Teachers around the country are struggling with distance learning? They are being stretched too thin between face to face and virtual learners, while still being asked to deliver the same, if not, higher quality of instruction that they delivered before schools had to drastically change. Today, I have a guest blogger who will offer a solution, a way to save distance learning, teachers, students and their families. It is called flipped classrooms.
The night before we were to start distance learning, the school had finally emailed us the schedule. Every day at 9:00 the kids would go through circle time and get directions for the day. Then at 2, we would all meet up again on a Zoom call to check-in and report how they did in the day’s distance learning activities and receive guidance on tweaking the daily task for our particular kid.
The school gave us 12-hour notice and expected us to be able to make that work. But at 9 and 2 every day both my husband and I had work. This distance learning schedule was impossible.
We are the fortunate ones: privileged enough to be able to walk away from the distance learning system, confident enough to homeschool despite our working hours, with a child young enough to not be beholden to the bell schedule.
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Distance Learning for Older Kids
Older kids have it worse with distance learning. They are expected to follow the bell schedule over video chat, so parents need a computer for each child and a stable enough internet connection to handle multiple devices streaming non-stop-- an impossibility for most.
Why are we doing distance learning this way?
Because the current school system insists on treating teachers like children.
When I was teaching high school math, I noticed the administration of the school did not like the idea of teachers working from home in any capacity.
Making lesson plans? Do it at your desk! Grading? Don’t take that home either! Need to do some training? That will be in the cafeteria for everyone, even if you don’t need that particular information.
Despite knowing teachers spend hours of their own time coming up with lessons and doing things for their class, they were never trusted to be working unless the administration was standing over their shoulder watching.
Pandemic Distance Learning
In the pandemic, this has manifested itself as distance learning lessons that require the teachers to teach from their desk at school to the bell schedule. Otherwise, how is the school to know if these professionals are actually doing their jobs?
But, that isn’t all that’s a problem in this distance learning reality.
For all our school’s insistence on “Learning” as the most important thing, we actually grade students on their time in the classroom.
Schools are funded by headcount per class.
That means if a student misses a day of class, the school is not compensated for that day. Then, if the student’s missed class time causes them to fail a standardized test, the school could lose further funding or the teacher could lose standing.
It is understandable schools really want to track their students’ time in the classroom, but school isn’t supposed to be daycare. It is meant to teach students the skills they need to function in the real world as adults-- at least that is what we are told.
Most of what people actually learn happens outside of the classroom. We practice our times tables at the kitchen table. Life skills, like cooking and baking, solidify fractions in our minds. Documentaries watched and discussed, at home, leave a more lasting impression than the entirety of 9th-grade history class.
If schools are supposed to be focused on the students’ learning, why are we currently so obsessed with making sure to physically observe it happening? Especially during distance learning when no one is physically coming to the classroom?
Schools are doing distance learning wrong!
It is crazy that schools are basing “distance learning” on making sure everyone sits down and can be accounted for during the hours of the regular school day. People don’t learn that way--especially at home.
Before the internet, distance learning was asynchronous by default. Remote towns would send away for books and learning materials, and students would complete courses by mail. Then, WWII happened.
Suddenly, America needed a fighting force that knew how to maintain jeeps and use a radio. Virtually no one knew the highly specialized skills they would need on the front. There wasn’t enough time to start a school and sit everyone down for a semester of work, so America scaled the successful distance learning practices used in rural areas. The troops were ready and fighting fit in under 2 months.
America has been using successful distance learning practices with the troops since WWII. We know how to do this! But instead, we are treating our teachers and students like 2-year-olds that need to be watched at all times.
Successful Distance Learning
We know for distance learning to be successful it must:
Contain problems with the solutions or work that self corrects
Have a way for the students to ask questions when confused
That is it! There exists a system that can accomplish all of that right now: flipped classrooms.
What is a Flipped Classroom?
You know how teachers generally lecture during class and then they give practice or essays for homework? Yeah, flip that. For homework, teachers assign short video lectures for students to watch. During class, everyone does the practice together in groups or through projects.
For example in a flipped classroom, a Geometry class on rotation and translation of shapes, could ask students to watch a small series of videos covering the math on how to rotate and translate a shape. Each video would be 5 minutes or less, cover a single small subject, and include a few worked problems. The transcript or notes for the video would be posted at the same time, so students don’t need to take notes.
In class, the teacher would assign problems and group projects. The students would make tessellations and use translation and rotation to take a single shape and make a “stained glass window.” Then, there would be some word problems and exam-like problems. If the class or school were suddenly quarantined, it would be easy to drop the group project and add a few more word problems. When students felt ready, there would be a test. Then a couple weeks later, the teacher could give a second test to measure retention.
Benefits of Flipped Classrooms
Flipped classrooms offer a lot of benefits. Students get the opportunity to work together and learn from each other. Project-based practice tends to have higher retention. The risk of practicing problems incorrectly is reduced because you can ask the teacher for help at any time. Also, teachers have more opportunities to help students learn at their level, which increases the teacher’s ability to scaffold and differentiate skills for each student.
All that sounds great, but how do we leverage those benefits during a pandemic when most students aren’t in the classroom? Use the greatest benefit of flipped classrooms:
Flipped classrooms facilitate asynchronous learning.
Our world is up in the air right now. No one knows if classrooms will be open tomorrow or if everyone will be forced to quarantine. Even if you are in the classroom today, there is no telling how many of your students will have to stay home for weeks at a time because of exposure.
Schools need a solution that is asynchronous and flexible. This is it.
Teachers, for their flipped classrooms, can find or make video lessons covering single topics, then assign homework based on those topics. Students would be responsible for completing a set amount of work each week. If a student is struggling with something they can attend the bell schedule video call for tutoring as a part of their distance learning lesson..
The teacher has the opportunity to tutor students who need more help during the remote class time in much smaller groups. At the same time, students at home are free to share computers or babysit their siblings without worrying about falling behind in school. They can work when they need to in a flipped classroom.
Using flipped classrooms in this way treats both the teachers and the students with respect while acknowledging the challenges of the time.
The best part?
The system doesn’t need to change regardless of the current in-person/ distance learning combination. Every student can watch the lecture video at home and then practice either by themselves at home.
Of course, there is one problem with this system. Namely:
How will teachers take attendance during distance learning using a flipped classroom?
Attendance is how schools get funding, right? No system would be approved without an airtight way to determine if a student was present when not in the classroom.
While distance learning, take attendance based on the amount of work completed per week.
Say a student completes 5 lessons and 5 practice sheets plus a unit quiz. Most teachers would agree that is a week’s worth of work. So the student earns a full week of attendance. It doesn’t matter when the student did the work or how long it took them in the flipped classroom, they did a full week of work.
But what if they do 2 or 3 weeks of work in a single week of distance learning? What if they do the whole semesters’ work in a week or two? What then for this flipped classroom approach?
There are two options in the distance learning scenario above: let them and give them the attendance and grades they earned, or drip the content, so no more than one week’s worth of new work is available at a time. Personally, I don’t have a problem if a student completes a semester of work in a week or two. Some students learn better by getting all the information at once, and if the focus is on learning then there is no reason not to let students learn that way.
Attendance based on work successfully completed in a flipped classroom sends a clear message: the school system cares more about learning than butts in seats. Students get the freedom to close the achievement gap by working when they can instead of trying to sit through the bell schedule during the most unprecedented and inconsistent time in recent history.
We have the opportunity to overhaul our school system using a flipped classroom right now.
We treat our children as products on an assembly line instead of beneficiaries of the knowledge we wish to impart. The American school system has failed, and our quickest recourse is implementing flipped classrooms.
In our current system, students aren’t learning. Teachers can only teach to the test and don’t have enough resources. Socioeconomics rob many students of time or space to sit down and do homework; all they have time for is watching videos on their phones while they look after siblings.
Using flipped classrooms, teachers have the ability to overhaul a significant portion of our school system without needing to change laws. All teachers need is administrator support and a little time.
We must create a school system that makes students responsible and accountable for their own learning while treating them like people worthy of respect. America deserves a system that values teachers as the professionals they are, shifts the homework burden to level the playing field, and acknowledges people learn at different speeds and times.
If we make learning something to be sought instead of an obligation, our children will rise to the occasion. That is how we build lifelong learners. Not with bell schedules, but with the joy learning freely brings.
We had the best public education in the world once. We can have it again. Let’s start here.
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