Flipped Classrooms; Moving from Teacher-Centered to Student-Centered

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The paradigm for teaching and learning is slowly shifting from teacher-centered to student-centered. The old paradigm included teacher directed learning activities such as lecturing, discussion and testing. Of course, to all of us who were brought up in this method, this sounds like real school. And because the human mind is a natural learning machine, some amount of learning was accomplished. For the best learners in that old mode—people who could sit for long periods of time, listen and memorize, and repeat what they had learned on standardized tests— much was learned. From this system a bell-curve of results emerged: a limited number of stars, a lost group at the bottom, and a lot of us somewhere in the middle. The best of this curve went on to teach, heal, argue and run our society.

However, for the rest of us, this bell-curve, industrial-model conveyor belt was much better at batch processing students than helping every learner to learn well. The internet has hastened the shift for many schools who are moving away from this industrial learning paradigm. When the amount of available knowledge to individuals, schools and states surged through the internet and into computers and phones, it began to threaten the curriculum agreement for the amount and type of content taught in K-12 schools. For example, why study just one Shakespeare when many plays are available and can easily be read and compared? American Literature is always a sampling task, but now with all of this literature available, which textbook should we use in order to sample that literature? Should we use any textbook? Should we just sample literature, ideas and content from the internet? How can you justify spending so much time on Moby Dick, or A Separate Peace, when students today experience a wealth of knowledge input all over the web and can probably connect those two novels in modern and imaginative ways?

Student-centered learning is the acknowledgement that both the content and the way in which we teach and learn is changing from teacher dominated to student directed. Read below for more ideas that will help us make this transition.

So the main complaint is the overwhelming distraction to students of input from multiple channels on the web. Perhaps educators have been looking at this from the old paradigm point of view, and concluding that there is a problem? Perhaps the new paradigm point of view would be more helpful? The new paradigm could be that all of these channels of information might be turned to the advantage of student-centered learning. Maybe they can be harnessed by flipping school work for home work? I have just found a doctoral dissertation (Martinez, 2014) that nicely describes the history, methodology, and advantages and disadvantages in this new way of teaching and learning:

…This implies the change from a teacher-centered classroom to a student centered learning environment. In other words, this model provides teachers with more time to interact with their students and helping them to process chapter content, and less in class time lecturing about the content. This method was created by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two chemistry teachers of Woodland Park High School (Colorado), who in 2007, started to have concern about the absence of students that had to go to competitions, games, and other events. They began to use video recordings to record lectures, demonstrations, slide presentations… In their book Flip your classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (2012), they reported that after they flipped their classrooms, students began interacting more in class, and because time could be used more flexibly, students who were not as advanced could receive more individualized attention, while advanced students continued progressing.

Jonathan Bergmann received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching as a lecturer, while Aaron Sams received the same award under the flipped model.

The basic components of this method are: (Bergmann and Smith)  “A blending direct instruction where the teacher supplies the knowledge base with constructivist learning, the students are responsible to construct their own knowledge.  An environment where students take responsibility for their own learning.  A classroom where the teacher is not centered attention, but instead, serves as a guide or facilitator of learning.  A classroom where students who are absent due to illness or extra-curricular activities are not left behind.  A class where the curriculum and lessons are always available for review or remediation.  A class where all students are engaged in their learning.  A place where all students can get a personalized education”.

Quantitative and rigorous qualitative data on Flipped Learning is limited, but there are many researches that support the key elements of the model according to instructional strategies for engaging students in their learning. The research I reviewed include teacher’s reports on students’ achievement after adopting the model (based on state test scores), descriptions of flipped classrooms, course competition rates, disciplinary actions, and surveys measuring a group of outcomes, such as teacher, students and parent attitudinal changes. On the whole, teachers who are flipping their classrooms report higher student achievement, increased student engagement, and better attitudes towards learning and school. Many flipped teachers report that their job satisfaction has improved and are feeling re-energized by their interaction with students.

The Flipped Classroom has its theoretical basis in the Peer Instruction (PI) by Eric Mazur (professor at the Harvard University), which includes a technique called learning “just-in-time”, the basis of the Flipped Classroom method. In other words, this technique allows the teacher to move around the group learning space, transforming the space into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides the students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.

This method is supported on 4 pillars: flexible environment, learning culture, intentional content and professional educator.

The flexible environment allows teachers to arrange their classes as their activities require, creating flexible spaces in which students choose when and where they want to learn.

The learning culture focuses on the learner-centered approach; the class time is dedicated to exploring topics deeply and creating rich learning. As a result, students participate and evaluate their own knowledge, which makes the practice meaningful for them.

An intentional content helps students to develop conceptual understanding, as well as procedural fluency. It determines what is needed to be taught and which materials should students explore on their own. It is basic to use active learning strategies and student-centered methods.

Finally, the role of the professional educator is the most important pillar. During class time, professional educators have to be observing constantly their students, providing them with relevant feedback instantly, and assessing their work. They must be reflective in their practice, tolerating and able to control their student’s behavior during the class. They have a less visible role than in traditional teaching, and even so, they are the basic element for the success of this method.

Some of the resources most used by this method are the following; Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs, Skype, WordPress, Dropbox, Prezi, Moodle, Slideshare, (Edu)Glogster, Wikipedia, Blogger/Blogspot, diigo, Facebook, Google Search, Google Reader, Evernote Jing, PowerPoint , Gmail, videos, LinkedIn, Edmodo, Wikispaces, Delicious, Voicethread, Google+, Animoto, Camtasia, Audacity and TED Talks.

To sum up, the advantages and disadvantages of this method are the following:

The Advantages:  Teachers can spend more time with the students with special needs.  It creates opportunities for the teachers to be in contact with the family and the learners, and the community.  The learners are able to access the content of the classes more easily (it is facilitated by the teacher).  It creates a collaborative environment in class.  Families are involved from the beginning of the learning process.  Parents also learn about the content of the class.  Children are encouraged to develop their autonomy and creativity.  Teachers take more advantage of the class’ time than in traditional teaching.  Transparency is created with this method.  It is more manipulative, more realistic.  Children learn by doing things in a real context.  Increased dialogue and shared ideas between students, teachers and experts.  Access to video and other online content can be seen in any location.  Emphasis on higher level thinking skills resulting in more challenging curriculum.  Individualized control over the lesson space. Varied instructional grouping making it easier for students to learn from one another, problem solving together and complement each other according to their skill level.

The disadvantages:  Teachers have to work harder and have to be well prepared.  Limited knowledge and resources for what to do during class to help students process its content.  Increased effort and time from the teacher for lecture recording.  Differentiated planning for the integration of in-class and out-of class elements.  Added consideration of technology or compatible equipment to access the video lessons from the teacher.  The time in front of a computer screen increases. (Thanks to Martinez, B. [2014]. “The Flipped Classroom; School Work at Home and Home Work at School.” Universidad de Zaragoza: Doctoral Dissertation; introduction).