The idea of the Flipped Classrooms has been all the rage in education over the last five years or so. The basic premise is to provide a lecture video online for students and use class time for exercises and work, with the teacher there as support. instead of using the classroom time for the teacher to lecture as “the sage on the stage.” I initially embraced the concept and started pondering ways to flip my classroom as I planned for the next year, but I confess that I never really reached the point where my classroom was fully flipped.
I recently had a flash of insight about flipping: English teachers (and probably other disciplines) have been “flipping” their classrooms for years. When I assign reading for a student, the assumption is that the student will do the reading out of class in order to prepare for the activities in class the next day. In class, we will spend the class period “engaged in collaborative work and concept mastery” (to borrow the phrase used by the Flipped Classroom website). So have we been “flipped” all along?
Admittedly, reading a chapter in a novel, a short story, a series of poems, or a piece of non-fiction isn’t as flashy (or easy) as watching a pithy five minute video of me explaining the material, but is that such a bad thing? I realize that students are more likely to watch a five minute video than read a passage (though I worry that many of our at risk students are equally unlikely to watch a video or read outside of class), but I worry that we’re harming literacy by this constant reduction of the reading requirements for students. We’ve gotten to the point now even our “cheat” sites like Sparknotes have video sections because students prefer to watch their summary/analysis over reading it. What’s the net effect on the ability to read difficult and complex texts when the students most in need of basic literacy skills don’t exercise them? That being said, when I need to fix an appliance in my house, the first place I go now is to youtube, not to my handy, illustrated “How To Fix Everything” manual that I was gifted with at a couple’s shower prior to settling into the married life. Maybe we’re truly moving into a post-literate society where reading comprehension isn’t as necessary as it has been in the past, but, as an English teacher, the thought disturbs me.