Don’t flip the classroom – flip the whole school!

The idea behind ‘flipping the classroom’ is to video your didactic presentations and have the students watch them at home via YouTube or similar. It’s a great idea: research has shown that video leads to greater recall because students can pause, rewind, etc over bits they did not get the first time.

What can be flipped?

Here is my list of things students can now do at home, including the traditional ones

* didactic presentations
* demonstrations
* practice exercises
* essays
* tests and low-stakes assessments
* educational computer games
* and probably much more

In tertiary education, these are now routinely getting packaged up into MOOCs – Massively Open Online Courses that have been shown to be highly effective and highly engaging. Because they have many game-like aspects, they should work even better with secondary-aged students.

So what’s left?

With the students doing all this at home, you can now knock out a lot of teacher activities that are no longer necessary

* patrol and control
* taking the register
* handing out/taking in worksheets, books, etc
Now the difficult question for someone whose mortgage is paid through teaching. What’s left? Sitting in the staffroom drinking Maxwell House?

A better use of resources.

Actually, I am quite convinced that this is the wrong question. Instead, let’s ask “What else?”  Freed from the drudgery of classroom routine, how can you apply yourself to developing the young minds in your charge beyond what could have been done in the past?

What would a flipped school look like?

What I’m going to propose is a variation on the Oxbridge tutorial system. Oxbridge separate teaching into “lectures” (that can now be flipped) and “tutoring” (Oxford) or “supervision” (Cambridge). Tutoring is done in small groups of 2-3 students with one tutor, and has the key aim of developing the students’ ability to think. The tutor’s role is to challenge and to guide the discussion, whilst the students work out the answers collectively.

Organising this with just your own class is difficult: if you are tutoring 6 students, what do the other 24 do? It works best if organised on a whole-school basis. Let’s do the sums.

  • Teacher:student ratio 1:20. Including support staff this goes up to 1:15 or higher; I’ll take 1:18 to make tidier sums.
  • Tutor:student ratio required 1:3
  • If out of every 18 students 3 are in a tutor group, 15 will not be. Each student therefore spends 1/6 of his or her time in a tutor group, and 5/6 “flipped”.

Wow, that’s an hour a day of small-group tutoring. What’s that going to do for your GCSE results?

Doing this requires a complete reorganisation of the school, and that is precisely what I am calling for. Create open learning spaces where students can study individually as they would at home – or extend the ‘study leave’ idea and allow them to study at home if that if that works for them. Chop classrooms up into tutoring spaces organised for discussion, not presentation. Give staff intensive un-learning of redundant didactic habits so they can develop their tutoring skills. And, as a by-product, watch job satisfaction soar.

So what are you waiting for. It’s still three weeks to the start of term in England. Get your sledge hammer, and go start remodelling classrooms!