Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Flipped Class and Substitute Teachers: The Role of the Teacher

This post comes directly from my experiences in the past week.

My wife and I planned a vacation during the school year, which maybe wasn't the smartest plan, but it was supposed to be three days away from the classroom. Some unexpected things came up and I actually was away from my students for four and a half days of class. This can obviously lead to some learning issues, especially in secondary level math and science where substitute teachers are hard to come by.

I saw this time away as an exciting experiment with flipped teaching. Before I left, I decided that my best plan of action would be to use a flipped teaching method while I was away; therefore, I created videos for most of the examples to be covered in class. This way the substitute would not have to deliver instruction in class, rather they can show my videos in class or ask the students to view the videos at home. In the classroom, the substitute's main task would to encourage students to explore problems, work together and help as best as they can. My vision would be that the students would really band together to reach a high level of understanding.

Before I left, I thought this all sounded great! Unlike other times I have been away, this time there would be different. There would be no excuses. Unfortunately, the results weren't quite as envisioned. The results were probably a bit better than normal, but the level of student confidence did not approach the level I had hoped. Where did this plan break down?

This leads me into thinking about how important the teacher really is in a flipped or blended environment. With only the videos to watch, the students were able to view the videos, but failed to really make meaning of them. When I am in class

  • I spend time preparing the students to view the videos
  • We explore the content together before unleashing the videos on them. This seems to be a really important step in the flipped process
  • When we return the next day, I always recap the ideas from the videos. Again, this seems to be an important step in the students making meaning of the videos. 
  • The next step in the process is the students actively engaging in the content; this is the main goal of the flipped classroom - more time for students to engage in content. 
How effective is this engagement without a teacher to guide the process? Based on this past week, my answer is that it is not very effective. Are there ways I could have improved my planning to make it more effective? Is the teacher vital to the process? Most students work without much if any assistance from me when I am in class, so why are things so different when I am away?
After having taken a couple university-level online courses and now blended courses with an online or face-to-face classroom component, I can see how important the teacher is to the process. At the very least, some contact time with the teacher gives you confidence and helps you feel like you are on track. In my experience, I feel apprehensive with the content until I can hear communicate with the teacher and feel like I am on the right track. Is this the main missing link when using flipped teaching with a substitute? If so, what other ways can we build feedback into our flipped method so that students can feel that sense of confidence without the teacher's presence? Can the substitute's role be to provide that confidence, even if they are not confident with the material?

Flipped teaching seems like a great method to use when you are away from the classroom, but there seems to be vital pieces in the flipped process that are missing without the teacher's presence. If you have had good experiences with flipping a class with a substitute, please share them with me in the comments below. If you have any thoughts on the topic, leave them below.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Ah yes, the role of the teacher in the flipped classroom. You know that I have been experimenting with a flipped classroom approach too, and I have also found (to my relief, in a way) that I still have an important role to play. I think in many if not most cases, we are challenging students in new ways in our classrooms, or at least I hope we are. That leads to a certain level of anxiety and uncertainty, and I see one of my roles to be the anxiety manager in the process. I look for it; I embrace it wherever I can and even promote it a little if I don't think there is enough of it; and, most of the time I try to reduce it. And I find the way I respond varies tremendously on the situation, and that's part of the fun of teaching this way. It's a matter of constantly solving problems creatively.

    How can we create a hands free design of flipped classrooms that is as successful as we hope? I suppose it is possible, and it is certainly worth investigating. Dare I say, there is another excellent master's project or thesis hiding in this challenge!