How NOT to Start a Flipped Class

Every day, I carry a small black journal around to jot down thoughts, changes, and quick reminders to myself. It’s something kids find intriguing for some reason, possibly because I let them read it if they want to. They’re surprised to see how often I think about school and how much I write down about the things they’re working on.

What I haven’t done, though, is carry long-term thoughts around with me from year to year. I have day to day observations and reflections, but those are very quick snapshots of isolated instances, classes, and students. I head into new school years with the past year fresh in my mind. Students working well in a self-paced environment, collaboration is normal, and they are cooperative learners. At the end of the year. I need to start a book of reminders to check at the beginning of each year. I’m going to title it:

“How NOT to Start a Flipped Class.”

Entry number one: Begin with standards based grading from day one. – I say this because it is too much of a functional jump for many students to handle well from the first day of school. At the beginning, I need to structure a smooth transition from “traditional” grading methods (or the appearance of a traditional method) to the SBG system I would prefer to be in. If you’re new to SBG, Frank Noschese did a fantastic piece on simple standards-based systems that I’m modeling this year in chemistry.

Entry number two: Self pace from day one. – Self pacing is another foreign concept to students. They are not used to working for deadlines coming up on a regular interval. Very few students have the capacity to jump into a self-paced class and do well from day one. I need to direct the learning pace and then slowly ease into a self-paced class setting, once they’ve proven their ability to manage time well.

Entry number three: Student-picked groups all the time – Choosing groups is something I like my kids to do on their own, because it is something that helps me learn about the class dynamics. However, this can quickly turn into hang out time if it isn’t regulated well. It also leads to “point prostitution” (coined by Glenn Arnold) where one person does the work and the group benefits from their labor.

Remember, these are ways NOT to start your flipped learning system. I manage to make these same mistakes year after year, and I’m ready to stop the cycle of frustration I put myself in. I’m not losing hope for the year because I’ve seen what flipped classes can look like when everything runs smoothly. I just need to improve the first few steps needed to help students process the change.

What mistakes have you made? What adjustments or policies have helped your students make the adjustment? Leave your thoughts and tips (both what to do and what not to do) in the comments below.

  • http://twitter.com/dswoape Dian Swoape

    WOW! What a great posting. So far I haven’t done any of these so I feel like I am on the right track. :-) Of course, I need to clarify for everyone reading this, I haven’t begun my journey into the flipped classroom yet either. That is coming up soon. I am just beginning to get my feet wet, tippy-toeing into the water at best.

  • http://twitter.com/nebbie_n Deb Wolf

    Brian, perhaps the struggle our students are having with the “points” vs “learning” is very much like the struggle with implementing SBG. Perhaps we need to give them points for practice initially, because that’s what they are used to and slowly wean them off of the points. Hmmmm. Something to chew on. I’m wondering if this may decrease the withdrawal symptoms. Going cold-turkey is resulting in “points cravings” and erratic behavior.

    • http://www.brianbennett.org/blog Brian Bennett

      I have not done a good job at curbing their appetite for points. One student today was very frustrated that her grade is suffering, even though she has turned in most of the assignments. However, she hasn’t proved her learning in the standards I’ve set out. To her, assignments = learning, and that’s what I’m fighting the most. I’m still trying to figure out how to support their practice, but focus on the learning. This year, it seems harder in the past for some reason.

  • http://twitter.com/MathDifferently Malisa Bright

    It’s like you read my mind. First year flipping and SBG (modified) for Alg 2 this year. I lectured about first half of the first chapter and then flipped. I started out doing concept mastery quizzes and thought I’d do many more concepts than I’m going to end up doing. It’s a LOT of work doing it non-computer based. And I didn’t have near enough practice in place when they needed remediation. But for me, the biggest issues were that: There were LOTS of concepts I wanted to get mastery on early on. I realize now I was quizzing them to death the first month…on top of getting used to flipping, and…and…too much. I don’t know quite how I’ll modify that next year but I DEFINITELY will.

    I really wanted the first couple chapters self-paced (with guidelines) since it’s 95% review. I thought this would help buy in from students at all ends of the spectrum. But what I lost was the collaboration and the better students helping the not-so-strong ones. I’ve done some things in the current chapter that are encouraging and I’m giving a ‘group quiz’ tomorrow. Hopefully they’ll see the value in working together and helping one another.

    I always let students choose seats/groups at first and then make notes of who should NOT be near one another. A couple colleagues mentioned last week that they notice that when they have their (traditional style) classroom in rows most of the time, the group work becomes such a welcome change that they work really well in the groups. I found something related this week. I’d been letting them choose seats/groups. A few days ago I made strategic groups. Today, they had a collaborative tasks and I said they could move about. And they worked SO much better than they had all year. I jumped up and down two of the three periods and said “THIS IS WHAT ITS SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE!”

    Yes, 100% agree on all three points!

    • http://www.brianbennett.org/blog Brian Bennett

      That’s great! It’s so exciting to see teachers getting excited about success in class time. How did you create the strategic groups? Could you elaborate a little more for us?

  • http://twitter.com/Dave_Helmick david helmick

    This is a terrific post that reassures a second year chemistry teacher and a first year flipper that, at least so far, the year is staring off right. Although I am not at SBG, yet, I do hope to get there; I still try and emphasize to my students to not look at the point value of what I call ‘class actions’ (assignments) but rather have students reflect on their learning of the material. This will certainly help when I do make the transition to SBG a lot easier I hope for not only myself but for my students. Allowing my students to retake quizzes to learn from their mistakes as many times as they would like and also allowing students to decide when they will test seems to focus students on content and not points. I have some students who will retake a quiz 3-5 times because they have made one simple mistake and want to correct it so that they know they have mastered the material.

    I structured the start of the year for the students allowing great flexibility in what the students were choosing to do in class but still directing them through the first unit, safety. Each day the students were given choices of what they ‘should’ be doing and still receiving a lot of direction from me.I then slowly transitioned into the self pacing for each individual student. This is something I feel that , for being my first time, I have done extremely well.

    As for grouping of students. I am also a huge believer of allowing students to pick their own groups. Allowing the students the ability to work with whom they would like knowing in the back of my mind that I would want to switch groups up eventually. However, over the past 5 weeks, in dealing with all of the ‘other’ errands of everyday school life I have overlooked switching the groups of students. This is a mistake I feel I have made for the time being and I plan on addressing it with the class.

    Something that I do to engage the entire class no matte where they are in the content is hold 10 minute class meetings twice or three times a week. In these meetings we address concerns, issues, questions, problems, etc. that I may have or that have been voiced by a student./group. We can hold problem solving meetings where each group of students attempts to solve a class problem. As I will be doing tomorrow in class, to address the issue of groups within the class treating class time as ‘hang out’ time. I allow the students to solve the problem on their own. Everyone has a say, some input into how the class should be run.

    • http://twitter.com/MathDifferently Malisa Bright

      A couple nice ideas in there. Thanks. I particularly like the ‘class meeting’ idea and treating it as a class problem that a group is choosing to use their time poorly.

      I’m finding the opposite is true re: re-quizzing. I’m requiring them to re-quiz to mastery on the concepts I’ve deemed key. The fact that I’m expecting them to have all their signs right and know how to round to the nearest tenth…it’s CLEAR that they’ve been getting partial credit and that no one’s ever required the precision that I am. You’d think I was trying to take their lunch money or first born.

    • http://www.brianbennett.org/blog Brian Bennett

      Thanks for giving an example of how you structured your first unit. Like you, I flipped my second year teaching chemistry, and I think we had similar transitions. Mine began as a very linear class, but morphed into a self-directed, SBG system. This year, I tried to dive into SBG and it has kind of blown up in my face. So, I’m trying to roll back to something like yours, where they have “directed choice,” if you will. Hopefully, we can get back on track by Christmas so we can really begin self-pacing during second semester.

  • http://twitter.com/Dassel Mark Peterson

    I’ve gone to SBG this year. It has been such a mind shift for myself and the students. When I first presented it, comments like, “We are getting a grade on what we have learned? I can make things up for full credit? There are no ‘attendance points’?” It has been a lot of work, but I see what progress they are making and it is so much like coaching a sport…..I feel guilty for not having done it sooner in my career. I think it is essential that we remain “beta”, because it is a fluid-ever changing field. Who knows where education will be in 5 years, in 10…..so enjoy the journey. Even if the moon is messing with their brains and they are a bucky because they’ve “always” been talked to like this, or graded like this or not had enough focus on learning….like this. As far as the “flipping” goes, transitions are difficult for students. They’ve been trained and it will take time to de-toxify their souls and get them doing a better job of the learning end of being a student.

  • http://twitter.com/coachrotte Joshua Winrotte

    I am just now getting started with flipping after 7 years in a tightly controlled, semi-scripted classroom. Thanks for putting information out there like this. I am sure I will make tons of my own mistakes, but if reading your thoughts helps me to avoid any it is time well spent. Thanks Josh

  • Marc Seigel

    Toward the middle of last year, I decided that I was going to flip from day 1. By the end of the year, I changed everything. Similar to you, I use too many non-traditional methods that to flip AND include these from day 1 is too much of a transition for most of my students. This year I decided to start with certain skills and altering their mindsets. We are paperless in labs and most of the activities in class. Quizzes are taken on whiteboards and neon markers are used in labs with lots of pictures taken to document results. We are about 5 weeks in and I am finally transitioning them to flipped instruction. However, I am pre-assigning lab partners and will be tighter about deadlines (despite having completely removed my late policy). I want to keep the class as close together as possible without telling them what to do every day. I figure at this pace we will be asynchronous by midterms.

    And it’s time to upgrade your phone and use that tablet more effectively to track your thoughts.

  • Kim

    Yes, Yes,and Yes! From my experience it is essential to ‘ease’ kids into the flipped classroom style. At 6 weeks we are just now transitioning as the faster kids take off and the slower kids slow down. My kids are adapting so much better this year, as I allow the transition to occur naturally. It is AWESOME!!! Now if I could convince my administrators….

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  • Laura

    Great post! I teach freshmen at a small private high school and our freshman come from about 25 different schools. I like using “Who’s Next” app for grouping them the first few times, mixing it in with seating changes like “place yourselves in birthday order, (whole class) then sitting 3 to a table” or something along those lines. I tend to let them choose groups occasionally after they are comfortable. As you said, class choice in grouping often leads to hang out time! I did have 4 very distractable boys in one class last year that always begged to work together, and after several other iterations and complaints from their respective group mates that they were shirking their responsibilities, I allowed them to work together. Their first couple of efforts were less than desired at best, and it took a while, but they finally realized what they needed to do and managed to pull off a decent last product.

    i also spend a great deal of time front-loading. We are not 1:1 yet, but I do take them to the library and walk them through the first video and WSQ notes, easing them into menus and class based products vs home projects. As you said, if you try to jump in at the deep end oth you and the students drown! Great post!!!

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