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Flipped classrooms - call it a kind of 'pastoral pedagogy'

By Sam Di Sano on 14 August 2018NSWstaffroomUKstaffroomFlipped learning

There is no doubt that a link exists between student wellbeing and student achievement. We’re still looking for that overwhelming empirical evidence, but we know it is only a matter of time. Indeed one of the fundamental reasons why the traditional classroom paradigm is being challenged by blended and flipped pedagogy is the positive impact the latter has on the teacher-student relationship, ultimately leading to improved achievement.

A systematic review conducted in December, 2016 through the Department of Behavioural, Management & Social Sciences at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, found that there is a positive relationship between emotional and psychological wellbeing and academic achievement:

In general students with higher levels of psychological and emotional wellbeing also show higher levels of academic achievement with factors such as engagement, self-esteem, relationships with teachers, student perceptions of school, all quoted as significant in the relationship between wellbeing and academic achievement.

The importance of engaging in school life

I have long been an advocate for student wellbeing and believe that fostering positive relationships for young people and their engagement with school life and culture goes a long way toward ensuring they maintain their composure during the middle years. One of the greatest challenges to this is isolation and a loss of connectedness that can occur when relationships turn sour or when young people don’t engage with their school activities.

Schools are dynamic organisms - they have a wonderfully fulfilling culture of connectedness, commitment and participation. Being involved in the school play, sport, debating, music, or even supporting their friends that are doing so, is the key to being engaged with school life and the moment kids switch off and detach themselves, it sounds warning bells. Schools are, like their families, a constant in their life; a pillar of support.

Happy student happy teacher

Think about it for a moment. Happy kids learn better. PISA findings also show that happier students tend to report positive relations and much higher levels of support from their teacher than students in schools where that is not the case.

On average across countries, students who reported that their teacher is willing to provide help and is interested in their learning are also about 1.3 times more likely to succeed and feel that they belong at school.

For a teacher - having engaged, switched on students goes a long way towards seeing improved results because a healthy relationship with our students enables us to know our students better both cognitively and affectively.

Flipping: a ‘pastoral pedagogy’

Taking it a step further, the more we look at flipping the classroom experience to one that maximises individual time at school, the more our relationship with our students will flourish and be enriched, again both cognitively and affectively. The words of the academic Professor Andrew Martin ring true to me here as I once heard him speak on what he termed a sort of ‘pastoral pedagogy’, the title of a paper he subsequently published in 2005. I think the recent fascination and interest in flipped learning is another form of this pastoral pedagogy for exactly the same reason.

Flipping a classroom is essentially a reconsideration of how we use collective and individual experiences and how best we use face to face time. Traditionally, and I know I am generalising, we have tailored our classrooms with content-ladened lessons, often pitched to the middle, leaving the higher order tasks to the individual at home without the teacher’s assistance. If the student gets stuck, or doesn’t get it, or needs clarification, they had to wait until the next lesson to ask for help. If the problem was a complex one, potentially that whole next lesson could be spent revisiting the issue which was taught the day before and unsuccessfully attempted that night - and so it goes on. Little wonder we struggle to finish the course sometimes, when we are trapped in this kind of content vortex.

How do you best want to use class time?

What if we flipped the individual and group experience though? The guru in all this, Jon Burgmann, says quite emphatically that we have been doing school all wrong for centuries! I wouldn’t go that far, but there is some merit in looking at how we structure our individual and group tasks. Given the world of technology, access to content is no longer an issue. Nor is access to online help and chat networks or forums for discussion. So maybe there is merit after all in reconsidering our approach to the classroom.

Come back to my earlier question - what is the most effective way of using face to face class time? To answer that you need to consider what you teach, how you teach it and when you teach it. If you answer that question honestly, my hunch is you will seriously reconsider using class time to teach so much content.

Valuable lesson time

Lesson time is a valuable commodity for any school teacher. How often did I used to say that? A colleague used to use the term 'time-thief' for those students who were a distracting influence on others - stealing valuable time from a teacher to teach and their peers to learn.

Flipping a classroom does raise some fear for those that haven’t tried it and again, with something so valuable it is understandable we don’t feel comfortable meddling with it. After all, it is a big thing to rethink how we do what we thought we did best. Not to mention the training required, the time we have to spend redoing all those lesson plans and then realising we have to dive into using technology - yikes!

Don’t worry about how and don’t even ask why any more

While the how can admittedly be a little scary, it actually couldn’t be easier these days with the amount of support that exists.

What interests me more is the why, or more to the point, why not. Who wouldn’t want to spend more time differentiating their lessons, teaching and pitching to different levels with different activities, working on questions students bring to you after teaching themselves the reasons why the US invaded Vietnam or character sub plots in Midsummer Night’s Dream. And instead of spending lesson after lesson smashing out the Schlieffen Plan with your Modern History class, imagine spending that time helping them with their short answer responses instead, drafting them, practising them under exam conditions, and peer-marking them, learning from each other.

Not only is it all possible, it’s also happening in so many wonderful classrooms all around the State.

So - don’t worry too much about how to flip your class, we’ve got you covered there. Nor should it be a case of why - ask yourself why not and get on with it.

If you’d like specific advice on how to flip your class, let me know!

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