A Flipped Classroom for Reading Success

One teacher created an amazing success story with a flipped classroom approach to literature, however before we get into how he did this let’s take a look at what a flipped classroom really is.

What is a Flipped Classroom?

In flipped classrooms, students watch online lectures at home so that they can engage in project-based learning during the school day. This has always been common in both math and science classes when flipped classrooms started to grow in popularity. The flip has turned traditional learning on its head so that teachers spend less time lecturing and more time encouraging and acting more like a mentor and coach. One of the major benefits of this approach is that students have more time with their teacher’s and can ask for help more often, which ultimately leads to mastery of content more quickly. You can read more here on flipped classrooms.

Flipped classrooms are certainly increasing student engagement, but what does flipping look like in an English or reading classroom? Hardly any attention had been paid to language and the arts when it came to flipping classrooms, making it a rather unique situation.

Currently students read at home, take notes, complete worksheets or do group work on the literature. However, this reading takes place at home, far from the classroom environment or the help of a teacher. There was absolutely no way to tell whether students were actually reading, never mind whether they were enjoying it. There was also no chance of a teacher being able to help them out if they got stuck on something. The flipped classroom for English works entirely differently to this. Read on to find out more.

Brian Sztabnik, an AP Literature teacher from Miller Place in NY is pioneering the flipped classroom. He asked the question as to whether students were actually reading in class. His feeling was that his students weren’t engaged in literature and instead of looking forward to reading they were dreading it instead. His fears were spot on, as students weren’t reading as much as they should have been.

Grant Wiggins published a survey of a typical American high school, which also looked into students’ views of their classes. It found that English was students’ least favorite subject, and worse, they despised it. Here was just some of the student feedback and it didn’t look good:

Even though the books are classics, they are very uninteresting. Almost every one of my classmates admits to never reading the books because they are so painfully boring to read . . . Also, unless the essays are written exactly how that teacher likes, you are almost always guaranteed a poor grade. You never get a chance to write in your own voice because it’s so formatted and strict. No real freedom there. Overall a miserable class.

I don’t like it because all the books we read I am not interested in. Which makes it hard to read everything fully, I would rather have a choice on what books to read rather than having them choose for me.

There is no value in reading old books and making up stupid feelings that we are supposed to get from reading when none of it makes sense or it is just a stupid book.

Sztabnik’s goal was to bring reading alive again for students – he wanted them to look forward to it, become excited by it instead of dreading it and being disengaged.

So what’s the Solution?

The first step he took was to allow students to choose their own books – this alone was a major move in the right direction. He wanted reading to happen on their own terms so that they could write with passion and clarity, and being allowed to use their own voice to express their feelings. He was certain that this would turn them into inspired readers. Essentially they became the masters of their very own learning experience.

Sztabnik soon realized that the traditional English class as we know it needed to be flipped and give students the opportunity to read in class. Whilst in class they could still choose their own books. He overturned the age-old idea of answering questions for study guides on its head and allowed them to write what they wanted in the way that they wanted to.

This flip, which he first delved into two years ago, did all of these things, and created an infectious environment of avid readers. The two cornerstones that he worked on were choice and blogs. Sound strange? Well of course this wasn’t your typical English class, so he was pushing the boundaries to help his students. This approach changed the way he taught reading – instead of dealing with surly, demotivated kids he had engaged students who thanked him for it immensely. Goal achieved!

How did the Flip work?

  • Students chose any work of fiction appropriate for their reading level (in his AP Literature class, students read AP-worthy books).
  • Students read inside the classroom 3-4 times a week for 2.5 weeks. They had to actively read, but they got to choose their preferred method, like, index cards, post-it flags, bullet points in their notebooks or any other way that they wanted to engage in the books.
  • At home, students created and wrote on their own blogs using the Writing to Learn They had the freedom to craft posts on topics of their own choosing.
  • Every day that they read in class, students’ would blog about their experiences at home.

Would this really Work?

 

Amongst many other teachers, Sztabnik was concerned about whether this approach would work. It wasn’t the traditional form of instruction and educators were concerned about what they would be doing in class and whether they were actually going to be helping kids to learn as opposed to just standing on the side-lines being observers. However, Sztabnik had a dream and he persisted with it to try and create engaged readers.

What he found was that when students were reading, he became more like a mentor and coach as he moved around the classroom from desk to desk, helping students that had questions. This allowed him to deal with any issues right then and there. What he found was that students were moving towards mastery as defined by the Common Core State Standards.

When you look at his student’s blogs, shown below, they were achieving all of the Common Core Standards that were set out for them. They had turned out to be independent readers and writers that were also independent learners. They were evaluating complex texts and expressing multifaceted information. They were reading and writing for interpretation and asking highly perceptive questions about what they were studying.

Here are examples of some of his student’s blogs where you can see the level of engagement in the literature they were writing about.

Why Blogging?

This part of the flipped classroom was all about empowering students and allowing them the freedom that they so craved. Blogging created a mentality which allowed them to express themselves creatively, as well as playing with design and their text too. Each of them chose their own theme, uploaded images and then decided whether it was ready for the big wide world of social media. There no longer existed an environment of being told what to do and how to do it; they were becoming the authority on their subject matter and powerful creators. They were given choice and independence which revitalized their learning experience.

One of the major benefits of this blogging approach is that students could now expand their horizons and boldly go out into the world showing off their work in the blogosphere. Of course by making their work visible to the whole world to see, they would be out to impress and make an even bigger effort. It took them to a new level of mastery.

What are your thoughts on flipped classrooms? Have you had any experience in flipping the classroom and how has it worked for you and your students? Please let us know your thoughts.