Revisited: (Part 1 of 4) Using the WSQ to deepen student understanding and academic conversations in my Flipped Classroom

--Originally published at Flipping with Kirch

Over the next year, I'll be revisiting some of my favorite (and most popular) posts from the last 5 years of blogging.  I hope to add extra insight and reflection to these posts from my experiences both in my classroom and in training and coaching other teachers with flipped learning.  Updated comments from the original post are changed to blue font.
It is really valuable for me as a reflective educator to look back at how my WSQ method began and what my purposes for it were.  The WSQ method really just stemmed out of reflecting on and analyzing my goals for even having a flipped classroom.  What did I want to see more of from my students during class time?  How did I desire for them to be able to demonstrate their understanding?  Those were both questions that propelled my growth as a flipped classroom educator, and I challenge you to reflect on them as well.
Looking back and seeing how my utilization of the WSQ method has evolved as my experiences continued reminds me as I work with other teachers that all of us are on our journey and we need to go through some of the ups and downs by ourselves - we can't just take someone else's cookie cutter ideas and replicate them exactly. While a lot has changed in my practice from what is written in this post, it still shows a glimpse in my journey and it may be exactly where one of you needs to begin.
If you are interested in learning more about the WSQ strategy, I recommend that you check out my book, Flipping with Kirch: The Ups and Downs from Inside my Flipped Classroom, which was released in May of 2016.
~Original Post Below~
Updated comments from the original post are changed to blue font.
When I first launched my blog on January 22nd, 2012, I was stepping bravely into somewhat unknown territory.  I was about to start fully flipping all five sections (2 Math Analysis, 3 Algebra 1) of math that I teach for the second semester of this school year.  My definition of fully flipping is that all lessons would be taught via video where students would have constant access to the material anytime, anywhere.  Most lessons were previewed with a video, while some lessons included videos that would review or supplement what was discussed in class.   I don't know if I would still say my definition of "fully flipping" is that all lessons are taught via video.  Video needs to be used purposefully and in the right place in the lesson cycle.  For me, it still ended up being almost all lessons, but I don't want to pigeon-hole educators into thinking they have to put 100% of their lessons on video to consider themselves "flipping".  

Flipping is really about using video (or another medium) as an instructional tool to free up class time to allow students to participate in more student-centered, active learning, higher order thinking activities. That means you have to consider what you put on the video as well as when the students will watch the video in relation to different learning activities you want them to participate in.  You have to consider the before, during, and after to effectively utilize flipped classroom pedagogy:  What will students do before the video?  What will students be doing during the video?  What will students do after the video, both individually and collaboratively, both in their “individual” space and in the “group” learning space?
I knew I wanted a place to reflect and make sense of all of the changes that would be coming, as well as to have a way to connect and share ideas with other educators using the Flipped Classroom. I hope that this is a reason that motivates others of you to blog.  It's not necessarily so other people can read it, although that is a nice byproduct because then more ideas and conversation are shared.  Really, blogging gave me a place to reflect, brain dump, and process everything that I had been trying.  I remember thinking, "If I'm going to try all this, I want to be able to look back in 6 months and remember where I started!".  Now, it's nice to say I can look back five years and remember where I started!  If you have never blogged before, I highly suggest giving it a try - it has helped me immensely.  If you are a reader, but never join in on the conversation, I urge you to step out and share your views.  It's amazing how much we can learn from each other!
When thinking about what I wanted my Flipped Classroom to look like, feel like, sound like, etc., I had come up with the idea that I wanted my students doing more than passively watching the videos - I wanted them Thinking, Writing, Reading, Listening, and Speaking every day in my Flipped Classroom.  So, the next question is - what do I need to design instructionally to allow that to happen? Thus, came the development of what I called the "WSQ" (pronounced 'wisk').  
Side Note: This whole idea of TWIRLS (I added "I" for "interacting" after the suggestion from someone in one of my webinars) was something I struggled with for years. I went to workshops and trainings and wanted my students writing and speaking more... but never found something that "stuck" for me.  Flipping finally allowed that, and it stuck!
I believe the WSQ is a way to accomplish two main things, if it is used intentionally and purposefully:
(1) deepen student understanding of the material (they have to be able to explain it in their own words, they have to ask detailed questions and answer them, they have to be able to hold a conversation with a group using math vocabulary in a way that makes sense.  I question them and probe them daily and if they don't make sense, I keep probing!) A key point I want to make here is that simply having the students "complete" a WSQ-type structure will not necessarily lead to "deeper understanding".  It's the expectations and modeling of the teacher that will help students move in that direction.  It will take time for students to learn how to think and learn in a slightly different way.  And the whole group conversation thing can be a total bust if the teacher does not structure it effectively or hold students accountable!  I have lots of ideas for WSQ chats in my book ( that will lead you in the right direction.  The whole idea of constantly probing and questioning - not necessarily giving them the answers, but helping them to come to the answers themselves - is an idea that isn't tied specifically to flipping.  However, it is a hugely important part of effective class time in the flipped classroom!
and (2) increase academic conversations in math class (they are forced to talk about the material and not just blindly follow protocol and work problems out.  I walk around and am just asking, questioning, probing, and checking for understanding, and trying to make them do most of the talking.  Sometimes a student will ask me a question and I will jump into answer it right when their partner jumps in.  I stop and let the classmate answer because I want them doing the thinking and speaking as much as possible.)
Coming up in the next few weeks - Additional comments on this original post in relation to some more areas:
Part 1: How the WSQ method support my flipped classroom goals + the value of reflection (this post)
Part 2: Considerations for effectively utilizing the WSQ method (if you don’t know what WSQ is, you’ll want to read this one!)
Part 3: Basic structure of in-class time
Part 4: Facilitating your first WSQ chats
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