Whether you run a flipped classroom, a digitally-enhanced classroom, or anything except an absolutely traditional model, students are going to want to know, and need to know, the procedures, the process, and the tools that you’re going to use in the classroom. This year I made a significant shift in the organization of my materials. Rather than a traditional list based learning management system (LMS), I have moved to using digital instruction blocks (DIBs) that are graphical representations that embed digital resources into a Google Slides presentation. In short, I have created an interactive textbook from my created and curated resources. This single digital resource will provide an overarching organizational framework for the year. I know from experience that students need specific training on learning in a flipped or digitally-enhanced classroom.
Training is critical
In order to train students to use video for learning, every year I start my classes with an origami video and a square sheet of paper. The video demonstrates how to create a butterfly.
Depending on the type of student, they will respond to this video differently. High-performing students will watch the video and independently attempt to complete the task, inevitably finding themselves very frustrated. This happens in spite of the fact that the video is done very slowly, very clearly, and with steps repeated by the demonstrator in many cases. On the other hand lower-performing students almost immediately demand that I stop the video, to which I readily agree. Additionally, they will demand in some cases that I go back and watch a particular part again, to which I readily agree. Finally, some will demand that we slow the video down because it’s going too fast, to which I readily agree.
The whole point of this exercise is to train the students how to watch a video for information and skill rather than entertainment, and the demands they make of me become the strategies we discuss for successful video learning. I clarify that we’re not watching for entertainment like cats on roombas, or this year cats versus cucumbers. Rather we are using video and watching for information. The origami activity works pretty well as students drive the conversation, and I find that it’s a very helpful introduction to the classroom and how we’re going to be learning for the year
Getting in the count
That was my success, now let’s talk about my failure. So at this point I have a clean, organized, and rich source of learning resources, and I have begun training students to watch for information rather than entertainment. Like most math classes, the first component in my classes is a review of key topics from previous classes. In my higher performing classes they worked on a very open ended peer-created learning library project, and their broader learning experiences helped them adapt quickly. In two other classes I gave some of my lowest-performing students four days worth of flip materials and told them they were not required to watch the video. If it was a topic with which they were familiar, they could simply perform the indicated mastery demonstration. I was quite proud of myself. “I’m providing student choice.” “I’m giving students options as to which components they’re going to need or want to do.” “I’m giving students a variety of means of assessment so that they also could choose that component.” In reality, my failure is that I just gave students that are brand-new to my classroom and who already struggle with my content area, too many choices and not enough direction.
You see my failure was forgetting one of the cardinal rules of change, “regardless of the situation or context people are going to resist change if they are unsure insecure or unfamiliar with the expectations for them”. I feel I trained them well to watch a video as described above, but I did not train them well on being given choice. In my very traditional district, students are not well trained on making positive independent learning choices. While this might be considered a failure of my district, it is more so simply the current situation. It is my responsibility as an educator that wishes to change this behavior to correctly introduce change, train the participants in the change, and provide change strategies so that the students can be successful; and I failed. I further compounded my failure a few days ago by assuming that the issue was the content not the format. I went to the board and provided direct instruction over the review content, giving every one of those students a justification in their mind of why this new thing was bad and the old thing was better. I failed again strike two.
Stepping out of the box
So at this point I’m two strikes into the count and the question becomes what do I do? Like every batter I needed to step out of the box. The best answer is to plead guilty to the students then go back and add a bit more structure to our first couple weeks of class. I still want them to be in charge of their learning and make choices, but if I want them to make good choices. To accomplish this long-term, I need to put a few restrictions and limitations on them for now until they can get their feet under them. Before long I can begin providing them opportunity and choices gradually that will lead them to success rather than frustration.
The experiences of the last few days has been a good reminder. Regardless of how experienced we are with a particular method we use or how much awesome stuff we read and see others do, there are times in the classroom where we simply have to admit our own failures and clean up our own messes. Admitting my failure does not make a method, activity, or organization system a bad tool, it simply means I didn’t use it properly. My new goal is that I can clearly model learning through failure, and simply share with the student that I have not done a good job introducing a new learning tool. Instead, I am asking for their help and feedback to make our class and learning tools better. After being behind in the pitch count I am not expecting a home run, I simply need to get everyone on first base to the the year moving.