Flipping, Week 1: Stop the Blabbing.

One of my major goals this year is to stop talking so much. Even in my tenth year, I still spend far too much time explaining, questioning, and presenting in front of the class.

The nature of this talking has changed a lot though. When I first started teaching, it was almost all explaining. That’s what I thought good teaching was all about – if you could just explain it the right way, then everyone would get the concept you are teaching, right? A perfect lesson consisting of a perfect development, a perfect explanation of all concepts, perfect example problems, and perfect students. This is how I looked at it during my summer training, and before I got into my classroom.

That changed pretty quickly once I actually got started. Explanations were important, but more important was getting students to be somehow involved. My coaching from administration was focused on good questioning over talking and explaining as a way to do this, so I put a lot of energy into this during my first couple years, and it has since stuck.

The problem is that I am often addicted to asking questions when it’s really time for students to get working and thinking on their own. I can ask questions like crazy, which might have really impressed administrators in my room at one time, but it probably infuriated (and still infuriates) my students to no end. As good of a question I could have asked, they were still just sitting there thinking and not doing any active learning on their own. Furthermore, when the one or two students do answer a question I ask, it isn’t necessarily a real indication of what thinking is going on in the heads of the other students in the room. Students who self select to participate make for a bad sample for the level of understanding in the rest of the room.

The technique to address poor participation (as pushed by my administration in my first couple years) was to cold call students. This is a bad sample in the other direction – pushing a student to go from full listening mode to full participation mode with the rest of students is not an effective way to make dialogue an important part of what goes on in your classroom every day. This is especially the case for students that have poor self esteem about math in the first place. Good conversation is rarely one or two to many. When was the last time you saw twenty people actively involved in a discussion? Why would you really try to get that going in a classroom when it doesn’t work for a room full of adults at a faculty meeting?

In reality, real learning doesn’t look like a kid staring into space pondering a good question. It involves experimenting, testing a theory, writing down an idea and trying it out. It involves taking what you have produced out of your own thinking and getting active and reliable feedback.

Back to my main point – I am attempting this year to put any direct instruction for a particular day’s lesson in two minute video chunks, and limiting the number of these to no more than four per day. A few really nice things have happened since doing this:

  • I’m putting a lot of thought into exactly which ideas are best left to video or direct instruction, and which ideas will come out through conversation and the activities. Some things are better taught in a big group, I’m not going to deny this to be the case. Some things are better learned one-on-one, and thinking about the difference has really changed the way I organize the activities for the day.
  • My students are spending a lot less time listening to me, and more time engaged in the videos and what I ask them to do. The videos sometimes include straight example problems, but I try to include a couple things for students to actually do, write down, or talk about with the person next to them as they watch. The conversations that students have during the videos are really rich (and remarkably on-topic), and are so much more useful than having me tell them things while they stare at me.
  • I can do other things while they are working on the activities I give them. I can see how they are watching the video and make suggestions on things they should be writing down. I can test their knowledge by asking one-on-one questions and get a really good sense for the level of understanding for each student. I can look at quizzes I gave at the beginning of the period, make comments on them, and have a conversation with the students about their work before the end of the period! The quality of my interaction with students has been much higher than before, which has resulted in larger amounts of quality feedback. That is really the goal here.
  • My ESOL students are loving it. They can take time with vocabulary, which is the hard part for them, and make note of the mathematics concepts at the same time. Some students are using the videos to create their own glossaries in other languages. I’ve always suggested that students do this, but until now, I haven’t seen them do it so well, let alone of their own volition.
  • The learning in my room is messier than ever before – everyone is at different points and is having different conversations. There are papers all over the place. Students are crowded around tables working and are facing all different directions. Seeing this sort of thing happen my first year would have meant that this was a spent lesson, that I had lost them. Here, it just looks like (and is so far proving to me) good learning experiences for students.
  • This post is partly in response to one of the new blogger prompts about what I want my students to remember ten years down the road. I really don’t care if they remember how to factor quadratics. Moving to a more student-centered learning model though has made the students in charge of making sure they understand what they are learning. I would love if students tell me in ten years that they learned how to learn something new in my class. Real learning is messy, and actually doing math (not watching), making mistakes and growing from feedback is part of the game. There’s not as much room for that in the more traditional math structure of “I-Do,We-do,You-do” model because the last part is where the real learning happens. Maximizing that part (and simultaneously providing ways for that feedback to happen) is the real meat of teaching, and it’s where I am focusing my energy this year.

    Here’s to keeping it going as long as possible!

9 thoughts on “Flipping, Week 1: Stop the Blabbing.

  1. It sounds like a great first week, congrats and great reflection. Isn’t the messy learning exciting to see? It looks different than what I used to aim for, but the energy in the room is so much more dynamic.

    1. Thanks – it is really exciting. I’m already finding ways to make it better in talking with students and asking them questions during the class period. The energy is invigorating, and makes me not want to go back the other way. The only advantage I have is small classes, so I can have good conversations with every student multiple times during the class period.

  2. It sounds like an exciting time to be in your classroom (as teacher or student!) Changes I made in my classroom last year led to my first year of seeming organized chaos in the classroom, so perhaps we are at similar places in our involvement of students. I had many observations of my classroom last year. The most useful thing I got out of them was a sense of whether my students are staying on task when I was off helping in another part of the classroom. It turned out that my students were, for the most part, and the two occasions when an observer noticed otherwise, I had totally missed it. I never would have known without the observer. (Not that I have great ideas for making sure students stay on task when it’s just you and you don’t realize they’re getting off-task. If you don’t see it, then it seems the only possible solution would be some sort of mechanism for students to monitor themselves and self-correct when they realize they’ve started goofing off. But I cannot think any such mechanism that sounds realistic.)

    I gather from your bullet points that the videos are being watched in class rather than at home before class. I thought the point of flipping was that the videos (and things for them to write down while watching) would be done as homework so that no class time need be spent on introducing topics that are video-worthy. Are you giving them videos to watch before class as well? One problem I have with this approach is that they don’t learn to read the book. To appeal to multiple learning styles, I’d think some combination of having them read and having them watch a video would be best, although I haven’t thought much about which topics would be best to introduce through which medium. I think both text and video are here to stay, so it is important to get students used to acquiring knowledge through both media.

    Thanks for an interesting and revealing post.

    1. Hi,

      I completely agree that I want to have more observations of how this is working. I suspect you are right – that some may be more off-task than I think, and I am looking for ways to prevent this. The class where this is really happening has 20 students in it (my biggest class) and I am finding that while I am weaving in and out of the tables throughout the period, there are periods and groups that are less productive than others. On the whole though, since I am spending less time talking, I think there is more net time spent working, and that is a major advantage to doing things this way.

      Flipping doesn’t have to be videos for homework and homework in class – the general idea behind it is flipping the relationship and responsibility between students and teachers relative to learning. I like the philosophy that I can put resources together for students to use to work toward specific goals. Some of those are videos. Other resources include interesting problems and activities during class that help them work with definitions and concepts to make them richer than they would be just listening to me talk. Some of them do read websites and example problems from the textbook, though that is not admittedly as much as I would like. I agree that reading textbooks is a skill that we have been edging away from since when I was in high school.

      As of now, there aren’t videos I’m having them watch for homework. I may try this for Calculus as we move into our next unit, but I am more excited about putting together the resources for students to learn, and then setting them off as they do so. They likely need me to explain ideas less than they think, and can benefit more from spending time working through problems than they would having me introduce an idea perfectly in a lecture format.

      Thanks for the comments!


  3. Your post reminded me of the numerous classroom observations I’ve made in my job. Here’s a typical scenario:

    The teacher starts the lesson by “teaching” a new concept. This teaching usually involved some combination of explaining and asking questions to check for understanding. During this time, the class is usually very quiet, a few students are misbehaving, and a few look like they are taking naps with their eyes open. After teaching the concept, the teacher gives the students an activity to explore the concept further. The students work independently, in pairs, with the teacher, whatever it takes. Finally, the teacher calls the students back together and debriefs the activity they just completed and summarizes the key concepts from the lesson. The amazing thing is that consistently the class is more talkative and engaged during this second teacher-led portion of the lesson.

    The lesson I learned from this is that students love to talk and they are happy to talk, but they have to have some connection with what is going on in the lesson. If you’re introducing something brand new to them at the beginning of the lesson in a direct-teacher sort of way, don’t be surprised if they have very little to say. But give them some interesting problems to solve that involve that concept, and they will then have a shared experience to talk about as a whole class. In the rooms I’ve observed, it’s like night and day.

    It sounds like the flipped classroom idea is leveraging this experience by having students engage with the content on their own through videos. That way once they’re back with the teacher and other students they have already made a connection to the content and they’re ready to talk about it and ask questions. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with teachers talking necessarily; they just need to think about when they’re doing it.

    1. I am finding that to be the case more and more as I try to reduce my own direct instruction. It definitely makes a difference having the students do things on their own and then have things to share when we see them in discussion as a group. They otherwise have only prior knowledge to bring into the discussion, and in many cases, that really isn’t that interesting to them aside from the potential novelty of having seen something before. My biggest bad habit in doing things this way is talking too much before cutting them lose to do the activity. This is why the videos are doing good things for me – I have two minutes to make my case, and then the students are off working on whatever task I give them.

      You are absolutely right about flipped classrooms working that way. I try in my videos to include one or two activities or questions that the students can interact with right there. Then, as I am circulating to work with students, I have something specific to engage them on, and it’s no surprise to them what I am asking.

      I am finding places in my classes where I am talking too little, and the students could benefit more from being shown an example rather than discovering things entirely on their own. I am lucky to have students that (when asked) are honest enough to tell me what is and is not working.

      Thanks for the comments!


  4. Would you be up for posting an example of one of your videos? I’m amazed that you can fit all of that into 2 minutes!

    1. I will – I am planning to upgrade to VideoPress soon and will be able to do that. Much of the secret to getting it down to 2 minutes or so is editing out pauses, time required to write things out, and getting rid of things I say that I don’t really need to say. Hopefully I get better at it, because at the moment, it is still a huge ratio of time in:video out!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *