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Posts Tagged ‘classroom

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.

Sometimes I think I no longer need to repeat some messages because they sound old. But I am constantly reminded that I cannot be complacent.

The messages are diverse. They range from “Singapore does NOT cane you for chewing gum” to “gamification is not the same as game-based learning” or “flipping the classroom is not the same as flipping the learning”.

The cane comment surface just a few days ago. Strangely enough, it stemmed from a tongue-in-cheek remark on Singapore’s Schooling being Number One (the swimmer and our PISA results).

Someone else wanted to know if caning had anything to do with our results.

My reply, tongue firmly in cheek, was this:

We had a short conversation thereafter:

This reminded me of my stay in the US over 15 years ago when I had to remind people that Singapore was not in China and that we did not cane people for chewing gum.

While the conversation was not about caning and gum, I had to inform someone on Twitter that we do not cane boys as easily as we would flick a switch.

In the teaching and learning front, the runaway trains are gamification and the flipped classroom. Both vendors and ill-informed individuals push these without first knowing or caring about their histories, research, or critical practice.

I laud their enthusiasm, but when it is misguided, I make my stand: Gamification is not game-based learning and it is not enough to just flip the classroom.

Sometimes I wonder if harping on these messages makes me the squeaky wheel or the proverbial voice in the desert. Then I remember this Jon Stewart quote: If you smell something, say something.

As a watchdog, I have to be vigilant. As an educator, I remind myself that the old messages are new to someone else.

I was appalled when I read this article, For-Profit Coalition Seeks to Bolster the Flipped-Classroom Approach.

First it defined the flipped classroom like this:

A flipped classroom describes a wide range of educational methods, like just-in-time teaching, peer instruction, and the use of clickers.

It did not distinguish between the flipped classroom and flipped learning. JIT teaching and peer instruction can happen in both, but the former is critical in the flipped classroom and the latter is a key enabler of flipped learning.

How in the world did the “use of clickers” even get mentioned? My guess is the university context of lectures and trying to justify clickers as “interactive” or “participatory”. Clickers are neither and their novelty wears off quickly.

The only things flipping when I read the article were my finger and my stomach. All it had to do to flip my life switch off was to suggest LMS, interactive white boards, and smart rooms as means to flipping.

All these and clickers do little to change pedagogy. I have written for years how these constrain pedagogy or maintain outdated methods instead of encouraging progression.

The article also mentioned how the Flipped Learning Global Initiative would be charging a $5,000 annual fee for groups be identified as partners. Why do this? Errol St. Clair Smith, the director of this group said:

…the initiative’s leaders believe there is a $500-million market for products related to course flipping. They include training, software and hardware, and other services. They expect demand to grow to about $2.4 billion by 2020.

So that is what the effort is about: Taking advantage of a financial opportunity. Never mind that university faculty do not really change how they teach. Just sell them clickers. Lots of clickers.

Yesterday I responded to a query about how flipping drives discovery and student-directed learning.

Today I answer a question about how students might not discover the “right” content by discovering or Googling. I have a few responses.

The first is doing away with the notion that students “get it” only when a teacher delivers content. This is merely an illusion because there is no indication or confirmation that learning has happened.

My second response is that one way to be more certain about student learning is to get students to create content and to teach it. These processes help both students and teachers to see evidence of learning.

My third reply is that teaching wrong content happens anyway, not just in the flipped classroom or when you facilitate flipped learning. Both the student and teacher can be guilty of this. However, when the learning is visible the teacher can jump in and intervene.

Three dimensions of flipped learning.

This is why I include content creation and peer teaching in my model of flipped learning.

Peer teaching is something that instructors can do with strategies like think-pair-share, any variant of the jigsaw method, and class presentations. Content creation might be viewed as a prerequisite for this form of teaching. Without artefacts students have nothing to show during the tell.

However, content creation does not always have to be on the teacher scale or standard. The content that students create can also be externalisations or manifestations of what is in their minds. These can take the form of short reflections, practiced problems, recorded conversations, summary documents, etc.

My fourth response is to agree that simply copying and pasting Google search results may not be valuable learning. Most teachers tend to focus on content from an expert’s point of view. This is how they judge if content is good or not, and right or wrong. However, this is not how a learner processes information because s/he does not have structure.

The structure is put in place by thinking processes. So instead of just focusing on content (what artefacts students find and use), the teacher should also model processes of learning. For example:

  • How do I look for information?
  • How do I verify information or evaluate it?
  • How do I incorporate it into my own work?

This response is not unique to flipping. But a focus on process over product is particularly important in flipped learning because one desired outcome is students who are more independent learners.

Yesterday I reflected on my long-running integration of Padlet in my courses and workshops. I intend to share screenshots of two sets of takeaways and questions from participants at the end of a workshop on flipped learning. I address one concern today and another tomorrow.

Flipped learning takeaway and question.

One concern was whether students uncover content in the way the teacher intended.

I am glad that the participant used the word “uncover” because that was something we practised during the workshop. Uncovering is based on discovery and not on the traditional notions of a fixed curriculum, recipe-like strategies, and narrow outcomes.

This does not mean that the process is haphazard. In the past, I have described the implementation as creating serendipity.

One way to design the learning experience is to envision a large plot of land in which you have buried opportunities for learners to unearth. They not only dig up treasures (content-based learning about), they also figure out how to problem seek and problem solve (skills-based learning to be).

My reply to the query is that a strategy like flipping is a means of transferring the ownership of learning to the students. While the teacher is concerned with curriculum, schemes of work, worksheets, and other standard practices, these are not always congruent with the overall design and ultimate goal of flipping.

To put it simply, the standard terms, practices, and tools that a teacher is comfortable with are not necessarily what learners understand and need. The teacher may be armed with a spoon to feed; the students need shovels and other more varied and complex tools.

The teacher may be prepared to deliver; the students need to discover. It is inevitable that the scope of what the teacher expects will be much narrower than what the students discover.

Returning to my analogy of the plot of land with buried treasure, what if students discover relevant and useful nuggets elsewhere? What if they go beyond just digging (e.g., clicking on links in web quests) to surveying with drones and satellites (e.g., Googling, YouTubing) or communicating with previous treasure hunters (e.g., tweeting content experts, consulting Facebook contacts)?

One concern that teachers might have is what if students unearth the “wrong” things? I address that concern tomorrow.

A few months ago, I tweet-wondered this out loud.

I ask again: If we can now work just about anywhere, what could modern offices offer?

As an educator, I also ask: If we can study anywhere, why do the majority of classrooms still look like classrooms? Why do they not look more like a Starbucks, as this educator envisions?

Mindsets. They not only shape thoughts and behaviours, they dictate design and implementation.

Let me give you an example. I still get requests for contacts for vendors who can construct “special rooms” in schools.

NIE collaborative classroom in 2009.

NIE collaborative classroom in 2009. Photo by William Oh.

There are not many good reasons to have special rooms. Having a place to show off when visitors come a-knocking is not a good reason. Having an excess of funds is not a good reason to build a special room.

Having rooms that challenge pedagogy, perplex teachers, and enable meaningful, powerful learning is important. But do we need special rooms to do that? What messages does that send if we do?

Every room should be special. That way they become ordinary and accessible to all. Every teacher should have professional development to learn how to integrate technology effectively. Every student should be consume and create because of technology-enabled learning.

To do any less is to make lame excuses while spouting 21st century rhetoric.

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