-by Dan Jones-
I was a traditional teacher for eight years. I had a fun classroom, students were engaged, and they enjoyed hearing me become passionate as I instructed. I told stories, stood on desks, and I gave some of the most passionate lectures my students had ever encountered; truth be told, I was quite the entertainer. We did some activities, and I would even come to class dressed as a wizard when we covered fairy tales. I poured everything into my traditional teaching. I was always up and moving and loved seeing the kids get excited about what we were covering in class. So if things were so great, why on Earth would I want to change my successful traditional classroom to something that seemed so anti-traditional?
Even though the kids and I were having fun, there was no way for me to measure who was learning what until I gave an end of unit assessment. It is so frustrating to put so much time and energy into my instruction only to have a vast majority of the class fail the assessment. Truly, I could not have put more energy or effort into my teaching, so what exactly was I missing? At the time, I had no clue, and so I blamed the students. After all, I had done my part! Why didn’t they do their part?
I had been schooled in what I thought was project-based learning (years later I discovered I was doing it all wrong). I thought PBL was the process of having kids learn all of the content, and then they get to create a project that I devised (which of course was amazing because I, as the educator and professional in the classroom, had designed it). If a student’s project didn’t look like the example that I provided them with: name in the center, two pictures on the left-hand side of the poster, and information on the right-hand side, well then they were not going to get a good grade. Clearly, they couldn’t follow directions and did not pay attention to the well-crafted example I provided. Students that couldn’t recreate my example did not deserve a good grade. Why can’t my students do what I want them to do?
So far, in this article, I have used the word “I” 29 times. I did this, and I did that; me me me. Though my classroom was fun, dynamic, and exciting, if you dug a bit deeper, it was about me. I thought it was about my students, but I had made it about me and started blaming them when things didn’t go how I thought they should; how ironic in hindsight. I created fun and creative lessons because of how it would make me look and didn’t stop to think if it was the best way to help my students understand the content. None of what I was doing was student-led. And none of it monitored the students’ understanding along the way. My ego was a major issue, and it was my ego that would lead to my near-downfall. Usually, the best thing we can do for our students is to get out of their way and let them learn. I had to be in control of every minute of the classroom. I wanted to be the center of attention. The focus was not on the students or the curriculum. I spent a lot of time and energy in making me look like the perfect teacher.
Often, I have heard teachers talk about the fact that there is nothing wrong with their traditional classroom. They have excellent classroom management. Their students sit quietly doing their work, and they can teach and do a few fun activities. One of the things that I bring up, though, is “Are there things you wish you could do but find that you can’t?” Overwhelmingly, the response to that question is, “Of course!” Does a calm, quiet class mean they’re learning? As long as the kids are contained and doing as they are told, there isn’t a problem, right? Wrong!
The Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning (GEEFL) contains 5 elements that determine the best practices in your classroom. If you use these elements to evaluate your traditional classroom, you will see instantaneously that, even though on the surface, your classroom seems effective, some areas perhaps need to be addressed. Flipped Learning provides you with the time, freedom and flexibility to address those areas of your classroom so that you can move students from average to excellent.
The Higher Bloom’s (Hb) element is one of the most difficult aspects of the group space to achieve, but it is the one area that drives all other best practices in the classroom: Active Learning (As) [PBL, Mastery, Inquiry, Peer Instruction, Socratic Dialogue, and even Genius Hour], Differentiation (Df), Student Creation (Cr), and Student-Centered (Ss). It is impossible to have students engage in these amazing methods without pushing your students into the higher levels of Bloom’s. According to the article 6 Strategies for Teaching with Bloom’s Taxonomy, “For decades, education reform has been focused on curriculum, assessment, instruction, and more recently standards, and data.” Bloom’s Taxonomy focuses on the student.
Active Learning (As) is one of the best practices that teachers know would be ideal to have their students participate in, but there is typically not enough time in the day to do it. Once we flip our classes though, the impossible becomes possible. For ages, time has worked against teachers in a traditional classroom. It has never been an ally. But since FL moves the lower levels of Bloom’s out of the classroom, teachers now have the time to allow their students to engage in the upper levels of Bloom’s.
Okay, okay, but what if it doesn’t work? I will have just transformed my classroom into an environment that will supposedly do all of these wonderful things for my students, but what if it doesn’t go as promised? For far too long, I allowed fear of the unknown to cripple my classrooms; knowingly or unknowingly. I feared failure (check out my article Failure = Learning: Education is about persistent, not perfection). But if we don’t take risks, we can’t grow. Failure is not marked by our lack of successes to fix a broken system. It is not giving up on refining our efforts, our thinking, our motives, our craft. No matter how you might stumble in implementing FL, it will never be failure. Instead, those stumbles are about reflecting, trying again, and moving forward.
The illusion that everything in our classrooms is as it should be may just be our ego standing in the way of progress. If we know better educational methods exist, then it is time to stop committing educational malpractice, let go of our ego, and put our students first.