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Posts Tagged ‘classroom

These two summaries below of research on flipped classrooms and flipped learning seem to exemplify what and how the phenomena has been studied.

First, studies that focus on test scores or academic results often report the “no significant difference” (NSD) phenomenon. This is typical of quasi-experimental studies that attempt to replicate test and control treatments.

It is not surprising that there rarely are significant differences in treatments because there is often just one key outcome — test scores. Like most social phenomena in schooling and education, test scores are subject to many influencing and confounding factors. It is impossible to implement pure treatment no matter how much you try to control for them.

Second, studies that review other studies reveal what practitioners might sense intuitively — reports tend to be cautious trials that tout ideas, but rarely follow up despite the claim for “future areas of study”. This results in the dearth of practice-informed theory.

Both are often symptomatic of the unethical research game: Propose studies, clear review boards by assuring no harm to human subjects, receive grant money, collect data, publish for appraisal points and promotion.

Who benefits? The researchers and publishers, especially the latter who put high-sounding work behind walled gardens. This crosses ethical boundaries particularly when the money is publicly sourced. If the money is from taxation, it does not help the people who paid the taxes because they can neither access nor understand the articles.

Even when they are simplified by abstracts and summaries (or dumbed down by this dummy!), the reported efforts offer NSD or offer no real answers. That is flipping research (and other research) in the nutshell.

 
This article reported that “around 80 percent of instructors around the world teaching or training others in flipped learning are three to five years behind current best practices”.

If their estimate is close, then that is an alarming statistic because teachers are not staying current with research-informed practices.

That said, I am just as alarmed with the use of “best practices”. What is best or good in one context is not in another. Here are my other objections to the blind adoption of this corporate term.

I am also worried that an article that claims numbers and standards of practice does not link properly to evidence. For example, at the time of my reflection, there was a sentence: “The standards were developed by a team of international academics from the U.S., Spain, Turkey and Taiwan”. The link leads to a non-existent page about the experts.

Strangely enough, the article took a twist about halfway through. It quoted Robert Talbert, a mathematics professor and author of a book on flipping:

Talbert noted, however, that the FLGI’s Global Standards Project is primarily about setting standards for flipped learning training, and not for flipped learning itself.

First, I was concerned that the group thought it could train adult learners.

Second, if you asked the question “Are You Flipping the Wrong Way?” (the title of the article), then why were the standards not for the implementation of flipped learning per se?

While my reflection might come across as an argument about semantics, it is not. Words hold meaning and their meanings stem from the beliefs and mindsets of the people who speak and write them. If they cannot get terms right, who are they to tell others that their practices are right or wrong?

All that said, there is value in the latter half of the article. If the premise had been better stated as teachers were not keeping up with research-informed practices, then the article did a good job of illustrating wasteful practices like investing in redundant LMS and providing every student with thumb drives.

It also had this to say about the emphasis on pre-class work:

“Using video for preclass work is still by far the most common approach, but more instructors are using some interactive activity instead,” said Talbert. Some instructors are reverting to assigning students a text to read with structured questions before class, he said. “Making a video is very time-consuming, and it’s not clear if video provides benefits to students commensurate with the cost of making those videos.”

Emphasis has also shifted in recent years from what happens before class to what happens in class, said Talbert. “In the early days, instructors tended to put a great deal of emphasis on students’ preclass work and then do nothing particularly special for class meetings. Now there’s a much broader understanding that the in-class activity needs to be designed first.”

Ultimately, the problem is not that teachers are not researchers and do not have the bandwidth for reading research:

“There are lots of common pitfalls, and it’s likely that in almost two decades somebody has tried what you’re thinking of and failed,” said Bowen. But finding out what hasn’t worked can be difficult, because positive results are more likely to get published than negative ones. Access to journal articles is also expensive, he noted.

The issue is that journals tend to favour positive results and are walled-gardens with premium access. The academic publishing system is flipping wrong. Teachers need to rely more on connected communities of practice, not just on central “training” bodies or pay-for-access journals.

This semester I had to resort to something I might have done as a classroom teacher 21 years ago. I had to manage expectations with a warning prior to a cooperative learning activity.

Some context: I model and teach assorted pedagogical strategies to future faculty. One of these strategies is a variant of the jigsaw method. This is a cooperative learning activity that replaces a long and boring lecture on even more pedagogical strategies and theories.
 

 
I have done this for many semesters, but I something changed last year. During the jigsaw, a few individuals would resort to selfish behaviours. I vividly recall three individuals at separate sessions: One shopped online, another used social media to chat with people outside class, and another played a mobile game.

An outsider might baulk at the actions of these three. They are Ph.D. students who are privileged to attend a well-respected university. Most students at this level are also sponsored for their studies, so this raises the privilege ante further.

I confronted these individuals to let them know they had responsibilities to their group — in a jigsaw cooperation, they were individually accountable and yet dependent on one another.

I realised I was reacting to this instead of preventing it. So this semester I set expectations like I used to as a classroom teacher. I told my learners that I would give them a verbal warning if they engaged in selfish behaviour, and if they persisted, I would ask them to leave the class.

No one crossed that line this semester even though a few were tempted. But I do not think that it was the threat of being confronted that led to positive behaviours. I also emphasised the rationales managing one’s self for the good of a group. The social pressure to conform and cooperate did the rest.

You might look at the obvious design and implementation flaw in the tweet below and wonder how this happens.

These are commonplace judging from the number of photos and websites that feature such flaws. They are easy to spot with a critical eye.

The flaws are obvious as is the physical harm users might experience as a result of such designs. However, some designs are easily overlooked.

One such less obvious design happens in “new” classrooms. These are helmed by agencies and vendors that claim they design for learning. They call these places hubs of learning or classrooms that are smart.

Recently I had a conversation with someone who had to test a new classroom. Some background: This campus had issues with pillars blocking views and platforms facing the wrong way.

Having experienced so many design flaws myself, I asked him what the problems were with the new room. Off the top of his head he mentioned that there weren’t enough writing surfaces. He also described a pillar with an odd configuration of displays. If I find this design faux pas, I will photograph it and update this page.

The people in charge were unhappy with the design flaws. This invariably led to delays in using the classrooms (time cost), modifications to correct the errors (effort cost), and budget negotiations (financial cost).

One reason why these errors persist is that these classrooms are designed without consulting progressive-minded policymakers and reflective educators. Most modern universities also have learning or pedagogy centres who can advise on these design. But these agencies are as easily overlooked as writing surfaces.

I suspect that many designs are based on photos of visits to cool-looking venues and administrators choose an item from A, another from B, and so on. All at the lowest possible price, of course. When this happens, the designers know WHAT to do and HOW to do this, but not WHY.

The WHY of the design of a classroom is not just about aesthetics or comfort. It is about pedagogy and learning. Including a person or a small team that has expertise in such design is not cheap, but it prevents bad pedagogical design of a learning environment.

It just takes sense/cents to save a dollar.

It is not my intent to propagate false dichotomies. But since some teachers (and a few people who teach them) do not distinguish between the flipped classroom and flipped learning, I have created another graphic to make a distinction:

The flipped classroom focuses on engagement. Flipped learning is about learner empowerment.

The flipped classroom focuses on engagement. It is about getting and maintaining the learner’s attention. On the other hand, flipped learning is about learner empowerment. The focus here is nurturing autonomy.

There are different flavours of both. Despite some common methods, there is no single way to do either. There are certainly no “best” practices for both.

A teacher might do both in a single session or over a school term. There will be times where a teacher might have to do both. The issue is finding a balance based on context.

This balance is rarely achieved because teachers tend to teach the way they were taught or in a way they are comfortable. New ideas are often assimilated into old ones so that the latter practices persist. For example, flipping the classroom with videos can simply reinvent homework and perpetuate ineffective lecturing.

One approach is not necessarily better than the other unless you have the learner’s long term development in mind. Which would you rather have: Learners who are extrinsically driven by your attempts at engaging them, or learners who are intrinsically driven because they are empowered to learn?

For what it is worth, I reshare the earlier graphic I made. It provides a huge clue on how to start on the journey of empowering learners.

The flipped classroom swaps WHAT happens WHERE. Flipped learning changes WHO does WHAT.

I discovered an unexpected source of ideas for flipped learning. It is a video of a teacher trolling his students after he banned them from flipping bottles.


Video source

At first glance, the teacher might come across as the embodiment of “do as I say, but not as I do”. After all, he did not want his students flipping bottles and did so himself.

Viewed through the lens of YouTube entertainment, the teacher was not only a master troll, he was also aware of memes and what connected with his learners. Even the groan-worthy references were gems.

Viewed through the lens of education, the video was a good example of practice, creative endeavour, and content creation.

The practice of bottle flipping required not just elbow grease, but also experimentation to determine the right amount of water. I have no doubt that there was much failure footage left out of the final video.

The teacher kept flipping bottles just like teachers might try flipping their classrooms. However, routine with both gets old quickly. Since the flipped classroom is still largely reliant on the teacher as driver, the teacher must design and lead interesting journeys. The teacher provided creative variations and levelled up the difficulty of bottle flipping. The same could be said about flipping classrooms.

The most important idea is that of having the agency to create content. This is one principle that distinguishes the flipped classroom from flipping learning. Learners must be empowered to create content so that they make their thinking visible, are teaching their peers, and acting on the feedback they receive. Only then does the flipped classroom transform to one that embraces flipped learning.

Bonus: This viral video also illustrated one strategy for creating videos for flipped learning. Every learner should show only what is critical. They do not need to create epic movies. They should be creating trailers that leave their peers wanting more.

I wanted to tweet a response to this question, but realised that a short form reply would not do justice. So here is my ramble.

There are many reasons for observing classroom teaching. I consider just three of of them:

  1. A preservice teacher being assessed during initial teacher preparation.
  2. Any teacher or educator being appraised for job performance.
  3. An educator participating in an open classroom initiative.

A novice teacher would probably be used to being observed by his/her colleagues or a supervisor. I experienced this as a student teacher many years ago and I supervised many student teachers when I was a professor at NIE.

Formal observations of authentic classroom teaching by student teachers are evaluations of growing competencies and opportunities for critical reflection. This is also probably the only stage in a teacher’s life where observations are the norm and their mindsets are pliable enough to mould.

Are observations of classroom-based instruction by preservice teachers valid?

Yes, if these such observations are combined with a mentoring programme designed to shape a novice’s knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs), and an evaluation system that is aligned to the KSAs.

After a teacher joins the profession, classroom observations serve two more functions:

  1. Job appraisal (more common).
  2. To enable peer-based learning that is open, reflective, and career-long (less common).

Are observations of classroom-based instruction by inservice teachers valid?

Many institutions have observations for appraisal. If they are the standalone method or single-instance observations, they are not valid because they are not necessarily representative of anyone’s ability to teach.

Driven by the administrative needs, the teacher appraisal system here is like the rest of the civil service: Teachers are ranked to follow a normal distribution even if this does not make sense [some references].

Since there is often little administrative bandwidth to spare, such observations tend to be sparse and scheduled. If administrators and teachers are brutally honest, classroom observations can seem to be a bother and an afterthought.

Observations are more meaningful only if they are part of more comprehensive system. Such a system might be based on teacher-owned e-portfolios, teaching philosophies, student feedback, peer testimonials, teacher reflections, etc. This system is in always-on and regular-use mode to balance the once or twice a year formal observation.

Classroom observations for professional development are rarer. These are based less on the need to appraise or otherwise summatively judge a teacher. These observations are a result of open mindsets or culture.

A teacher with an open mindset might invite colleagues to sit in on a lesson and have clear expectations of of the what, how, and why feedback.

  • The WHAT could focus on questioning strategies, the HOW could involve a method of recording constructive comments, and the WHY could be for critical reflection.
  • Another WHAT could be to code the type of learning interactions, the HOW might be enabled with an observation template, and the WHY could be for research to inform practice.

Very few schools have a culture that promotes such constant listening and learning by teachers for teachers. These efforts are driven by openness, humility, and the hunger to learn about learners and learning.

So are classroom observations that are part of a larger learning system valid for professional development? Yes.

Are similar observations valid for appraisal and ranking? It depends.
 

 
My answer is no if the ability and value of the teacher is artificially constrained to a normal distribution. The problem is not the validity of observations, it is the use of the data to play the wrong numbers game (for more insights, read my reflection on investing in individuals).

If an appraisal system uses classroom observations as one of several methods for triangulation, the observations could be valid. This is despite the common perception that teachers, when informed in advance, take disproportionate effort to represent (or misrepresent) themselves.

This response is a product of human nature. You want to show off your best when observed. The fundamental issue is authenticity. Was the amount of preparation and the methods used typical of that teacher?

If a teacher can barely spend an hour planning for a whole week of lessons, how fair a measure is a forewarned teacher’s effort of a 30-hour planning for a single 30-minute observation?

That same teacher could normally not use any current technology and student-centred methods. However, for the observation the teacher could plan for mobile devices to be brought into the classroom for a jigsaw strategy. How representative is that lesson of the teacher? How valid is such an instance of classroom observation?

That is the likely crux of the tweeted question. Classroom observations are not valid if teachers are gaming single-instance or standalone observations. If an organisation has that many teachers manipulating the system, it has a bigger problem than observation methods.

All that said, classroom observations (single-instance and standalone, or part of a larger learning initiative) can be valid in the hands of a skilled observer and evaluator. Such a person would use protocols that are based on open but critical questions instead of a closed checklist, and rely on deep knowledge of teachers and teaching.

For example, a skilled and experienced evaluator will expect the lesson plans to likely be the best effort. However, the evaluator can also examine other lesson plans, records, and artefacts for comparison.

The evaluator will also realise that any plan is only as good as its implementation. Pretenders might be able to put pen to paper, but they are likely to struggle when trying to go beyond that. Even the best laid plans will vary with ability, and if sorting teachers is important, the quality of lesson planning alone will likely reflect the mindset and skills of a teacher.

A professional evaluator will not rely on the observation alone. Other than examining previous work, there should be pre and post-lesson discussions. These sessions are not just designed to be a rigorous evaluation of the teacher, they are also to put the teacher at ease, establish context, scope expectations, etc.

Finally, a well-designed lesson observation should provide for opportunities to observe teacher reflexion and to process teacher reflection. The former involves thinking on the spot and adapting; the latter is self-evaluating in hindsight.
 

 
So, is classroom observation a valid measure of teaching ability? It depends.

If it is based on purely administrative needs, not linked to teacher development, or otherwise poorly conducted, then it is easy to see how such observation is neither valid nor valuable.

However, if the observations are driven by teachers and fuelled by a culture of professional learning, and if there is comprehensive portfolio system complemented by rigorous evaluation methods, then classroom observations are more likely to be valid and valuable.


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