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!


7 responses to “Don’t flip the classroom – flip the whole school!”

  1. Another great and thought provoking post, Ian. What would you do with the students for the 5/6 of their time? At home? Supervised in larger classes? There is a mind shift that would need to take place both in and out of schools as people perceive contact time is the most important factor in education.

    • Yes, huge mind shift required. Is that an objection to doing it? 🙂

      I think you have to unbundle “contact time” and look at the value of each component. I would expect the infamous one minute per day of 1:1 interaction to have huge value, but daydreaming whilst the teacher talks for too long about something that doesn’t engage your interest? I doubt it. The only research I am aware of on this is John Carroll’s time-on-task analysis from the ’60s. That would be a good place to start in terms of validating the concept.

  2. Yes a nice thought provoking idea here Ian. Always like ideas that really challenge how we do things and question why we do them in that way. certainly eases the issue of large class sizes, and also mixed ability.
    To provide flipped classes for 5/6 of the school at any one time would require a significant online provision – perhaps through wi-fi and BYOD initiatives…..but there’s another can of worms opening up!

    • Mark, do you remember saying to me “I have just got two free additional resource suites – they are my students’ home computers”? That was seven years ago! I bet your students now casually carry or own two or three capable computers each – phone, iPod, iPad, Xbox, etc. I’m with Steve that mostly what is needed now is a mindshift – the technology is already in place.

  3. Flipped all of my Biology classes both at iGCSE and IB Biology. Homelearning is watching video preparing notes online/ cloud and then assesing prior to lesson with a short YACAPACA quiz (10 MCQ). These MCQ will focus on low to mid order thinking skills (sort of a blooms approach). Class view of results shows where the misundertadings are in the class and this is the focus of the initial part of the lesson. With significant class time remaiing we can address the higher order objectives usually in group work (Peer Assessment/ Feedback) along with a very necessary teacher support available. Notice that this means that the teacher is able to devote significant time to the more challenging aspects of the course, just when the kids need you. Rather than the more traditional approach which sends the higher order work home as homework. The higher order work can of course also be assessed with the YACAPACA quiz.

  4. You are forgetting the main purpose of secondary Education in modern industrial societies – to keep teenagers supervised and off the streets while their parents go to work. The pupils would still need to come into school for the full day to keep the parents happy, and be registered twice a day for safety and child protection reasons.

    • Freedomgardener there is one problem with the ‘off the streets’ thesis: students get at least 13 weeks per year out of school. As a method of incarceration, school simply doesn’t deliver. I’m not actually proposing that students be sent home when not in tutorial, but we could gain a lot of flexibility if we allowed ourselves to be inspired by the huge range of solutions that working parents find to cover the school holidays.

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