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If It Ain’t Broken: Must You Innovate to Be a Good Teacher?

Editors Features May / May 10, 2018

– by Dan Jones –

“Innovation distinguishes between leader and follower.” – Steve Jobs

Mike Schmoker recently wrote an article for Education Week, called “Why I’m Against Innovation in Education.” His perspective holds to the idea that we need to stick with what is working. Therein lies the problem. If we could identify old practices that worked all of the time for every student, educators would hold to them and never let them go. The adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has been applied for far too long in education. Our education system isn’t necessarily broken, but it is in serious need of repair. Flipped Learning is leading education because innovation is at its core.

The issue is not our “inordinate obsession with what’s new,” as Schmoker believes.  The issue is how innovation is defined. Unfortunately, “innovation” has become an overused buzzword in education, but it is so ambiguous that everyone has a definition of what it is; thus, no one really knows exactly what it is. The moment there is any sort of change in education, the word “innovation” gets thrown around. According to Merriam Webster, innovation is defined as a new idea, method, or device. In Schmoker’s article, he suggests that Flipped Learning, gamification, student-centered learning centers, and various other instructional strategy supplants tried-and-true best practices. That may have been true 10+ years ago. Innovation, though, has propelled Flipped Learning, gamification, and so forth because they are currently rooted in best practices. Educators must always be looking forward in education because the needs of our students are ever-changing. Innovation in the classroom is not about creating new technology or making things up with untested methods as we go. Instead, it is about identifying the gaps in how we are meeting the needs of our students and determining the best combination of instructional techniques to create a new means of meeting those needs.

Innovation is precisely what the best flipped classroom teachers are doing. They have been able to identify not only shortcomings in traditional instructional practices, but they have been able to identify shortcomings in Flipped Learning. The best of the best Flipped Learning practitioners know that if you are only having students watch videos at home, then they all do the same assignment, as directed by the teacher, then your practice is no longer innovative. The best Flipped Learning practitioners can identify the shortcomings of what we call “Flipped Learning 1.0.”

Cynthia J. Brame, CFT Assistant Director at Vanderbilt University, wrote an article titled “Flipping the Classroom.” Her research, conducted at Harvard University,  points to the fact that Flipped Learning results in significant learning gains, many times by two standard deviations; but what is even more significant about her research is that when Flipped Learning is combined with peer instruction, the gains are even higher. Including peer instruction is innovative. Innovation is all about seeing the gaps and closing them in a new way.

Flipped Learning is viewed by many as innovative, but the truth is, Flipped Learning is continually evolving. This evolution means that the method is no longer innovative. Stephen Noonoo wrote an article titled “Why Flipped Learning Is Still Going Strong 10 Years Later.” He remarks, “Detractors predictably sprang up to call it an online video fad.” Ten years later, due to innovation, research, and new technology, Flipped Learning has evolved to be stronger than ever. The method may not be considered innovative anymore, but it continues to evolve through its practitioners.

Good teachers are reflective teachers.  Reflection leads to innovation. The best Flipped Learning teachers do not innovate on a whim. Being able to identify gaps allows teachers to make the necessary changes to improve mastery of content. One of the gaps in Flipped Learning was what to do with the group space. They look at best practices and integrate those methods into what they are already doing as a way to create something new.

According to MIT, using a variety of instructional methods will give students the opportunities to express their talents and learn in unique and meaningful ways. Innovative flipped classroom teachers have stopped using only one strategy to engage their students. Many are starting to see the benefits of combining instructional practices such as Project Based Learning, Mastery, gamification, Peer Instruction, etc. What makes these innovative in a K-12 classroom is the focus. The focus shifts from being teacher-directed to student-centered.

Project Based Learning is innovative by nature. Within PBL, students focus on the gaps in their understanding. They are continually asking themselves, “What is working?” Where do I need to dig deeper?” and “How do I apply my understanding to my project?” Our students are constantly innovating; the only difference is, when they do it we call it problem solving. They are coming up with solutions that are creative and personal. Suzie Boss, a national faculty member of Buck Institute for Education, wrote in her article titled, “Make Room for Innovation and Creativity in PBL”: When projects emphasize creativity and innovation, students develop a toolkit of problem-solving strategies that they can use, again and again.”

Mastery tends to be viewed as accomplishing a desired outcome in a particular way. This is where the best flipped classroom teachers insert innovation. As Flipped Learning has evolved, it has become apparent that we cannot have all students doing the same thing. The best Flipped Mastery teachers bring student voice and choice into the classroom. Students still have to demonstrate competency, but innovative flipped educators see this as an opportunity to integrate differentiation. Jake Habegger, Master Flip Teacher and fellow FLGI International Faculty member, recently wrote about differentiating grading within his Mastery classroom. This innovative approach to holding students accountable is not only innovative; it is sparking change on a global scale. (Read more about Jake’s differentiated grading strategy here.)  

Gamification is an innovative practice that comes in different forms. It can be used to motivate students in meaningful ways, and it can also be used simply as a pacing chart. The best Flipped Learning practitioners have found that gamification drives students to dive deeper into the content rather than learning for a grade. According to the article, “Gamification in Education,” published in Learning Theories, students feel more ownership of their learning. The article also explores the idea that failure is less threatening, and that students are given a visual of their progress towards mastery. In flipped classrooms, gamification becomes an innovative strategy because it focuses classroom climate and student mastery of content. Ryan Schaaf and Jack Quinn wrote an article, “12 Examples of Gamification in the Classroom,” in which they conclude that “rewards and quests…build positive class culture while pushing student achievement.”

Innovation is at the core of Flipped Learning. It is what the best practitioners are doing. Schmoker’s opposition to innovation ignores the current needs of our students. Without innovation, we would continue to teach our 21st-century learners using 20th-century strategies. Flipped Learning practitioners understand the need for innovation, and they are leading the charge for meaningful change in the classroom. How have you met your students’ needs through innovation? Do you believe it’s possible to be a great teacher without innovating? I would love to hear your story. 






Dan Jones
Dan Jones
Dan Jones earned a BS in Middle Grades Education from Ashland University and a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from American College of Education. Dan is a FLGI Master Teacher whose professional interests include e-learning and technology, as well as Project-Based Learning. Dan is Flipped Learning 3.0 Level -II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.




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