The Flipped Classroom

I have been working with a project-based learning school for the last year. I have learned so much from the teachers, administration, and students. They consistently challenge me to reconsider my assumptions and reorient myself in the learning 7678736620_b5995e8ab8_m process. They have flipped their classrooms into spaces in which students are mentored through the learning process and encouraged to develop content knowledge in an interdisciplinary setting within a project. However, much of what I see is focused on science, math, and construction. I have a hard time locating and actively position my literary focuses within the student’s authentic development of products. I recently found a great blog on how one English teacher flipped his classroom to create space for authenticity and engagement.

Brian Sztabnik noticed the project-based learning approach gaining speed and support in other content fields. He wondered, as have I many times, how to take those same concepts and work them into the English language arts classroom. This flipping of the classroom, in which student use class time to engage in active projects and use the teacher as a resource, seemed to offer great possibilities.

He writes, “But what does flipping look like in an English or reading classroom? This question troubled me because so much had been written about its use in math and science but so little attention was paid to the language arts. In many English and reading classes, students focus on one common text (like a novel) and take notes, complete worksheets, or do group work. The reading occurs at home, far away from the assistance of a teacher. The trouble is, there is no way to know for sure whether students are actually reading, let alone enjoying the experience, nor any chance to help them when they struggle.”

Brian goes on to explain that he wanted  to support the students in engaging the novels in an authentic ways that engaged them in the process of enjoying reading.

Brian writes, “My flip, which I first explored two years ago, did all of these things, and created a contagious atmosphere of passionate readers. Its two cornerstones are choice and blogs. This approach has completely changed the way I teach reading, with my students repeatedly saying that it was the best and most important unit of the year.”

As I read the blogs of others who are exploring reading and writing supports for students, so much of the support is based on 9536516496_f6c88d6e52_mthe teacher and student relationship. Many strategies are best worked through in a one-on-one setting with the teacher and student engaging in vulnerable and yet purposeful ways. I have been thinking about how our classrooms are allowing us or hindering us from supporting students in developing as independent and confident readers and writers.

Part of supporting our students in reading and writing is developing our own type of the flipped classroom. An environment that allows time for teachers and students to develop rich relationships focused on students achieving necessary academic goals.

To learn more about Brian’s flipped classroom check out his article on Edutopia:

How can you flip or have you already flipped your classroom?


What We Have is a Failure to Communicate

One of the driving arguments in Miles Meyer’s book Changing Our Minds: Negotiating English and Literacy is that teachers are doing what they are asked. The problem is that within policy, we are changing what we want while not changing our assessments and resources for schools.

There is a massive communication breakdown.

Today, I observed this first hand as I documented a meeting between a school I am working with and a representative who was sent by a governmental source to assess if the school was progressing through their improvement plan. The focus of the meeting was student proficiency of math and literacy.

The school presented student samples of work as well as the narrative of the teachers from various disciplines to explains the processes and products communicated in the examples. The guest wanted to see a statistical representation of how the assessments being used within this school’s context were connected to the standardized assessments required of every school as well as proof that students were growing in capabilities as a result of the school’s approach to learning. Sitting at the table was a collection of all kinds of educators and agendas. Sitting on the table was a collection of all types of products of learning representing even more agendas. The table was very very loud.

For nearly two hours, the various stakeholders chatted, argued, confronted, and surrendered over what was a valid assessment and who decides that validity and what does that have to do with the standards being expected by governmental overseers. The guest argued for proof presented in measurable means to show growth over time, while the school argued that all assessments are subjective to some degree and that there are valid ways to measure mastery that do not show up on standardized tests. Both parties were passionately trying to get their messages across. Both parties had different definitions of







Both parties needed the other party to understand and be flexible.

Neither party wanted to concede.

Having spent countless hours with this school’s leadership and faculty, I understood why they were holding their ground. They see their school as living and breathing proof that we need to rethink our definitions of learning and the only way to do that is to keep pushing back and holding their ground. They feel it is their duty to champion for different conceptualization and uses of literacy. A definition that embeds acts of reading and writing within contexts that are connected to the world outside of the school. They seek writing that shows student driven thinking and interaction with authentic audiences. They are trying to accomplish something that cannot be tracked on the current forms of assessment while still addressing Common Core expectations. They wanted to show the real story of how things were happening at the school.

The guest didn’t want to hear the narrative. The guested wanted the numbers to show the story. The guest wanted to see how the school was tracking their real progress with real students. The guest wanted rubrics, numbers, and outlines.

I’ll be honest. I understand both parties in this meeting. I think accountability is an absolute must in education. But we need to be thoughtful educators and critically consider what types of measurements are being used and what types of world views are being supported with those measurements.

I would love to hear what you think about this situation. What should be noticed and understood? What needs to happen for the school to be successful? What would you do if you were the guest or the teacher sitting at this table?

A Hop, Skip, and Jump Through Our Literacy History

Literacy has been changing since we humans started using it. While the history of literacy really excites me (call me crazy you won’t be the first), I understand that not everyone gets jazzed about the nuts and bolts of literacy development through the centuries. So I thought I might offer a very short summary of this important history.

Below is a hop, skip, and a jump through our literacy history according to Miles Harvey in his book Changing Our Minds: Negotiating English and Literacy.

Signature and Recording Literacy: 1776-1864. The need to communicate in a more versatile and manipulative way causes humanity to move from oracy to print literacy.The alphabet is used to teach moral behavior in schools and support farming communities.

Picture 111

Picture 111

Recitation and Report Literacy: 1864-1916. Recitation is no longer enough. One must become educated in “English.” English becomes an institutional requirement to support work brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

Literacy of Decoding, Defining, and Analyzing: 1919-1983. A standard of literacy is expected of all who graduate from U.S. schools. Literacy is defined as students ability to decode/analyze literature.

The Transition to a New Standard of Literacy: 1960-1983. As our understanding of learning is expanding, so is our understanding of literacy. A new standard of literacy is now being sought. This new standard expects literacy practices to factor in the society’s pluralism and diversity in democracy, the new demands of economic and workplace problems, and the growing needs of the individual and communities and our nation.

This new transition concerns me.

Are we trying to do too much with our schools? Shoving too many agendas into curriculum and expecting teachers and students to do more than is possible within the classroom walls? Schools are expected to do so much. Why aren’t families or communities looked to do help students develop these literacies?

An Archeologist of Sorts

What kinds of bridges are we making between our classroom and the various contexts outside of the school?

Miles Myers (author of Changing Our Minds) suggests we see ourselves more as archeologist in the classrooms than keepers of an impenetrable curriculum.  He argues…

“The English teacher must become an archeologist who recognizes the layers of past literacy practices in the classroom—and who recognizes that English and English language arts have been taught in our classrooms and in our society in many different ways.” (p.5)

Many times as teachers, we can assume the curriculum (whatever discipline we are in) we teach is a constant and the world in which we live pushes into our classroom with temporary fads that must be survived. Positioning our classrooms as these centers of absolutes disconnects the work within that classroom from the outside world. Teachers might think this is a supporting argument, insisting that what is happening within their walls of instruction is the constant and a greater reality than the constantly changing inconsistencies of the world outside of the classroom.

The world is changing, it is changing at a rapid rate. Are schools the appropriate place in which we should be helping student learn how to negotiate change and maneuver through the challenges of weaving “differences into a cohesive social pattern which maintains respect for and recognition of our differences” (p.15). I would argue that connecting our classrooms to the outside world, though challenging with the current pluralistic society, is a more affective means to argue the validity of our classrooms. However, do we run the risk of packing our classrooms with too many agendas when we look to engage the society and culture around us?

Myers suggests we work within the classroom as an archeologist. Uncovering the various multiliteracies and multicultural experiences of our students. We, metaphorically, pull back layers and make connections to unearth rich possibilities for students from all kinds of backgrounds.  This sounds lovely, but come on. Does this even makes sense for teachers?

I would not encourage teachers to make a huge orientation change in light of this metaphorical image. But I would encourage all of us, whatever we are teaching to consider a slight shift in perspective. If not a shift, maybe just one slight notch to re-adjust our focus.

We may need to revisit our curriculum from the student perspective and ask in what ways we can connect what we are doing to the daily lives they live and the future lives they think about living beyond school, both in the present and in the future.

We could structure the work in our classroom to be more student directed, create intentionally vague space for students to fill in their own authentic directions for their learning, and support the building of bridges between students experiences and the experiences that are possible by grasping the information we are working with in our classrooms.

I don’t think it’s about changing our curriculum or becoming more emotionally excessive. I do think learning needs to be driven by students but constantly focused on clear objectives determined by both teachers and students. As teachers, we need to develop clear definitions of these concepts so we can better serve our students and avoid the frustrations that inevitably come from feeling like we missed the target when in actuality we never knew what our target was to begin with.

Whatever discipline we are working with and whatever student population fills our classroom, our practice can benefit from considering the larger conversations happening around the world and supporting students to use various literacies to be participants in that conversation.

Changing Our Minds: Negotiating English and Literacy by Miles Myers

16278590113_d6ca94bef1At present, my learning and teaching situation is a unique one. I am learning more and more all of the time about literacy, English, teaching, and learning. I have been working with a group of teachers at an interdisciplinary school using a project-based learning pedagogy. I have found gaps in my learning and understanding that translate into gaps in my communication concerning the difference of literacy work and literary work. Several of the wonderful teachers who I work with are frustrated at being expected to teacher reading (all teachers at this school are required to be reading advisers). They often blow off the dust of their memories and dig down to remember how they were taught to read. They use their own experiences and their personal success and failures to guide their understandings and implementations of the acts of reading. They have the same struggles I did as a Language Arts teacher.

“How do I get them to read?”

“How do I get them to pay attention and remember?”

“How do I get them to engage with the text?”

“What will work, just tell me and I will do it!”

“Is this even worth it?”

These teachers are caught in a cloudy gray space, a space colored and darkened by others. I feel for teachers because they are on the front lines–looking students in the eyes, investing countless hours into thinking and planning, combing book closets for enough texts or the right kind of texts. They are in the middle of it trying to hack through the mess, a mess with many sources. One of those sources is the loud and brutal conversation happening between the various ideologies of political, social, and cultural (just to name a few) groups in our country.

While the larger culture is shifting and dissecting the two worlds of English and literacy, most schools have not adjusted their own perceptions and implementations to match this shift. I am knee-deep in these big picture and little picture details, so I grabbed Miles Myers’ book Changing our Minds: Negotiating English and Literacy and began reading it for this class. I need to better understand my own location in this situation so that I can better support fellow teachers who do and do not have a literacy of English content field background.

Myers’ basic argument is that there are several issues within this situation and several groups with differing opinions. These various groups carry their own standards of minimum literacy. Decoding/analytic literacy has been the primary literacy emphasis in schools. However, as we have expanded our definitions and understandings of learning, we have also found an opportunity to expand our definitions and understandings of literacy. This expansion is pushing against preconceived notions that higher-order thinking skills are limited to the schools. We are now acknowledging that from academic to factory spaces high-order thinking skills are active across many social, political, and cultural spaces that at one time were deemed less than.  Meyers’ argument continues as he works through what our “standard” should be or what should our minimally literate student be able to do once he or she graduates school. As of now, the book is quite interesting.

Blogging and Learning

When we look at blogging as a genre, we find many different moving parts. What is interesting is that it is a developing genre. A type of writing born online and connected. A type of writing that is defining itself as more bloggers blog and more readers read.

I have enjoyed reading blogs for the last four years. To me, a quality blog is well written and concise. The entry shows the writer thought about what he or she was writing and is aware of an audience. When I first  access a blog (from a search or social website), I skim the entire page to understand the purpose of the blog and how it is set up. The design of the blog is my first focus. After I click around a little while on the blog, I go to read the most recent post first. If I like it, then I start to click more entries and read more content. If I feel the blog is indulgent and self-serving, I usually get off of the blog. I like to read both long and short entries.  I am hesitant to comment on blogs, and I rarely read the comments. I find the anonymity of online space causes a strange sense of entitlement or freedom for extensive anecdotal essays. If I read comments, I skim them first to see if I can find someone who has insight that is being communicated well and respectfully. I will spend anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes on a blog.

Below are blogs that I have read in the past or looked into recently. It amazes me how many blogs are out there and how vast the subjects are.

Blog about life (self-help)

Blogs about literacy (loosely tied to education)

Developing Story Blogs (posts that build on a creative story)

I used to blog quite regularly for a project I worked on a few years ago. I found writing the blog interesting, and I enjoyed connecting with people through comments as we discussed various ideas around reading and learning. However, consistent blogging (quality blogging) takes extensive work. An example of this is the many dead blogs out there, born from a sudden burst of inspiration and then left to float on the internet forever.

Blogs have the potential to be great spaces to collaborate and support schooling and learning (different concepts in my opinion). I am hesitant to treat them as much more than an interesting possibility to engage thoughts, creativity, or analysis. My bias is for the personal and physical interactions that support learning. For me and the way I learn and teach, blogs can be a supportive component for students.

Blogs can track learning. They can engage learners who are not comfortable or hesitant to speak up in class. Blogs can level the playing field and allow teachers and students to potentially interact in a nonthreatening ways. Blogs can help students revisit past information or prepare for final products required of them. I think we still have not fully developed how blogs might help us with teaching and learning. I am interested to see how blogs might affect how we move forward in education and work to better utilize online resources.

What makes an argument?

The very idea of argument is based on opposing view points and differing perspectives. Recently, my two year old son has started to try his little voice at arguing by responding with phrases like, “Don’t you say no to me” and “No nap, not yet.” I try to work with him, but sometimes–inevitably–my final move for compliance involves brute force. I am bigger, stronger, and I know better. Even though I can carry his little writhing toddler body back to his bedroom, I am not changing his perspective. My momness is meeting his newly found independence, and we are arguing with random splatterings of ethos, pathos, logos, and muscles.

When I am engaging in argumentation in a written form, it is not appropriate for me to explain my perspective and then try to physically dominate those around me with an anaconda squeeze. While that might be funny to watch (because I am short but scrappy), it would not be professional or deemed as a valid support to my argument. We have cultural constructs that have been handed down to us.  Somewhere along the way, it was settled that ethos, logos, and pathos are the best ways to support an argument. Arguments are made of many things, and as educators we are challenged to help students compose arguments in a way that encourages them to participate in the conversations happening in various communities inside and outside of the classroom, and in arguing we working with students to also understand the nature of thought, explanations, and reason.

We need to learn to argue because is it an acceptable way for westerners to think and establish credibility. We must argue, and argue well, because we need to develop our perspectives in ways that we deem by our culture and history as sound and able to connect with others. It’s fine if you have intense opinions purely based on anecdotal evidence or personal belief. Start there, that’s great, but work out from there and into a place where you are learning to communicate your opinions in various ways. However, we need to always remain aware that this is our limited perspective on perspective.

Augments are made in the media, over the dinner table, and throughout governmental sessions. Arguments are made of many things, and as I conclude this post I am wondering what can break an argument? Besides of course being body slammed.