How flipped learning, Pokemon, and mastery made my parent/teacher conferences 1000% better.
@flipping_A_teacher (Andrew Swan), @crystalkirch, myself, and a few others were discussing ways to adjust the twitter and blog experience to create another productive venue for beneficial interaction and discussion of flipped learning topics. Then straight off the top rope with an atomic elbow drop, Mr. Swan lays this on us:
(Graphic by Andrew Swan)
Soooo…in the spirit of community and camaraderie here is my pre-work submission for the inaugural #flipblogs discussion and I encourage all who are interested to read other #flipblogs and watch for a time and place to discuss them on twitter.
Pre-Work #1 Prompt:
Parent calls and conferences:
The flipped classroom and flipped learning has made my parent teacher conferences 1000% better. I am not sure how broadly this experience applies but I am confident, that in spite of variety in details, the experience that follows will be applicable to most teachers. In my district, the whole school schedules formal conferences between teachers and parents that wish to schedule a time to meet to discuss the progress of their child. This “event” happens at the 1/4 mark in the year giving 9-10 weeks of student performance and teacher experience to jointly review. In many cases the bulk of the parents I see fall into one of two broad categories. I meet with parents who have students that are doing very well and would likely do well regardless of my instruction, assuming I do a mildly passable job. I also meet with parents who have students that are struggling or who have tended to struggle in previous mathematics courses. I am happy to meet with anyone who comes in my door, but if this is the first interaction you have had with the parents or the child is not meeting someone’s expectations in some way then the process can be a bit like eating an unlabeled box of assorted chocolates…and as we all know “You never know what’cher gonna get”.
Flipping the script early:
The first very positive aspect of flipping with regards to parent/teacher conferences actually happens 12-16 weeks before the event. Yes, a month or more before the school year starts. I send out a welcome video to parents and students via the email addresses in our school’s student management system. This video introduces my face, voice, class format, basic expectations, FAQs, etc. to parents and students before they even set foot in my classroom. By the time parent teacher conferences roll around I hope that parents have seen my intro and, as experience has shown, know both my voice and face better than they would ever wish via my Digital Instruction Blocks (DIBs).
Flipping the call/conference:
My favorite aspect and by product of flipping with regards to parent teacher conferences and parent phone calls is the basis for this blog title. This particular student, or amalgamation of students, is one of the focal points in my nearly finished book because I find this such a meaningful aspect of flipping. I am sure that none of your students resemble the following example, but just in case look for the flip in this situation.
I recently had William in precalculus for his senior year. He was an inside linebacker, and very good at it. He was short, muscular, and stocky, like you would expect of a senior linebacker. Like many athletes, William was extremely busy during football season. He had a hard time putting in a regular effort in class, and it was showing in his work. He had plenty going on between his goal posts, but unfortunately, precalculus is a class where talent isn’t enough anymore.
“In William’s defense, it is also possible that his lack of steady effort in math class had to do with his hope to have a career in physical therapy or athletic training. For his chosen life path, he probably didn’t feel the need for math theory as much as biology or anatomy, and I assume that he was focusing harder there. All I can say for sure is that his senior year was not math awesome.
A short way into the year, I started having conversations with William’s father – sometimes by phone, and sometimes in person. They would normally end with a, “get him to do his work please,” sort of plea from me. He was pulling in scores like 30% on section quizzes (the repeatable kind), but would get it together by the end of a chapter for the test and do fairly well. Overall, he wasn’t quite failing, but he also wasn’t close to his potential.
Students have a personal log-in when they work on DIBs, and it’s not hard to get a history of their time spent. I have to say that it was disheartening to look back and see that William had never attempted a DIB before coming to class. He seemed to rely on his classmates and his own talent to grasp the concepts during class, which was an uphill battle he was losing.
At the end of the first quarter I got a call from William’s father. He was perceptibly angry, and proceeded to shout at me for not giving his son enough opportunity to pass the class. After a few minutes of trying to get a word in, I let him know that William was able to go back and re-do any of the online work to bring his grade up.
I treat the Digital Instruction Blocks (DIBs) like Pokemon “You Gotta catch’em all!”
He could even do some of it that very night, since everything was accessible from the internet. Evidently, this important piece of information had been left out of his conversations with William. Our phone conversation ended with a single teeth clenched question, “You mean he could have fixed this at any point?” There was an awkward silence after my one word reply, “yep,” and then the line went dead.”
This conversation is similar to many I have had in person and over the phone many times since flipping my classroom and I use the Pokemon quote every time. When this basic situation and conversation happens in person, it is priceless to see the parent’s head snap to the side and glare at their child. It is even a little creepy when the parent slooowly turns and the heat of the gaze moves from me to the student.
The true flip in this situation is not a movement of blame but the clear refocus of responsibility. In my introductory video, my course syllabus, the training in classroom procedure at the beginning of the year, and throughout the course I make very clear that responsibility for learning lies with the student. The responsibility for academic preparation lies with the student. Additionally, the responsibility to re-address unsuccessful learning goals lies with the student. My responsibility is providing access to quality resources, access to regular assistance and guidance, meaningful learning activities, clear feedback to the student on learning progress, and opportunity for re-learning and mastery opportunities.
The parent and teacher relationship becomes far easier in the flipped learning environment. Flipped learning allows me to leverage technology to be available to student regardless of location or time. It allows me to be verbally and visually in the student’s home and family environment. Flipped learning allows barriers of dates and times to be minimized to address individual needs. Combining flipped learning with elements of mastery also allows for student success and more complete learning when the student is convinced, or becomes convinced, that the time for learning has arrived. When the time does arrive flipped learning allows students to treat learning like Pokemon and they are free “To catch’em all”.