Flip Fail #3: Planning to Fail by Failing to Plan (for the Group Space)

What to do in the classroom

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Here is where we actually get the most common failure among young flipped classrooms, failing to appropriately plan for the group space. To this point, we have talked about planning for what should happen in the individual space. However, the key to the flipped classroom is to evaluate what portions of the learning need to happen in the individual space and which need to happen in the group space. Once we open up this group space, we need to make sure that we have positive, productive, and meaningful learning opportunities ready to be put in the group space.

Again we start with my own failure by not understanding that the group space is by far the more important of the two spaces in flipped learning. As mentioned in the previous entry, I moved instruction to the individual space with videos and placed them in a learning management system to be accessed digitally.  This redistribution of learning left my classroom far more open and I did not plan enough learning in that space to justify moving items out of that space.

This is very common and goes back to a basic definition of flipped classroom as “instruction at home and homework at school.”  I initially used that basic model, and for a time it worked reasonably well. In the upper level math class with which I chose to start my flip classroom I had students who were broadly self-motivated enough to use the extraneous time created in the classroom effectively.  In part they filled class time by doing the large amount of homework problems I was still assigning, or doing work on homework in another class. Two problems came out of this, one was the non-verbal indication that the other classes were more important than the one they were in, and two, that doing homework problems for 45 minutes a day is soul crushingly boring.

My first attempt to fix this problem is something I still do to this day and that is doing far more homework on the boards together as small groups or as a large group.  In learning math, or any other subject in which new skills or vocabularies must be mastered, practice is essential but it doesn’t have to be done individually and quietly at a desk. To my great surprise, practice is far more effective when it is a structured group effort with interaction and analysis. You will note that I referenced “structured” and “analysis” as key components because if we are simply working in pairs on homework, all that means is one person is doing the homework and the other is copying. If we are doing homework as a whole class group without structure or analysis, that means only the teacher is doing the work and the students are copying. Both of these situations are unacceptable if we are truly going for effective learning.

My number one go to is the walls of my classroom, which are lined with whiteboards in 360 degrees. I pair up or group students both randomly and at times specifically to complete practice problems and present their findings from from the activity. If we think about it for just a minute, if I have a classroom of 30 kids and I pair them up with a marker I can have 15 different practice exercises on the board in a matter of minutes, rather than a half-dozen problems on a single board done by me. What this does is multiply the efforts of the many on these activities copying and solving basic skills, allowing us to jump right to analysis of the problem, our methods, and provide alternative solutions.

Alternatively, I can also take those same 30 children and have 5 practice or example problems from three different sources in order to compare and contrast methods, mistakes, etc. What needs to be understood is that an activity like this cannot be done in the individual space to the same effect because a group interaction is required.  If a interaction or a group is required that is the biggest indicator that a particular activity is appropriate for the group space.

Outside of a math classroom this would apply to various reading or communication activities in the language arts or in foreign languages.  In the sciences this could translate to proposal teams for methods and processes on an approaching a lab. In the social science classroom it can be used for representing various viewpoints on one topic or a single viewpoint on multiple topics. In all cases, whether writing on the Whiteboard or not, by grouping and regrouping students to work with each other and at times in opposition to others we raise the stakes for learning without singling out an individual.

At this point I’m going to include a sidebar and reference the previous example of that student who came unprepared to class from the individual space.  During the time that it has taken to create groups and review prepared materials, the student who has come unprepared should be nearly completed with their preparation materials. The student should be nearly ready to join the larger in class activities and benefit from them having completed the Preparatory component.

There are an infinite number of activities and methods that can be used in a classroom that cannot be used with students individually. These are the activities, projects, labs, debates, etc. that can be accomplished in a flipped classroom because you now have time in that group space that did not exist before. How a teacher chooses to use that group space is nearly infinite but the biggest failure potential comes by failing to plan for the best use of this time.


Your #flipblogs turn:

Having set the course for this series I would like to encourage anyone that has a flip fail story to blog, vlog, pod, tweet, twitch or in some way share your story of Flip Failure.  If you would like to share it at #flipblogs or tweet the link to @flippedlearning we would love to share your story here. One Caveat, as much as we love a good face plant, we want to know how you recovered or learned from that experience.

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