Sunday, November 30, 2014

Control -v- Choice

At school we've been considering the possibility that, at some stage, we might be forced into a situation of distance learning.  We have been told, for example, that if there are any cases of Ebola in Mumbai, school will move to a distance learning model.  And sadly, the situation in the world today means that a terrorist threat could also prompt a school closure.  We are going to prototype a distance learning situation next week and then refine our approach as we consider what worked and what didn't.

Last Thursday we had a Professional Learning day.  One of the activities on the secondary campus was a PlayDate.  The teachers in my room were investigating flipped and distance learning tools.  They explored places where they could find content, Tools for making their own videos, and different places to post these to share with students.  To prepare for facilitating this session I read through Tom Driscoll's story about democratizing learning through the flipped classroom (in Flipped Learning:  Gateway to Student Engagement).

Tom writes that he used to be a teacher who maintained a firm control on what students were learning and how they would be assessed.  This situation was one that caused him to feel dissatisfied because it was hard for students to apply their learning to their lives beyond school, as they had little choice or control over their own learning.  Tom describes his World History course where he observed that his lessons were too fast for many and yet too slow for others in his mixed-level group.   He wanted to ensure that his students could access a diversity of knowledge and opinions, that they would develop personal initiative and that they would have choice and control of the various modes of expression for their assessments.

Tom did what most people who start flipping their classroom do:  he screencasted his lectures and assigned the videos for homework.  He then started to consider what to do in the time freed up in class.  He noticed that his students learned at different rates, so pacing was something he wanted to address in class.  After making his videos, Tom then moved onto the "Flipped Mastery" model.  He designed each unit around 4 learning goals, each with 3-4 learning objectives, and each objective with 1-6 learning tasks.  Students worked through the tasks at their own pace to show mastery of the objectives.

Tom's move towards a more democratic classroom came with the introduction of inquiry-based learning.  He describes how flipping the learning individualized instruction, increased opportunities for interaction and expression, promoted active and experiential activities, offered equitable access to intellectual experiences, encouraged ownership of learning and valued critical thinking and collaborative problem solving.  He highlights the following:
  • Personalized learning happened as a result of greater differentiation as students learned at their own pace and were given more choice and control over their learning.  Tom offered choices of assessments for each learning objective and also provided students with the opportunity to develop their own assessments.
  • An increase in the number and quality of student-teacher interactions.  Flipped learning led to more discussion among peers and he now spends most of his face-to-face time having conversations with individual students and small groups.
  • Critical thinking and problem solving  were promoted by collaborative inquiry.  In Tom's case, this has led to the introduction of 20% time where students develop a project they are passionate about.
Above all, Tom concludes, he feels this new approach has created a learning environment that better models the 21st century democracy that his students live in, and so better prepares these students for success in their modern, interconnected world.

Photo Credit: torbakhopper HE DEAD via Compfight cc

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