May 262017

Every now and again I’ve seen references to Flipped Learning – which seems in essence to be aiming to develop students’ independence by giving them the initial responsibility to gather knowledge and understanding before discussing their understandings in class. It takes the onus off the teacher to be the fount of all information and prepares students for independent study. At least, that’s what it looks like from the outside even if it is a simplification.

What intrigues me about this is that I first met something similar – and I’ll admit in a very basic form – on my PGCE in 1973, used by a history teacher in Keighley to develop A level students’ independence. I was impressed and borrowed the idea (as we all do) and used it at A level in one of those schools which were known as ‘if you can teach here you can teach anywhere’ schools in Wakefield in the late 70s. The students were nice but dependent and very unconfident – it was comforting for them to be told everything – but this wasn’t preparing them for university or anything else much.

The essence of what I did was this:

Begin each topic with an activity which created an overview, giving students confidence that when they started reading they’d recognize names, events and issues. These activities included simple decision-making activities and basic versions of the structured role-plays I developed later. For example, we’d lay the room out for a meeting of the key members of the cabinet under Lord Liverpool up to 1822, then make the changes that happened in that year – who’s gone, who’s still here.

That one session over, I gave students an outline of what I wanted them to research – in Y12 (Lower Sixth then) they had a list of reading with pages identified, a set of detailed questions – factual, then moving onto analytical – and issues to think about which looked remarkably like exam questions but with notes to help them. Again in Y12 I gave them some class time to work on this so I could help out and they didn’t feel deserted and it gave them confidence they could do this at home. As time went on the guidelines I gave them became shorter and less detailed, expecting greater independence and they did it all at home.

All this was run off on the Banda Machine – it was long before word-processing! If only I’d kept some of those as examples to refer to now.

Once they’d done their initial work then we got back together in ‘normal’ lessons. Of course there were always things students hadn’t learned and understood and allowances had to be made for illness etc. but that was partly what the follow-up lessons were for – diagnosis and consolidation alongside the deeper agenda of discussing issues and problems – why things happened as they did, how important was X as a factor in …? – all the usual kinds of questions. It quickly became obvious to me and the students who hadn’t grasped the details we needed which was then the occasion for conversations between myself and individuals, the nature of which varied according to who it was.

So to use the modern word, I’d flipped the responsibility – the responsibility for the initial reading, knowledge acquisition and thinking had moved to the students and I then came in as the ‘expert’ to help them make sense of what they’d begun to learn and prepare them for tackling A level questions. Some took to it quickly, others felt I was expecting too much from them – but it always seemed to me the right way to approach A level teaching.

What helped this work effectively?

Determination and perseverance – the students knew I had a year’s worth of guidance documents for them to use as they started each topic – so they knew I wouldn’t give in and go back to ‘normal’ despite their anxieties.

I spent ages explaining why we were doing it this way and comparing strategies- what will they get out of it that they won’t from subject X.

That one lesson introduction building confidence was very important.

Department co-operation helps too – doing this when colleagues teach the same students differently makes it harder.

One obvious mistake looking back (I can just about see that far) was not changing the room layout so they sat in a square and could see each other – not just to facilitate but confidence that they were all struggling with the same move towards independence. Instead I kept rows of desks which didn’t help. I imagine there were plenty of other mistakes but my memory fades!!

At the time it felt exciting and, looking back, it obviously started ideas going that I stuck to later – I doubt it counts as Flipped Learning as it’s seen nowadays but it was the 70s. everything was simpler then. Maybe one thing it suggests is that there’s rarely new ideas in teaching – we keep rediscovering old ones but give them new titles!

Links to other material on the site relevant to developing independent study

Ideas for developing independent learning amongst A level History students HERE …

Timelines, Time-Stories and Developing Confidence at A level – giving students confidence with an overview before they begin to build their knowledge HERE …

Other items

A series of article by Dale Banham and myself on helping students understand how to study effectively – see in particular the article on Key Principles HERE …

Some activities which exemplify techniques for introducing topics at A level before students they begin their own independent work (there’s plenty of others on the site too):

• Decision-making HERE …

• Structured role-play HERE …

• For a visual example of structured role-play at A level see YouTube HERE …


 Posted by at 1:45 pm