Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Explicit Instruction and Flipped Classrooms

Apologies for how long it has been since my last posting. I'm now working as a maths teacher in high school and a full-time relief teacher in primary school which is somewhat of a contrast from that of a university lecturer and trainer in vocational education.
Moving into schools has been motivated by my desire to work with indigenous children and make a difference in their lives as well as "Walking the Walk" rather than just "Talking the Talk" in terms of education approaches.
In Queensland, Australia there has been a considerable push by the State government to bring back explicit instruction and to abandon the constructivist approaches that have been adopted by schools and teachers over the last 15 or so years.  Explicit instruction, it is argued, provides a better learning performance and this can be demonstrated under controlled experimental conditions (Rosenshine, 2012).
For the most part, NAPLAN (national numeracy and literacy) testing offers the only truly independent measure of education in Australia in years P - 10 and has the ability to be a strong motivator for education administrators in terms of their education approaches and policy.  Queensland school performance in NAPLAN testing currently sits second lowest in Australian States and Territories, so there is considerable pressure from government to look at ways to improve our school's performance.
I've long held the view that if we can increase student engagement in our classrooms we will deepen the learning and improve all students' performance. Engagement Theory (Keirsley and Shneiderman, 1999) offer a proven approach that seeks to engage students by having them in groups, RELATE to a complex real world problem/project, CREATE a solution/product and DONATE this into the "real world" for feedback.  On the surface, the engagement theory model appears to be at odds with the  explicit instruction model, particularly when it comes to presenting a problem prior to delivering explicit instruction and developing the skills to deal with and create a solution.  The distinction to draw here is that whilst the real world problem/project/task is presented first, there needs to be a systematic programmed scaffolding that explicitly teaches the skills and knowledge to complete each section of the project.  The Engagement Theory method is a far cry from the Bruner (1961) pure Discovery Learning approach, in that learners have access to a significant level of scaffolding which recognises that there are key skills and knowledges that need to be learned and mastered in order to successfully complete the project.
Kirschner et. al. (2006) and Marzano (2011) acknowledge this and assert that some background knowledge and skills are required before commencing a complex task.  Not to do so, dramatically increases cognitive load and reduces learning effectiveness (Kirschner et. al., 2006).
It is well to note that while this research appears to provide evidence for prescriptive courses of learning, some of the most effective learning occurs with no instruction or guidance at all.  Online gaming and self directed computer-based learning appear to occur very successfully outside of institutional learning environments.  At my school our students are learning how to use "XOs" and are doing so before and more quickly than their teachers.  This is an example of pure discovery learning and serendipitous peer teaching opportunities. Online gaming uses anonymous player failure as a teacher and these games are highly successful, learning wise and commercially.
So enough about the tired old behavoiuralist vs. constructivist debate.  What about this notion of a flipped classroom?
Well, the flipped classroom seeks to marry both approaches together, but in a way that dramatically changes what happens in a classroom.  The flipped classroom relies on an explicit approach delivered outside of the majority of class time and then uses differentiated group work within the class to allow the teacher to teach all students in a large class rather than the middle group of students.
The following set of videos explain the method and answers to the kinds of questions I had about the approach.

What is a Flipped Classroom


What happens if students don’t watch the videos?

What happens if no access at home?

How do to make these videos?

Dealing with disruptive students.

What does your flipped classroom look like?

How does this work for all learners?


So what does it all mean?  The behaviouralist vs. constructivist is a pretty two dimensional debate and not really representative of the complexities of learning, short of seeking a way of understanding parts of the learning process.  The cognitivists also have a part in the discussions, but again more in terms of explaining the process.
Flipped classrooms offer, in a connected world, an opportunity to improve learning associated with schools for virtually all students through a more manageable differentiated approach that does not "kill" teacher.
Group-based learning, based around "real-world" projects that produces products valued in the "real world" engages students and engaged learners learn more deeply.  This approach builds stronger schemas in long-term memory.
Finally, learning research measures specific outcomes.  If those outcomes are limited to the traditional acquisition of knowledge and skills then the research is limited by the rapid changes in ways of knowing and the acquisition of generic skills and attributes (often called 21st century skills) that will equip learners to learn and re-learn and adapt to new requirements in a rapidly changing world.  The flipped classroom and learning engagement have the power to accomplish all of the above outcomes and should be seriously considered by educators and schools.

Bruner, J. S. (1961). "The act of discovery". Harvard Educational Review 31 (1): 21–32.
Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., and Clark, R. E. (2006). "Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching". Educational Psychologist 41 (2): 75–86. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4102_1
Marzano, R. (2011). "The Perils and Promises of Discovery Learning". Educational LeadershipSeptember 2011 | Volume 69 | Number 1
Rosenshine, B. (2012). "Principles of Instruction". American Educator. Spring 2012