Part 2: HELP! How to provide good communication when students are in the individual space.
Part 1 of this series addressed how various formative assessment methods can change communication allowing students to show their level of understanding and teachers to adjust instruction on an individual and daily basis. This blog will address how to provide students a means of communication when learning in the individual space.
It happens to all of us, at some point we reach the end of our current knowledge or find ourselves at the end of a dead end train of thought and we need HELP! The flipped classroom was formulated in large part to address this issue. By moving the direct instruction to the individual space time is opened up in the group space to do the practice, exploration, and learning with the “expert” present. We discussed in part 1 the use of formative assessment to aid both teachers and students in the group space, but what if the student has questions or needs help in the individual space?
But I have a question:
Even in the case of the most well done and informative video instruction that includes interactive elements and a teacher that can anticipate questions, students will still have questions regarding instruction. If the instruction were still done in class the argument would be that a student could just raise their hand and ask. In fact I survey my students anonymously at least twice each year regarding my classroom methods (more about that later) and a small but significant critique from the students is always that they can’t ask questions when watching the video. Although students exaggerate the problem, it is nonetheless a problem to address. The reason I say they exaggerate the problem is I have found more and more ways to address this issue the longer I flip.
The lowest tech option, but a very effective option, is the method Jon Bergmann used and suggests… notes. Teach students how to take quality notes. In his flipped classroom books and his upcoming flipped certification courses Jon suggests the Cornell Notes process specifically because it provides a place and mechanism for student to record their questions to bring to class the following day. Remember, the flipped instruction is not the complete instruction it is the lower Bloom’s, or as I prefer to say the learning “primer” that gets the process started. As we discussed in Part 1 of this series the interactive notebook can also function in meeting this need.
Another version of the same:
Some flip teachers require students to formulate a question to be asked and answered the following day and they collect these via a google form, EdPuzzle, or other data collection tool. A teacher I work with simply leaves the final question as option for students to record a question for the following day. Here again is an example of technology improving on a tried and true method. By digitally recording student questions a few things can happen. The first is that a teacher can pull up the digitally collected questions and it takes the bravery out of asking questions in class. Remember the suggestion that in-class instruction means in-class questions? As teachers we have all stood at the front of the classroom and asked for questions only to face a silence as empty as a Carnegie Hall on a Monday morning. Some students will simply not ask questions in class for a variety of reasons, but as the internet has proven they will abandon all restraint and post it on the internet. Not only does digital question collection allow students to pre-ask questions, the teacher has the opportunity to pre-answer them. By visually scanning the questions the teacher can see what needs addressed by the most learners or who needs an individual answer or even additional help. In this case the flipped classroom produces more good learning questions than an in class lecture.
Time for a confession:
In all honesty I don’t use any of these methods. In my math class I take a picture of my instructional notes and post them with the video as I have a high percentage of students for whom I am required to provide notes. As a side note, this has worked out well with the increased focus on concussions as students can have their parents or friends print the notes, press play on the video and now they have Mr. Moore the audio book with read along notes. I am no James Earl Jones but my concussion students don’t fall as far behind and can listen with their eyes closed (much like my old in class lectures). I have quiz questions with my videos that I use for accountability purposes, but I don’t record student’s open ended questions digitally because…well I havn’t it is just a great idea I haven’t gotten around to yet. What I do include is 2-4 basic practice content problems that students are to come to class prepared to discuss and this provides our jumping off point for daily interaction. These are where students tend to have questions especially for students trained to “get answers” not trained to experience “learning”.
What do you do?
I have email! I haved used a learning management system since the inception of my flipped classroom and it provided every one of my students a closed email system to me only, well before my students had school email addresses. Once my students got school email it was even more streamlined. Now that my students are 1:1 with Chromebooks, “come on guys no excuses”. I mentioned earlier that my students perennially use the “What if I have questions?” excuse and my response is that the problem is real but exaggerated. Like most Americans I have a cell phone, and like many Americans my email comes directly to my phone. If I were exceedingly famous or popular this might be an issue but I am a math teacher and neither fame or popularity is forthcoming. All it takes is about a week and one difficult assignment for students to figure out that I am a lightning fast email responder. One student will complain about asking a question and invariably another student will say “me too, but Mr. Moore answered it in like 5 minutes”. I am a person who likes immediate answers to my questions and I assume my students are the same so I make it a point to answer questions very quickly. An advantage to this method is I can also prolong the learning frustration if I feel the student is trying to shortcut the process, I can direct them to a resource to find the answer for themselves, or in some cases I can absolve them of the responsibility and say “That is a great question! Have that question ready to ask right at the beginning of class tomorrow”.
One (or two) for the road:
I have seriously considered using Voxer with my students. Voxer is a text and voice “walkie talkie” app that allows messages to be sent back and forth and it will store the message until it is retrieved by the recipient. I am currently planning a Chicagoland flipped and blended learning conference with some amazing flippers in the Chicago area about 3 ½ hours from me and this app works amazingly well. My hesitancy is that with my students Chromebooks I like the screenshots and pics students can easily send of their math work through their Gmail. I will talk about student discussion boards in the next installment but teachers can, and must, be active participants in that format. Twitter has real applications for connect students to teachers, but I again feel constrained in my subject area by format and message length but some use it effectively.
See you next time for enhancing learning through improved peer to peer communication methods and tools before we head to student creation.