My first blog post for EDDL 5111 will be a reflection on the first time I tried flipping my classroom. I will use four factors suggested by Tony Bates in his book Teaching in a Digital Age as the basis. It was years ago, and I had just attended a professional development conference where one of the presenters introduced me to the concept of the flipped classroom. I was probably equal parts skeptical and intrigued at the idea, however, by the time I returned to my school, I had decided I would give it a try. The timing was perfect as I was about to teach a short story unit to a grade 8 English class.
On the continuum of the location of learning, the course was entirely face-to-face at school during the day, however, students did access course content online while at home in the evening. The design of the unit took into consideration the needs and characteristics of the students. First, it was not an academically strong class, and many of the students struggled with reading and written output. Because of this, I decided to search for short stories that had also been made into videos, so students had the option to watch a video if they chose not to read. Furthermore, I told the students that most of their mark for the unit would come directly from their participation in class discussions as opposed to written assignments. These design decisions would allow for the reluctant readers to participate fully in the class discussions with confidence. Second, attendance was a serious problem for several of the students. To combat this, I really wanted to find engaging short stories that the kids would be excited about and keen to talk about in class.
I did not assign questions or any writing prompts; students simply had to read and/or watch the short stories and think about potential deeper meanings and what messages the author might be trying to send to the reader. Without realizing it, they were thinking critically about the short stories completely on their own, before being influenced by a teacher with what their interpretations were. My preferred teaching strategy was to let the students explore the short stories independently and come to their own conclusions. They would then be prepared to share their findings during class discussions. It was important to me to not simply lecture on the meanings behind the short stories and have the students regurgitate that same information back to me.
All the students had computers or laptops with internet access at home. The real magic was experienced watching the face-to-face interactions during the class discussions and the passion and excitement with which they shared their insights. The synchronous nature of the discussions also allowed for a natural flow of ideas. I appreciated when a discussion took a direction that would never have been explored in a canned lesson. It was during these times that the students were most engaged because they themselves had led the discussion to where it was.
The short story unit was designed based on the idea that although some students struggle with reading and/or writing, it does not mean that they are not capable of interpreting texts critically. As an instructor designing this unit and working with this group of students, I saw myself as a facilitator of learning: guiding and helping the students discover their own passions and skills.
The course delivery mode matched the subject matter very well as students were able to access course content from the comfort of their homes and meet face-to-face with their classmates for discussions at school. I believe the modes selected (text and videos) were the most effective because they allowed for all students to access course content, regardless of their reading ability. I do not think the learning would have been more effective if a different mode had been available because it incorporated the benefits of both face-to-face and online and gave each student the opportunity to make sense of the stories on their own without any outside interference. As the teacher, I did not struggle to use the technology to get the main points across because I simply uploaded videos to my class website for the students to view and we would later deconstruct the texts in class together. With the amount of content available on the internet, there were sufficient resources available to me and there was nothing missing. In fact, depending on how popular the text is that you are studying, the sheer number of resources available can often become overwhelming.
Bates, T. (2015). Teaching in a digital age. SFU Document Solutions, Simon Fraser University.