Status: Flipped

After belabouredly deliberating over how to teach this semester, I made the decision to remove the traditional lecturing component of my classes, and "flip" my classroom. I felt that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain as I wasn't satisfied with the percentage of students who were benefitting from the traditional model. I was reading how Howard Gardner used to tape his lectures for students to watch outside of class, using class time for questions and discussions of associated readings. I thought about how today, the taping part is almost superfluous given that for many intro-level courses, there is a selection of lectures to choose from that can be sped or watched through and mixed and matched (this is what I suspect students are doing anyway) already available online. Which is to say that I have started to go so far as to question the relevance of the lecture to every course.

For one of my classes, I merely ask that students, after overviewing criteria for evaluating sources, link to what they watch or read in the comments section of an online platform. This counts towards their grade. I do provide two sources that cover the material they are asked to learn (one that is simplified, one that is more elaborate - explaining that the simplified version only gives enough information for a lower grade), but they are given the choice to find their own alternative (providing it is 'scholarly'), or supplement it. It sounds complicated, but in my last post, I explained how I suspected that most students were consulting online sources for their study-material as it was (and despite the material presented in class being different).
I plan to use the class time for this class by having students do in-class exercises, and calling on groups week by week, explaining that it is up to them to volunteer at least twice, if they want a grade for that section of class (if not, this will negatively impact the final grade). I am still building the exercises (and have found very useful ideas by googling: lecturing to large classes), but plan to focus on a few images most weeks, using Harvard's Artful Thinking exercises as a way to promote fluency of the material covered. The second-year students balk at having to synthesise information in their exam essays, and rather than overwhelming them with composition techniques (which I have also taught at that level), I think that Artful Thinking, with its elementary questions asking one what one sees, what one thinks and wonders about what one sees (branching out into making comparisons, exploring, reasoning, and pondering) is an approach all of the students will be able to take, and one that I believe will lead them to being able to write thoughtful essays.

I wrote in my last post that I always decide ahead of time what the minimum is in terms of what I want students to be able to accomplish for a pass in my class - and have since found a great post on this approach penned by Louise Lamphere Beryl, who calls it: "backward design". It is important to maintain a clear vision on what the key understandings of one's class are, and have an idea of how to lead students to them. The post explains how to do that very clearly.
And reading someone else write about these very ideas helped me clarify the key understandings I want my fourth-year class to reach (practise a key aspect of a hallmark methodology). A great portion of this class will rely on in-class exercises. Also, students will be responsible for setting the reading: they must each contribute one text or one image/video etc. with summary to at least half of the classes. After establishing the guidelines of what is needed, I said I would supplement where necessary, though students are motivated to eschew my intervention because a large part of their grade will be determined by peer evaluation (following Michael O'Hare's guidelines) - which is to say that they will be grading each other on how much they were able to help each other prepare for the established goals. I decided to let the students have control of what they read because about half the class was not interacting with the material I assigned last semester (which I was a tad saddened by, because I put a lot of thought into it - but to be fair, it was perhaps too broad, and too complex for those students, though I have to add that some students mastered it and thrived). My reader was the one I dreamed would exist. I think I was inspired by the artistic parameters of some of Leon Litwack's lecture topics - but I'm a poor imitator.

I justified abandoning my own reader also because I think that despite my attempt to be broad-reaching, I still wasn't reaching my students and bringing out their voices. There were at least a handful of students who were clearly following the lectures, but not engaged enough to be able to use the material in their own essays. So, I thought that if they had agency over the reading material (which be the nature of the course can be broad-ranging - and is made richer if it is), they might be more motivated to connect with the material.
I never thought the day would come when I would use some of these techniques. I never thought that I would welcome the internet in such a massive way as part of my courses - all of the texts are now online; so is part of our classroom where students share their thoughts and assignments.

The Howard Gardner post linked to above in which he recounts flipping his own classroom in passing, is primarily about raising questions on how to promote transformations of students in class: "changes in how one conceptualises the world of ideas and associated practises;  ... changes in how one relates to peers and other individuals; and  ... changes in how one thinks about oneself" - with respect to being "good". He is raising a Socratic, and Aristotelian question - and that it is a vitally important question: for what is learning devoid of ethics, civic responsibility? But the point I want to focus on is that if such change for the better (i.e. maturity!) is effected, it is obviously effected within the individual - which is to say that such education must cater to an individual, not a number.
Catering to individuals is yet further support for the idea of flipping the classroom. But speaking of transformations, I'll repeat that I did not expect my views on this to transform so dramatically since my last post.
In closing, I want to share another post on pedagogy I read this week: "Classroom Confession: I am a Terrible Teacher" - a post that frames Achilles' heels in such a way as to show just how much can be taught, in so many ways, despite them. 

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