me, then simply reading at home is not a productive use of their time.

I suppose one could argue that reading at home is creating a desire for the tools necessary for understanding and the discussion is the application of that understanding. In that regards, that would appear to me to be Explore-Flip-Apply (EFA) without the flip. In that regards, we're missing an instructional step in the learning cycle.

Why does this matter?
Well, as we progress with the Flipped Class movement in Language Arts, we want a clear understanding of what Flipped Class is. We can agree it looks different in every class and there is no prescriptive model, but oversimplifying to the point where people believe that reading at home discussing in class is a flipped model is detrimental to our growth. We will lose potential supporters and future flippers. We minimize what it is we do and how hard we work to create a student-centered environment. I want people to know I do a lot more in my class than send kids home to read and discuss it in class.

I'd love to hear your opinion.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

English Flippers Summit Announced

The date has been set for Tuesday, July 10 at 8 pm Eastern.

I'm seeing a need and now I'm trying to fill it......
At last year's (2011) Flipped Class Conference, I met 3 English teachers out of approx. 150 attendees. So, this entire past school year, I have been searching for English teachers using a flipped model in their classroom and haven't found many at all (probably less than 10). That doesn't mean they aren't out there. They just weren't active in blogging or tweeting or presenting, etc where I could find them. I envied the math and science teachers that could collaborate on videos, bounce specific ideas off each other, and commiserate together. I took what I could from the math and science folks and customized it to my class. But, when I would turn to them for some very specific implementation advice, I commonly heard, "Well, I really don't know much about English....." Not that they wouldn't help me, they just didn't have the experience to help me in that situation.

At NCTE in November, I searched and searched for English flippers again and blogged about it. There were no sessions on flipping. I heard one presenter mention that she was planning to flip her class during her presentation. Everyone I talked to or tweeted during NCTE gave me one of three responses: "ummm....what's flipping?", "I like the concept behind flipping, I just haven't done it and am not sure where to start", or "you can't flip an English class." I'm oversimplifying their responses, but that is mainly what I got.

Then came this summer....
I presented at the Flipped Class Conference (2012). There were 300+ attendees. My session was one of the first sessions after the opening keynote. There were approx. 40 people in my session and I asked how many were English teachers. About 30 hands went up!

In addition, many people began actively tweeting about being or becoming an English flipper. Cheryl Morris, Erica Speaks, Carrie Ross, and Andrew Thomasson are just a few of the tweeps starting to come out. In true flip fashion, it appeared a grassroots movement was taking off.

In private conversations with all these different individuals, it appeared to me that since this English flippers movement was growing, we could benefit from a common direction. We all had a lot of the same questions and were piecing together answers. I was thinking during a morning run one day, "Wouldn't it be great if we could get all the current and new English flippers together and discuss our common concerns, questions, and intentions?" Then, it hit me.....through the power of the internet, we could.

So, introducing the first English Flippers Summit (if you have a better name, do share). I crowd-sourced the idea at ISTE12 and decided to try an open webinar. The date has been set for Tuesday, July 10 at 8 pm Eastern. The summit can be found here (I will tweet out the link closer to the date as a reminder). We will cap it at 1 hour. If we are still going strong at 1 hour, we'll plan another one. I want this summit to be an opportunity to "meet" each other and generate some English flipped dialogue. Where it goes, I do not know. I don't know if we'll solve anything or if we even need to solve anything. But, with so many new English flippers out there, it would be nice to connect with resources. It's free. If it turns out to be worthless, it will only take an hour of your day.

Stacy Roshan told me once, as a math teacher, she used to walk by English classrooms and envy those teachers because of the exciting activities they could do in their classrooms. Because of the flip, that has flipped (pun intended). Let's figure out a way to make those math and science teachers envy us again!