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.


  1. It's an interesting topic to think about. I think there are many variable to consider when dealing with this "bump" in the stages of really understanding what the flip looks like in ELA.

    I think the problem with "Read Chapters 1-3 and take Cornell Notes" as an example of flipping is a problem. Most of the skills you would reference would probably not be discussed until the next day, which means the student is lost. I get that and I agree with you.

    But, I think it is possible for students to read at home if they are provided additional avenues to explore the text, even if it is virtually. If you as a teacher can do a mini-lesson prior to the assigned reading and post additional resources at home, such as a video or a website that outlines some of the concepts in a simple manner, then I think it is feasible. This is also a great opportunity for an online discussion to take place between students, as they collaborate while navigating the text. This can be setup with an assigned question, or provided as a safe place to ask questions, or both. The teacher can pop in at anytime to add to the discussion and clarify when needed.

    When they return to class, then I think it is possible for the students to group together and discuss any areas they may have had difficulty with prior to moving into the apply phase. Then, I can identify those areas whole-class for clarification if it is simple, or meet with the individual student/group for further explanation.

    It's not a perfect solution at this point and I am open to suggestions. I think part of the reliance on the initial model of read at home/discuss in class, is based on the amount of time that individuals meet with their classes. Some classes are 40 minutes, others are 55 minutes, while some classes are on a block schedule where they meet every other day for 80 minutes. Additionally, I don't believe I know of a high school where there is a Reading class and a Language Arts class. It's all in one class.

    How much time should be spent in class reading? How much time should be spent at home reading?

    I realize this is an ongoing discussion and one that will continue to build the basic structure for our content area. I also am eager to see what people think should occur.

    I guess at the end of the day, the question is, are their basic concepts/rules that should be adhered to be considered an ELA Flip class? Can it be entirely different for each person?

    1. I think a Flip can look different for each person in practice but cannot be different. There is a basis for Flipped Learning.

      The mix of reading in class and reading at home should be balanced by the teacher in what way best meets the needs of their students. That is what Flipping is all about and that is why each teacher's methods are different. My students' needs aren't the same as yours. The Flip allows you significant freedom to implement it to best service your students.

      What makes the concept so difficult for some, I believe, is a flipped class can incorporate many different models: PBL, Inquiry, UDL, Blended, self-paced, mastery, etc. So, some people confuse those into the definition of a flipped class. Flipped Class allows for those other methods, but doesn't require them.