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The Great Fire Wall of China

As my regular readers know, I am writing from China these days, and have been doing so four years so far. Sometimes the blog becomes inaccessible to me, making it impossible to post regularly. In fact, starting in late September 2014, China began interfering with many Google-owned entities of which Blogspot is one. If the blog seems to go dark for a while, please know I will be back as soon as I can get in again. I am sometimes blocked for many weeks at a time. I hope to have a new post up soon if I can gain access. Thank you for your understanding and loyalty.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Flipping Classrooms: Back to the Future

Billed as the latest great thing in education, flipping is supposed to revolutionize classrooms by relegating routine information to video-watching homework, thus freeing up class time for more productive inquiry, discussion or other activities. However, experienced teachers know that flipping is not new, but very, very old. Teachers have always understood the value of their limited class time and have always expected students to prepare outside of class for the coming lesson. Maybe the new fascination with flipping is actually an admission that society, and therefore schools, at some point gave up expecting students to be responsible for their education.

What really happens in a flipped classroom? Again, what has always happened. The teacher moderated a productive class discussion with the five or so kids who actually read their literature passage or history chapter or whatever the night before.

A quarter century ago I ran a flipped classroom for ten years using cassette tapes. Who'd thunk I was on the leading edge of education? The thing is, I designed and implemented the system myself. Naturally, it worked wonderfully well. Nevertheless, we have all seen any number of worthwhile ideas, designed by one educator but poorly implemented by others, end up in a waste heap covered with derision. Whole language springs to mind.

As far as the idea of replacing homemade cassette tapes with homemade videos goes---well, why not? However, it has become too easy to post anything on the internet like this note-taking video. The creator says before she “flipped” her classroom, she spent hours teaching every new crop of students each year to take notes. With her videos, it only takes ten minutes now.

I looked at her note-taking video. I wouldn't recommend using it. Her routine amounts to an outline which is great, except it isn't actually an outline. I would rather simply teach outlining. Her routine is tedious, redundant and lacks logic. No wonder it takes her hours to teach it. Her printing is sloppy, and a poor model for students. And if a teacher is going to take the trouble to make a video (the basic idea of which is splendid), it should be a well-made video, not one with apologies. ("You should actually stay in the margins. Don't write outside the margins like I did.")

Of course, I support efforts to maximize the efficiency of instructional time. But let's not call “flipping” some fabulous new education technique. It is not. Great teachers have always “flipped.”