San Francisco who characterised flipped learning as “removing direct instruction from a group-learning space into the individual-learning space.” However, videos, for all their benefits, are not best suited to evaluation and analysis. What they are good for is understanding and remembering. “So, the classroom is where you focus on the upper levels of Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning [see right]. This is the traditional model of flipped learning,” says Jon. Aaron, meanwhile, takes a more top-down approach in the classroom. “I want my students creating – and evaluating what they create – constantly. When they get stuck, I have them tap down to the lower levels of Bloom’s. Through my flipped classroom experience, I’ve got an archive of all my instruction for all my future classes available. I can send that to my students anytime, anywhere, so when they need it, I say: ‘go here and access’.” He relates the story of a student who wanted to use a solar panel to charge her mobile phone. She had all the parts she needed, but was confused about how chemical energy was changed into electrical energy. As Aaron had videos on the subject, she was able to watch them and learn. “She was operating in the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, creating a project, and when she got stuck I sent her down to the bottom. As soon as she had access to the information, she was straight back to the top. So, there are two different ways to approach it,” he explains.
From Mastery Learning to UDL Their next step was ‘mastery learning’ – another term coined by Benjamin Bloom. The US educational psychologist reasoned that if students had to master each learning unit before moving on, it would reduce the achievement gaps between groups of students. The teachers adopted this approach. When students got to the end of a unit, they took a test. If they didn’t get at least 75 per cent right, they had to retake it until they did. This worked well for most students, but some eventually reached a plateau and couldn’t hit the mark no matter what.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THEY GO TO UNIVERSITY? A common criticism from high school teachers is that when students move on to college or university they are not going to experience anything like flipped learning or universal design for learning. They may be in a 200-seat lecture hall and when given tests they are expected to take it and pass. “I can’t deny it. That is a risk,” says Jon. “But there are professors out there who are trying to change the mould. “Let’s be honest, there are lots of children who are not being successful in our system, and we have got to try something different. So I would encourage everyone to take the risk and try these things.”
Aaron says: “I was really sensitive to the fact that some of my students were trying hard and not succeeding. It was at that point I learned about something called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). One of its main points is that students need multiple ways to learn a particular topic. “At the same time, my students were saying to me: ‘Can I just read a text book? Can I watch your video? Can I watch somebody else’s video? Can I look it up online?’ Ultimately, I don’t care how they learn it and I will go out of my way to provide the resources that they need.” Another UDL point is that students should be able to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. Traditionally, this has been through the test. Aaron says: “Tests work for those who are good at regurgitating what they’ve learned, but is that truly a good way to assess what they are learning? We gave our students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding in any way that they wanted to.” Students retained the option of taking the test, which most did. “That was the system they grew up with, but there was always a segment of my students, perhaps as many as 25 per cent, which thought tests were stupid. So I gave them other opportunities: art projects, music, writing stories, creating graphic novels – all sorts of creative ways that they could prove to me their understanding of chemistry.” He was ‘blown away’ by the results. “Every time I saw a student bringing in a project I got excited. It was wonderful to see how creative they were.Those few tenets of UDL transformed the way I interacted with my students and I could do that because I was not so tied to my content. I just had it archived and available to students when they needed it.” Aaron says that it transformed his practice as a teacher. “It’s what finally got me to project-based learning, which was something that I have always really wanted to do, but I had no idea how to do it because I had to teach the students content and they would be assessed on it.” Jon issues a challenge to school leaders: “Those of you in leadership positions: I would encourage you to flip your staff
46 LEADERSHIP FOCUS ● MARCH/APRIL 2013
Leadership Focus March/April 2013