Thursday, December 6, 2012

Allegory of the School

A dialogue between S. Crates and G. Laucon about the school:

S. Crates: Here is a parable to illustrate the ways in which our teaching may be enlightened or unenlightened. Imagine the condition of teachers instructing in a school with no connection to the outside world. Here in this school, these teachers have taught side by side since the beginning of their careers. They would often share opinions on teaching and these opinions were always based on their common tradition and training. Their classrooms have no windows and nothing exists beyond their walls.

G. Laucon: I see.

S. Crates: Now imagine that the teachers in this school heard whispers of teaching taking place outside of these walls. Naturally, the teachers within this school would assume that if such teaching was in fact taking place, it would mirror their own in practice and procedure.

G. Laucon: Yes, I can see how they would think that way.

S. Crates: And if we understand this notion, then the teachers within the school would inevitably view their school as a reality of teaching as well as learning.

G. Laucon: Naturally, yes.

S. Crates: Now consider what would happen if one of these teachers was suddenly taken out of this school and placed in the outside world. He would have access to other teachers in various locations and with various backgrounds. This teacher would talk to teachers, parents, children and other educators to learn how teaching and learning looked in different schools that did in fact exist. Would not this teacher be perplexed and their sense of reality be challenged?

G. Laucon: Most certainly it would.

S. Crates: And if this now freed teacher was forced to visit other schools and connect with teachers around the world, would his perception of school reality even further change?

G. Laucon: Yes.

S. Crates: Now suppose that someone were to expose this teacher to all that is new and innovative in teaching. Would he not suffer pain and discomfort from the realization that his perception of teaching and learning was not real as well as the overwhelming nature of all that was new and different around him?

G. Laucon: Certainly he would be overwhelmed and not able to process all he was experiencing.

S. Crates: He would need time to grow accustom to all that he was seeing in the outside world. At first he would only hear of things in passing but eventually his skills would sharpen and his communication would be honed. After a period of time he would begin mastering the use of new tools and pedagogy the he previously was sure did not exist.
G. Laucon: Yes, surely he would.

S. Crates: Finally, he would be to able look at the outside world of teaching and connected schools and recognize the value and power of such exposure. He would begin to draw conclusions about the true nature of teaching and learning and how his own understanding of teaching had changed. One such conclusion would be the value of open communication and connection between schools and teachers.

G. Laucon: I can see how he would draw those conclusions.

S. Crates: At this time his mind would fall back upon his fellow teachers from his own school. He would surely be happy in the knowledge he had gained and feel sorry for those who did not leave as he did. Those teachers still in his school were in the habit of commending each other on sticking with their traditions and standard practice. Would our escaped teacher be likely to go back to the school and back to his old beliefs and teach in the old way? 

G. Laucon: I cannot see how he could do that.

S. Crates: Now imagine the teacher were to come back to his school and take up his former position. Coming suddenly in from the outside world, his mind would struggle to go back to his old ways of teaching. Now imagine once again these teachers start sharing their opinions of teaching. This now returned teacher would share new ideas and ways to teach that would be different from what the others knew. The other teachers would grow angry and mad at this teacher for trying to ruin their reality. This teacher would even try to open the doors and force the others out and expose them to the outside world and the same experiences that he himself had. However, they would not want to leave and instead would shun the teacher and ignore them.

G. Laucon: Yes, I understand why they would do that to him.

S. Crates: Every aspect of this parable illustrates the ascension of knowledge within a school. Knowledge cannot be achieved within the walls alone but rather through exposure and a multitude of experiences. However, many of the teachers in the school were not ready to be exposed and therefore resent and fear the change and those individuals that bring it. Without having seen another way, no one can act with the wisdom to change either their own reality or those around them.

This was my attempt to reinterpret the Allegory of the Cave which is a conversation between Socrates and Glaucon.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Not Flipping for Flipped


Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a flipped classroom workshop. As many of you know, I have been fairly critical and skeptical of the flipped classroom model. I was engaged in a conversation with some folks on twitter about the model and was extended an invite to a workshop so I could see firsthand what it was all about. I wanted to attend this workshop to either prove myself right or to put my foot in my mouth and I was very much open to both possibilities. For those not familiar with the flipped model or flipped classroom, there are plenty of articles out there explaining it…just google it.

To get things started there was a keynote that highlighted the evolution of the flipped classroom. Right off the bat, I was not buying what was being sold. The basic flipped classroom takes the homework component and puts it into the classroom. Then the direct instruction or lectures are videotaped and sent home to be watched prior to coming to class. For me, this is not sound practice as I am not a believer in homework and mandating learning happening outside of the school. I am not saying that all teachers are using it this way but a majority of them are and that truly is a flipped classroom as it was originally defined. In this type of a model, it's no different than assigning homework to be done at home in terms of a teacher still impeding and infringing upon family time which is something I disagree with.

Moving through the morning, the phrase “it is not about the video” was referenced and cited several times. Yet, every person that shared experiences talked about their videos. If I was keeping track, I would say a majority of the people that asked questions from the audience were asking about the videos as well. In addition, a large portion of the day was dedicated to making videos and using the video software. Clearly, the flipped classroom is about the videos. Many of the video fans were talking about the transformative element of a student being able to pause and rewind. Yes, that is good for some kids, yet not for all. Some students need the interaction that a discussion or in class lecture provides.

As many people have said, there are lots of different ways the flipped classroom is being interpreted. For me, the flipped classroom is bad. Period. With that being said, I think the flipped classroom idea has allowed some people to move out of a comfort zone. It forced some teachers to look at their practice with a critical eye which is a good thing. Some of those teachers just started videotaping their lessons and sending them home which, as I already mentioned, I view as poor teaching. Yet, some of the teacher’s classrooms evolved into a mastery model or PBL or other forms of teaching models that many view as good practice. As these teachers move to these more advanced models, I don’t see that as a flipped classroom anymore yet some still do. You can have a mastery model classroom without any videos or homework and the same can be said for a PBL setting. Myself, I screen-capture reviews and lectures and post to a YouTube channel for students to view at any time for review or re-teaching. It is never required but simply another resource for students to use and I don’t think of that as “flipping” anything.

My final thought on the phenomenon that is the flipped classroom is it is not good teaching. Flipping a classroom and pushing videos homes is not something I can vote in favor of. Yes, there are examples of teachers where flipping their classrooms has led to other instructional changes that have been for the better. They started with the videos at home and moved towards a mastery model or just simply created a bank of video resources for students to use as needed. The keynote address even described these changes in the opening remarks and I think teachers who have evolved in this way are tremendous. Unfortunately, the hype of the flipped classroom is overlooking what a flipped classroom truly is as opposed to what good teachers should be doing naturally.

I have talked with teachers that are firmly on the flipped bandwagon and will tell you their teaching has been transformed for the better. They have shared how they have increased engagement and their students are achieving at a higher level than ever before. Yet, when you talk further with these people, they are not operating a flipped classroom and pushing lectures at home. They are simply evolving their teaching to meet the needs of the individual learners and are using a plethora of tools and resources to do so. In my book, this is not flipping…this is teaching as it should be.