Tuesday November 6, 2012

What really helps struggling students succeed in school? One strategy that is working well in a Michigan school is flipped classrooms.

A flipped classroom is a reverse teaching model that delivers instruction to kids at home through interactive, teacher-assigned videos, and moves “homework” to the classroom. What that means is kids actually work on their assignments in class, where they can ask questions, have discussions. This also gives teachers more time to spend one-on-one with students who need extra help.

At the People for Education conference, Greg Green, Principal of Clintondale High School, near Detroit, shared his school’s incredible results in a workshop presentation.  "What we’ve done,” said Green, “is take the best of traditional school and the best of online schools so that the two co-exist."

Green adopted the flipped school model to try and reduce the high failure rate – 61 percent of kids were failing their classes.  He implemented the program two years ago. Today, the student failure rate has dropped to just below 10 percent.

Even with his success story, though, Green said flipped classroom are still a tough sell. Few people believe that sending kids home to watch videos could boost achievement. Green said it’s easy to tell kids how to do something, it’s more difficult to make sure they understand.  And that’s where a good teacher comes in.

“We have teachers who plow through information at school,” Green said, “and then kids go home and don’t have the expertise they need to do their homework correctly or someone who can reinforce concepts.  What if we had the expert at home?”

At Clintondale, teachers record their lectures using computer software and post them to the school website and YouTube.  Students watch these lectures – and other videos assigned by the teacher - on their smartphones, computers, or in the school computer lab (which now has extended hours to ensure kids have access). When they get to class the next day, they can spend the time doing activities that reinforce the concepts.  It turns the teacher into a facilitator, rather than a sage on the stage.

“Teachers’ workloads go down and their roles change,” said Green. “They don’t have to pretend they know everything.  They can defer to other experts and online content in areas they aren’t strong in.”

Green said this does not mean teachers have a lesser role to play. “The fear of the teacher being less important in the classroom is so farfetched,” he said. “We absolutely need experts in the classroom, but we need a better model than what we have today.” 

Green said for kids who do not watch the videos at home, there’s  the opportunity to watch the videos during class time. “They just won’t have the same opportunities for enrichment that other kids do,” Green said.

Could flipped classrooms work in Ontario?  A school in the Peel District School Board is trying it on with a Grade 10 math class. Principal Cathy Semler at Castlebrooke Secondary School in Brampton says that students love the new model.  The program is just two months old, but already students say that the videos make it easy to study for tests, and when they don’t understand something in the videos, they can just rewind or get help from their teacher in class the next day. “The more on-on-one time in class promotes problem solving and critical thinking.  This model is allowing us to do that,”  says Semler.

"Parents are really impressed with it as well,” Semler says.  “They say they watch the videos too, and it’s easy for them to help where needed.”