Saturday, September 13, 2014

Using Time Wisely

Every teacher relates to this
 Due to my participation in TeachThought's 30-Day Reflective Teacher challenge, I haven't blogged specifically about flipped lessons in two weeks.  And I'm going through withdrawal.

So today is a #flipclass post day!  (I might answer the Reflective Teacher prompt later; the day is young.)

Week before last we had a holiday-shortened week plus test prep and testing, so it was a week with only one flipped lesson.  This week we returned to flipped lessons full-force.

It's still going well.  I'm getting to do so many different practice activities with my students.  I know better than ever before what my students are getting and what they need more help with.  I'm hearing students comment on how much more manageable their math homework is than in years past.

There are challenges.

I have about one student in each class who seems to have made a habit out of not watching videos consistently.  But I have a better handle on how to respond to this and encourage student responsibility.

We had a school network issue that was preventing some students from accessing videos, but it has been fixed.

As videos begin to include more new material, I hear more "that confused me," or "I didn't understand that video" as students enter class.  But then I get to see understanding come as students work with the new material in class.  I have to admit that's pretty neat!  I also need to remind students to not just "get through" the videos but go back and rewatch parts that were unclear to them the first time.

I am beginning to really feel the effects of the time and effort required of me to make this endeavor successful.  I have had more than a few 10 hour days and am working Sunday afternoons.  I'm tired. But thanks to the sources I read before, I knew to expect this and am confident next year will be easier.  I am also trying hard to protect what free time I have and to really rest when given the opportunity.

What I really want to talk about today, though, is time.

A guiding question of those in the flipped learning community is "What's the best use of my face-to-face time with students?"  That question is answered - to start with - by moving some or all of direct instruction outside the classroom.

One of my constant complaints as a teacher has always been that I don't have enough time.  I have 51 minutes of class time.  In my traditional classroom, the first 15 minutes were used for checking and answering questions from the previous night's homework.  Then 20-30 minutes of delivering new content.  Then 10-15 minutes (if they were lucky) for students to begin working on the new homework assignment.

Warm-ups?  Spiral review?  There was no time!  Answer EVERY question about homework?  Never. I would have to limit questions so I could cover the next material. Exit slips?  Students who were taking advantage of time given in class didn't want to stop working on homework to answer an exit slip prompt.  Many students didn't yet know what they did or didn't understand about the assignment because they hadn't processed or practiced it, yet.

And the wasted time!  I would go around and do a "5-point check" to see that everyone had attempted all the homework while students were (supposed to be) checking answers.  I loved seeing every student's work and letting students know the assignment was important to me.  But many students wouldn't bother checking their work (answers would be posted on the SmartBoard).  Or it would take them several minutes to get started.  And if they finished checking while I was still walking around the room, it would get noisy. And be hard to get them quiet to begin the "real" part of class.

Homework time given at the end of class?  Many would not take advantage of it.  There would be a lot of non-mathematical conversation and more than a few off-task students.

I would waste time, too.  After lecturing for 30 minutes, all I wanted to do was crash at my desk. Papers that needed to be graded often wouldn't be.  I would not circulate among the students as well as I should have to check for understanding and redirect as needed.

The amount of time I had and the use of that time always frustrated me!

My flipped classroom is the most efficient my classroom has ever been.

Several students have mentioned how they realize that what is taking 15 minutes on a video would take at least twice that long in class.

Students have something engaging and active to do when they enter the room:  a warm-up reviewing concepts from the video or including spiral review, prepping a foldable, or using partner-matching cards to find their partner for the day.

Students are constantly doing something.  We move from one activity to the next.  Activities are finished before class is over (I am still figuring out timing for some activities), so there is no temptation to quit working and say, "I'll just do this at home."  The percentage of truly engaged students in my classroom is at an all-time high.

A side effect of the use of class time is when there is the need for independent practice, my flipped students are more willing to sit and work quietly than I have ever seen.  I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  We do such a wide variety of activities, and many of the activities are truly active and involve the use of a partner or group; students don't rebel at a quiet session of practice every few days. Knowing the practice will be finished in class also motivates them to stay busy.

My use of time in class has also improved.  While I am always walking around and assisting and discussing with students, I have small chunks of time here and there where I stand at my podium and grade a few papers or check a few formative assessments.  Sit at my desk?  Forget about it!  But I am getting things graded and returned quicker than I ever have, and I am bringing fewer things home to grade than I ever have.

I also believe the flipped classroom model is the best use of my students' time, not just in class but out of class, too.  If I were giving traditional homework instead of videos, there would be more than one student a class period not completing homework on a regular basis.  Students - while there are still the "What, we have homework tonight?!?" complaints - are willing to give approximately 15 minutes of their time to watch a video and take notes.  Students used to share with me that some algebra homework assignments would take an hour or even longer.

I feel a little sneaky (but satisfied) that I am forcing a dedicated 45 minutes or so of practice time a day. When "homework"/practice time is in class, we use ALL that class time for activities dedicated to mastering the material presented on the video.  In my traditional classroom, I couldn't have guaranteed that amount of time for every student every day.

I've mentioned this before, but my students (and their parents) seem to really appreciate that they can watch videos when it is convenient for them.  Many students (more than I would have expected) are watching most, if not all, of the videos for the week during the weekend.  While the early-watchers do seem to be mostly girls, I had a football player mention he watched Wednesday's video early due to the away game Tuesday night.

For the first time in my teaching career, I am not feeling helpless when it comes to the amount and use of time.  I am not wishing for a blocked math period just to get by (but the thoughts of what I could accomplish with a flipped classroom AND a blocked period make me a little excited).  I am not shaking my head and wringing my hands at my students' misuse of class time.  And while my pre-algebra classes are not flipped (yet!), elements of a more efficient classroom are showing up in those classes, too.  I had no idea that answering "What's the best use of my face-to-face time with my students?" would be so transformative.

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