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Even a comedic game show like Taskmaster (YouTube channel) offers a reminder to educators.

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The segment above featured the champions from previous series competing for the Taskmaster’s points. They had to figure out the combination code to reveal what was inside a locked case.

Each contestant used a different strategy. They relied on a shortcut, manual work, brain work, guess work, and physical violence. All arrived at the right answer.

What is the reminder for educators?

Much of teaching focuses narrowly on the safe or right answers. Teachers get there with methods established by collective experience. There is nothing wrong with that unless you realise this also prevents the exploration of other strategies.

The exploration of such alternative strategies can seem chaotic. They are often out of a teacher’s hands and are the work of students. But does it really matter if students find different means to the same end?

I am all for the scaffolding the learning of knowledge and skills with pedagogically sound and time-tested strategies. There is a reason why we call them academic disciplines.

But there is a reason why we call on people to think outside the box. For educators, this is the classroom box that does not take into account the wider world or the input of learners. If we do not learn to operate outside this box, we become unreasonable and disconnected taskmasters instead of facilitators of learning.

This is the first part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.

I posted a rather cryptic tweet in the aftermath of #educampsg and in response to a query on flipping.

I unpack the tweet by illustrating with questions or comments that I get frequently from teachers.

One thing that troubles some teachers is the link between flipping and self-directed learning. They realize that for both flipped classrooms and flipped learning to be successful, students must learn to be more independent and self-motivated. However, they put the cart before the horse when they ask questions like: “Doesn’t flipping only favour students who are self-directed?” or “How do I ensure that students complete pre-class work?”

This sort of thinking presumes that self-directedness must be a prerequisite to flipping. They reason that if their students are not motivated, they will not consume content before class and flipping breaks down at the very first step. Furthermore, since academically strong students tend to be more motivated, teachers often make the assumption that flipping favours such students. Since students are not likely to cooperate or if flipping only seems to benefit a few, teachers reason that it is not worth the effort.

That is not how to approach flipping. I argue that well-designed and skillfully-managed flipping is one way of nurturing self-directed learners.

In a conventionally flipped class, a teacher might find out that only half of his/her class watched a video, completed a webquest, or collected some data beforehand. Flipping breaks down if the teacher opts to deliver content again in class. The students who refused to play their part get their way and the ones who followed instructions feel cheated.

A persistent educator will resist the urge to give in and might instead apply social pressure on those who have not completed their work prior to class. This could mean pursuing the in-class activity that is linked to and builds on the out-of-class activity, e.g., a Flubaroo-graded quiz. Both the teacher and the students who did work beforehand apply pressure on those who did not.

This takes time to work and can be very effective should students be provided access to resources whether at home or in school, and if school leaders and parents support the teacher. The students who do not play ball then run out of reasons to not join in the game.

Now all that said, a learner-centred teacher could also provide leeway to those who did not do the work beforehand but were still able to answer questions, solve problems, or complete tasks acceptably. The students could be quick learners or learn non-linearly by picking up cues and clues in class. This means that having self-directed learners is less of an issue here; the capacity of the teacher to differentiate instruction is.

Flipping is not the end result of having self-directed learners; it is a means to that end. Flipping is not a just a product of teachers who are already skilled in differentiating instruction; it is a means for teachers to learn how to do this.


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