Day one of FlipCon Adelaide was fantastic and you can find the articles for day one at the links in the brackets (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five) and you can also find the Storify of the tweets from day one here. Peter Whiting (@Mr_van_w) and his colleague Bill Tink (@BillTink) recorded their own reflections as a podcast which is available here and is a great reflection on the day overall from some different perspectives.
Day two promised to be a great day. Part of FlipCon Adelaide was a school tour. Delegates were offered a choice, a few weeks out, of touring the host school, Brighton Secondary School (BSS) or of touring Glenunga International High School (GIHS). Having heard Jeremy LeCornu (@MrLeCornu) speak on multiple occasions (for example, here and here) as well as Olivia O’Neill speak (here) I felt that I would be better served by and would learn more from touring a school of which I knew nothing and therefore had no preconceptions about what I would see or hear.
The initial statistics we were provided were impressive in my mind. Years Eight to Twelve and just fewer than two thousand students representing seventy-four nationalities on the one campus blew my mind, in addition to running the International Baccalaureate Diploma program as well as the South Australian Certificate of Education as parallel courses. Upon arrival at GIHS, we were greeted by the incoming Prefects as well as some of the school Executive staff. In their Performing Arts Centre, we heard a welcome address from Harry Postema, who also introduced the other speakers who would be following him, including Principal Wendy Johnson, Deputy Principal Jeremy Cogan, Innovative Pedagogies Leader Cindy Bunder and incoming Prefects Indigo and Layla.
Part of the tour would be about viewing flipped classes in action, both a technical or academic class and a hands-on or practical class. We were advised that delegates were arbitrarily divided up into the four groups for the school tours, with each group viewing different classes. There was no consideration of our own teaching contexts or faculty background as it was about seeing the flipped pedagogy in action rather than the content.
Wendy Johnson, GIHS Principal and Flipped Learning International Ambassador, was introduced next, and she spoke about the importance of pedagogy for flipped learning. The role of Innovative Pedagogies Leader at GIHS was focused on helping teachers change their pedagogy to make the best use of the reclaimed class time as a result of flipping their classes. This was facilitated by making a decision to start classes later on Wednesday mornings and make the morning a time for staff professional development and collaboration on developing pedagogies that would assist in taking the school from good to great.
As a primary teacher, we are continually reminded that the first two hours of our school day are the critical learning times when students are at their freshest cognitively and therefore this is where literacy and numeracy teaching is to take place (which makes me question the value assigned to the other key learning areas by policy makers). It is for this same reason that the decision was made to move staff professional development to the morning. Teachers typically feel the same as students in the afternoon; tired and worn out and so the retention of learning and the cognitive engagement is lowered and therefore the value of that time is reduced.
I was curious about the late start and what impact it had on the students and the opportunity to ask came during the morning tea break. The Prefects remained with us and quite confidently and willingly engaged the delegates in conversation and so I asked them about what they used that time for and whether those two hours were added back into the timetable somewhere else with late classes. We were told that they were not added back in and that what they were used for varied, as would be expected student to student. The two Prefects we were speaking with said that typically they would use it to either catch up on sleep or would get up at their normal time and use it to complete homework individual space tasks or study for exams.
Returning to Wendy’s address, she advised that they made a conscious decision to invest time and money in professional development on technology use and on pedagogical practice. The then-current model of professional development and learning was not working as teachers would draw on their own experience to form their pedagogical framework or paradigm and then listen to what was being said and take they already know or what they wanted to know. Changing that mentality was a significant challenge.
As you would perhaps expect there was some strong resistance to this change in focus on professional development but that traction won over the period of a few years and that they now have a pedagogical framework that all staff members are committed to. They utilised the mandated Teaching for Effective Learning framework as a starting point and the final GIHS Pedagogical Framework evolved from there. The clear focus from each speaker was on pedagogical improvement for students’ benefit and it was coming through not just in the words that were being said, but in how they were being said and the way that the Prefects held themselves and spoke.
We were told that the capture of learning cycle documentation (lesson plans, programs, assessment schedules etc.) was revamped to make it more a more valuable process rather than merely the satisfying of policy. I do not have notes on what that revamp looked like which leads me to believe we were not told the specifics of that. Given my current career status as an early career teacher, any guidance on making the development of learning cycle documentation more beneficial and useful is welcome.
The above statement is an interesting one and requires some unpacking. The first inference is that if you only have pockets of excellence than by deductive reasoning you must have large amounts of stagnant and / or stale teachers and pedagogies; a sad indictment on a beleaguered teaching profession. It would seem intuitive that teaching, as with any other profession or sector contains a continuum of practitioners of varying qualities and abilities. I do not know if I agree with the surface implications of the statement, however, I can understand the position that the statement is made from.
We also heard about how it was critical for the success of the change in focus that parents understood the goals and to that end, the school hosted an information night showing a unit taught using traditional pedagogies and then using contemporary pedagogies, including flipped learning. They were expecting around fifty parents, however, ended up with two hundred and fifty. Part of the education process for the parents and the students alike was that the change to flipped learning, improved pedagogies, and improved learning outcomes would not be instantaneous.
For a change of pace, we heard from two of the incoming school Prefects, Indigo and Layla. One of the key messages that came through in their address was that the change to contemporary pedagogies was not about teachers providing all of the answers to students, but that it was about the teachers guiding students to understand what questions to ask.
The message in here is one of trust and strong relationships. Students are used to playing the game of school and of being given the answers when they are unable to work it out themselves. This focus on relationships between teachers and peers is also building trust that the teachers want to work with the students for the students’ benefit.
The vision for the pedagogical framework moving forward into 2017 is that any teacher can walk into any lesson and see the required characteristics and that if that is not the case, then a conversation about why not needs to occur. It is a tough stance; however, given the process that the school has gone through to reach this point, it seems fair. The impact of this framework is especially critical given that teachers need to plan for effective use of the group space with flipped learning to ensure that students are engaging more deeply and using higher level cognitive skills and processes than in traditional classrooms.
We next heard about the flipped content or learning objects (LOs) and the delegates heard, once again, that getting hung up on the quality of the LO is not useful. The LO prepared by the students’ own teacher is the best option, and having high-level production values does not make or break the quality of the instruction imparted in the video. This assertion, which I have heard from numerous flipped educators as do you want it perfect or on Tuesday? is supported by research, such as that conducted by Peter Whiting which I wrote about here.
A key factor in this is knowing the content and the learning goal for the LO that is being developed to enable it to be created quickly, with minimum fuss and with no post-production, a practice that Joel Speranza (@JoelBSperanza) promotes and which can be seen in the below video.
Flipping does not happen every lesson, however, deep thinking and deep learning can [happen every lesson] was the message we heard next, as Cindy Bunder took the podium. Flipped classes should be more active, both mentally and physically with a focus on the Four Cs. She posited that the individual learning space should take no longer than ten minutes maximum, and should not be meaningless homework.
I asked two prefects during the morning tea break about this and was told that on average they were both completing roughly three hours of homework most nights. This was across all of their courses and they included their general revision and studying load in this time. On further probing, they both indicated that they felt that the actual homework component of their nightly workload was less than prior to flipped learning, however, that the time spent on a specific course varied depending on the context of what was being covered and how much time was spent engaging by pausing, re-watching, and taking notes from the LO.
It was interesting to hear that with flipped learning in place teachers now feel that they have time to teach key skills that are not part of the explicit curriculum such as note taking, time management, critical thinking and how to use individual time and group time to gain the maximum benefit for their learning. Direct instruction is still important within flipped learning; however, it needs to be appropriate and minimal.
At that, the opening addresses concluded and it was time for morning tea, pockets of delegates peppering GIHS Prefects with questions formed. I will leave off here and discuss the conversations I had with the Prefects and some other students as we completed the tour and our lesson observations. Thank you for reading, as always, and I would appreciate any feedback on this article. The clear message that came through from all of the speakers was that flipped learning is about and has resulted in improved pedagogies and relationships.