Saturday, January 12, 2013


I don't think I get the flipping thing.  Or maybe I get it in the sense of imagining how it would work in the sorts of science lectures I had at times as an undergrad?

Here's what I understand. 

According to the flip folks, the traditional learning structure works like this:

In class: teachers introduce and lecture on content.

Out of class: students work on homework sets. 

Let's imagine math:  the teacher introduces and talks about some math topic, and then the students go home and work on math problems.

And according to the flip folks, a flipped classroom structure works like this:

Out of class: students listen to or watch lectures via computers.

In class: students work on homework sets with teachers there to help them.

So, I can sort of see that in a math class.  But here are some questions I have:

1.  Reading.  In neither model is the student putting in time reading.  Yet a lot of what I did as a science undergrad was read text books.  And as a lit student, I spent a lot of time reading lit.

Where is the reading in the imagination of the flip folks?  Is there none?

In my experience, I spent time reading at home, mostly.  I'm a fairly fast reader (I was ALWAYS in trouble in grammar school for reading ahead during reading group and then not knowing where I was supposed to start when it was my turn to read aloud.  Always.  Misery.).  But people read at different speeds for a lot of reasons.  So asking students to read at home where they take whatever time they need makes sense.  (And here, teachers need to assign reading with a sense of their readers, of course.  Nothing new there.)  If you flip the reading part so that students are reading in class, that seems unhelpful except when students need help just getting through vocabulary and such.

I find that I learn differently when I read vs when I listen, and that I'm pretty good at getting a lot out of a combination.  I know I'm not everyone, but I am someone who's tried to teach myself through reading, and found that a combination is often more effective, especially for new stuff. 

2.  Class Size.  This seems only viable for classes up to say, 30 or so.  The 400 person classes I took in college (which are now MUCH bigger) couldn't work that way.  Instead, they were usually structured so that there was a discussion period with a TA to ask questions, work through problems, and discuss stuff.  One could, I suppose, move to a structure where everything was run in small classes, but the economics are at odds with reality at my school and at, I'm guessing, most bigger/public schools.

In high school science classes, we'd read, get lectures, and also do lab stuff.  In many of my college science classes, we'd read, get lectures, have discussion and lab sections in small groups.   (I did have college science classes with no labs or discussion groups, too.)

3.  High School.  So here's my memory of high school structure.  My school started at 8am, and went (with a lunch break) until 3:30.  And then I went home and was supposed to do homework, but I wasn't the best student.  So here's my question:  I usually had some math homework, and chem homework, and reading for English or social science, practiced my instrument (not as often or as much as I should have), and foreign language homework, but not all on a given afternoon.  I imagine not counting band, most kids don't do more than an hour or so of homework a night. 

Now let's imagine they have five classes: English, math, science, social science, and foreign language.  And each has a half hour video.  So that's two and a half hours of watching videos.  That doesn't include reading, so let's switch the English from video to reading, but still figure half an hour?

Is the idea that having students do something school related for two and a half hours is better than having them do an hour?  I can imagine that could work, eh?  I know if I worked out for two and a half hours every day, I'd be in better shape than if I did way less.  So is this a way to get students to do something for "homework" that's slightly more than minimal? 

[I have the barest idea of how much time high school students spend on homework, mostly from what they tell me as college students.  I'm pretty sure this isn't entirely reliable across any board at all.]

I guess from my point of view, the flip folks are over-simplifying traditional structures, or maybe the structures I experienced as a science undergrad aren't traditional?  It seems like they've set up a straw man traditional system where there's a person droning on at the front of a classroom.

And yet in my many years of college, all at public schools, two big R1s, one big regional, and one small community college, I don't remember much droning.  (Again, that may be me as a learner being more or less interested?)

Lit Classes
I do lecture in lit classes, but not much, and not in really structured ways.  Maybe I should think about it more?

Anyway, here's what I typically ask of students in day to day work:

Out of class: they read the text.  They may also write short assignments asking them to think about a short passage or a word, or for critical stuff, finding the thesis and such.

In class: I may give a little background, but usually I start by working closely with one or several passages. 

I may set up, say, three passages, all of approximately the same length, and ask students to work on one of the three in groups.  Or I may have someone read a passage aloud, and then ask students to work on it in the whole class. 

When I say "work" on it, I may ask them to stop and draw the imagery, or I may ask them to write about an image, or to discuss something in the passage.  I may ask leading questions.  (In an ideal world, students ask good questions which lead us where I want to go or, occasionally, somewhere even better.)

I try to use a set of passages to draw out the issues in the text I think are important, which I'll then try to help the students move from "here's this cool issue we talked about in our group about this passage" to "here are some things we're seeing in different passages" to "this cool stuff we're seeing makes a theme or important issue overall in the text or culture."

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I have a pretty good idea where I want to get during a class (and there may be three concepts I want to get to), and I choose passages that have some connection to one or another of the concepts, and order them so that they go together in the student experience (even if they aren't closely connected in the chronology of the play).  And most important, I try to teach students the skills to get from what they see in the passages to some interesting concept.

And that's where I lecture, usually a very short bit with some key words on the board naming concepts, bringing in theory or cultural history.  If I'm lucky, the lecture comes "naturally" as an answer to a good student question.  If I'm really lucky, the class feels like the students are moving it forward from the passages I've chosen and the reading they've done outside of class, and they put things together and have some wonderful moments of realizing the connections themselves.

So I don't know how I'd flip it.  But I don't think I'm an unusual lit teacher given the material structures of my classes (size and student preparation, especially).


  1. I like the idea of drawing the imagery; I'm going to adopt that one! In general, I agree with you: I think our lit classes are already at least somewhat "flipped." At the same time, I am constantly aerated about the idiocy of "experts" who, on the one hand, are touting MOOCs as the next! Big! Thing! and on the other, urge us to flip our classrooms. So, let me get this straight: lecturing is good if it's videotaped for thousands and bad if it's in front of 30-100* actual students who can raise their hands and ask questions at any point? HelLO?

    The main thing that I feel I have "flipped" in my classes is HEL-related topics. (Note that I don't actually teach HEL, but Middle English lit.) I still do a very abbreviated lecture in class, no more than 5-10 minutes, then ask students to read about the Great Vowel Shift (etc) on their own, and then we spend a lot of time on reading aloud from the text, practicing dialogues (yes, just like in Spanish 101) in pairs, and even writing dialogues in ME, which I then edit and give back for students to perform. I wouldn't say this gets everybody up to speed on the Great Vowel Shift, but I do contend that more students internalize more about the sounds of Middle English that way than happened with lectures and diagrams.

    I also think it's very important to have different strategies available. Some students will be much happier with a strongly hands-on approach, while others badly want the lectures and diagrams. If you do both, it may not be in the optimal order for everyone, but at least everybody gets some of what they need, whether that's theory or practice.

    *The numbers likely in non-science/math courses at LRU.

  2. Anonymous3:08 PM

    I think the vision here of what's traditional is, um, limited. I guess I was aware my current classroom isn't exactly traditional since I never lecture. I do try to mix things around as far as what I expect students to do in or out of class.

    My students are expected to read the assignment and answer questions in their study guide. The typical scenario would be they do that out of class and we do something in class that the questions have prepared them for--usually student led discussion.

    Sometimes though, we work on the questions together in groups. Or sometimes we do a reading assignment together, so they get a chance to read out loud. I do that more often with underclassmen as a way to model for them what doing their homework should look like--in other words, a quick skim and a series of two word answers to the questions is probably not sufficient.

    There's no space, though, for watching videos that contain lectures because that has nothing to do with anything we do. We read books and discuss them.

    Completely agree with Dame Eleanor here--touting MOOCs as the next big thing makes absolutely no sense to me given everything else teachers are told they need to do. It seems utterly contrary to the current state of thinking about education, which makes all the excitement over it seem pretty weird.

  3. My reaction to the whole flipping thing (in both senses of the word, come to think of it)is pretty much the same: if those who are still lecturing want to learn about active learning, they should ask their literature/comp. colleagues, who have been teaching that way all along. The assumption that there is lecture content to be presented comes up even in non-MOOC online classes, where I'm apparently supposed to have audio to record. But most of what I do orally in class (a writing class) is go over assignments and other handouts that already exist in written form, so what is there to record?

    I'd also say that the difficulty we sometimes have in getting students to read outside of class (witnessed by the need for reading quizzes, etc.) bodes badly for the likelihood of their actually watching lectures outside of class. Perhaps the video format will have the charm of novelty for a semester or so, but after that, students will be groaning about the amount of watching (as opposed to reading) they have to do. If pre-recorded lectures were really a good idea, they would have caught on when VCRs (or maybe even cassette tapes) became common.

  4. I think of lit classes as basically already flipped, and that the language of flipping is basically about making math and science classes more like English classes.

  5. You've already flipped your classes! Everything you're doing is best practice for teaching and learning. The so-called models out there are guides only. So you use reading in prep for class (at home) instead of recorded lectures or videos -- that works. Your in-class activities have the students INVOLVED in their learning in a variety of ways. Like I said -- you're doing it all just perfectly. Kudos to a great teacher!

  6. Anonymous6:49 PM

    What previous folks said. Discussion classes are ALREADY flipped. You read outside of class (that's the lecture equivalent) and discuss inside. It's nothing new, except maybe in math and science. (And even those generally have in class problems to work, labs, etc.)

  7. But I run my discussion classes pretty much as they were run when I was an undergrad, in the stone ages.

    Dame Eleanor, yes, drawing the imagery works really well for some students. (And it's how I started doing my own fabulously realistic art inspired by literature.)

  8. I'm amused by the idea of a "pre-flipped" literature class, where students analyze the texts on their own, at home, and then sit quietly in class and read.

  9. What everyone else has said: our classes are already flipped, but that doesn't suit the Transformational Paradigms R Us policymakers' vision of reality, so they ignore it.

    And what you and Dame Eleanor say about MOOCs: exactly! I'm trying to taper off with the MOOC rants, but that's so true.

  10. I plan to flip a few things in my comp classes. For example, instead of giving a powerpoint presentation on MLA documention in class, I will have them view it (along with a video?) outside of class and then get straight into practicing when we're in class. Also, in comp, I tend to lecture on chapter "highlights" after they have read the chapters (from "They Say / I Say"), but I think I might start holding them responsible for comprehending the reading (gasp!), not summarizing, so we can get straight to application.

    In my survey classes, I might require a bit more outside work on contextual matters.

  11. Patty3:08 PM

    This seems to work for me in logic, which is more like math... but, the thing is that most of my class time is already spent working on problems -- and, the video of me explaining the new rules etc.. would be a waste of time because most of it comes from student questions -- so, no "flipping" for me, I suppose.

  12. Just wrote a post on my experiences flipping a class last spring. The effects on course evaluations in courses where students have come to expect passive information delivery are work considering.