Sunday, October 21, 2012

Are you available to answer student questions?

A former student - now a freshman at University of California-Irvine - tweeted this Saturday night:

I push back on the definition of a flipped class as lecture screencasted and viewed at home as often as I can. I think that definition is limiting and propagated by people who don't completely understand that the flipped classroom is a mindset, not a pedagogy.

The rationale for having students watch screencasted lectures at home is a sound one - offload the lower levels of Bloom's taxonomy out of the classroom and spend your face to face time with students focusing on higher order thinking skills. But what supports are you providing for students if aspects of a screencasted lecture are unclear? Do students have a way of contacting you to get misconceptions cleared up? Will they have the stamina of my former student and rewatch a screencast three times if they don't understand the material the first time? It seems like without that communication loop, the gains of pushing lecture to the homework space are lessened if time is needed to clarify student misundertanding.

I don't stake any claim to knowing what to do about this conundrum. In my history class, there is some lower level Bloom's work that my students must do: they need to build a contextual understanding of historical events (lower Bloom's) in order to do the work of historians in my classroom (higher Bloom's). Students have the option to watch screencasts, read the textbook, or find resources online to build this lower Bloom's, contextual knowledge.

However, I also want to make sure I am available when my students have questions or are stuck, regardless of what they are stuck on. This desire - how I try to maximize my use of face to face time with students - as well as the desire to flip the ownership of learning in my room from teacher to student pushed me to a self-paced, mastery-based history class where I do my best to ensure that my students have adequate classtime to complete the tasks of a given history unit in class, without having to do homework. This way, I'm able to deal with the misconceptions and misunderstandings of my students whenever they appear.

There are certainly other ways to flip your class and assign video as homework while still being available to answer questions from your students. Ramsey Musallam wrote up a great blog post about using the branching structures of Google forms as well as the FormEmailer script within forms to provide feedback and reflective opportunities to students - check that out here. Crystal Kirch's WSQ structure - outlined here - also provides a way for students to ask questions and get the answers they need in order to be successful in her math class.

This is by no means an indictment of the flipped classrooms, more a question for people to ponder. Though the concepts teachers choose to screencast may be lower Bloom's, there will still be students who struggle with that content. How are you ensuring you are available to students to help them with the content of your class when they need your expertise?