A different kind of ‘flipped’ learning: Students teaching students

Learning should be centered on the student, not the teacher, McGuire writes.

American philosopher, psychologist, and educational crusader John Dewey often wrote about education reform, and although he died in 1952, several recurrent themes in his writings have special significance for modern teachers.

Dewey continually argued that education and learning were social and interactive processes. He also believed that students thrive in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with the curriculum and that all students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning.

My beliefs as an educator mirror those of Mr. Dewey’s: Learning should be centered on the student, not the teacher. And isn’t that really what flipped learning is all about? It’s about compelling teachers like me to reflect on our practice and rethink how we reach our students. It’s about encouraging students to set the pace so that truly individualized instruction takes place. It’s about stirring teachers and students alike to change the way they’ve always done things.

As a teacher at Granby Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio, I orchestrated a more interactive style of instruction, including my own version of reversed teaching methodology—or “flipped instruction”—in which students taught students. This new and improved approach, in which I served as a facilitator rather than a sage on the stage, raised academic outcomes, produced a greater sense of collaboration between classmates, and heightened the level of student engagement.

(Next page: How students teach each other in McGuire’s classes)

In 2009, I was given a MimioTeach Interactive Classroom Solution package of interactive teaching technologies. I have to admit, I had no idea how my classroom (or me, for that matter) would be transformed. Previously, I had four older computer models in the classroom, and I was not very tech savvy. But that was then.

Today, my classroom is a technology port that includes my laptop computer and two MimioTeach bars with MimioStudio classroom software. One bar is installed on a large dry erase board at the front of the classroom, turning it into an interactive whiteboard. The second bar is connected to a whiteboard that rotates on a desktop base situated at the back of the room. I also have the MimioView document camera, MimioPad wireless tablet, MimioVote assessment “clickers,” and MimioCapture ink recorder.

Technology fascinates my students, but I have to make sure that the lessons I create are also genuinely interesting, so they’ll want to become engaged whether I’m teaching language arts, math, or science. Using the interactive whiteboard, for example, forces me to ask myself: What would be the best way to teach this lesson? How can I get the students involved? I’m constantly thinking through these teaching aspects ahead of time.

Between 25 and 30 different students come through my classroom every hour, and getting them involved at the very start of the lesson is vital. So to start, I typically display three questions on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the classroom as the students are walking in and getting settled. I also post their learning targets or questions that will be covered for the day. Both the learning targets and questions get students thinking about what they will learn that day.

During instruction time, my students sit together in groups of six at the whiteboards. Each group also shares a 32-inch computer monitor so they can work more effectively. I use the interactive whiteboard at the front of the class to demonstrate concepts in ways that will show relevance or add visual interest.

For example, when teaching line plotting in math class, I had students come up and create a pictogram using football helmet images from the software’s gallery as the dots. The graphics were far and away more interesting than actual dots on a line, and it made learning math more fun. The interactive whiteboard fits well with this curriculum, and it opens the students’ minds to recognizing different ways to solve the same problems.

I also have found that it’s essential to include as many activities as I can in which the students come up to the board or operate it with the tablet and conduct the lessons themselves. To tell the truth, my students were more than ready for that change; five minutes after I showed them the technology tools for the first time, they grabbed the pad and stylus and were off and running in the role of instructor. “Flipping” the role and the responsibility of learning over to them has proved to be very successful. This is where technology has become an integral part of teaching and learning for all of us.

My own role is now more of a facilitator while my students collaborate, coach, and instruct each other. I have students tackle problems individually or in small groups. Both methods lead to cooperative and collaborative learning, because after the students have worked through a problem or series of questions, the interactive whiteboards become the focal point for whole-class discussion, review, or re-teaching—providing the perfect venue for the individuals or small groups to present strategies and solutions to help their struggling classmates.

I’ve found that my students are learning how to be better problem solvers and risk takers. When I’m teaching language arts activities, I can show one student’s work to the entire classroom via the document camera and have them suggest ways in which that student could improve. They aren’t afraid to toss out ideas they might not previously have shared.

For one class, I even had a student create and teach a grammar lesson on “Me versus I.” The others demonstrated their understanding of the concepts by using the clickers to respond to questions. At other times during the lesson, students came to the board to place the correct answer in sentences highlighted on the interactive whiteboard.

It takes courage to get up in front of your classmates and teach them, but it also demonstrates how easy the technologies are to use. It’s that ease of use that hooked me, but it’s students’ deeper comprehension of subject matter that has me most excited.

My students used to memorize materials and promptly forget the information after a test. But with our new building-block approach of teaching, sharing, collaborating, and encouraging everyone to stretch themselves, they’re now using previous learning to solve the next set of problems presented. This shows how important it is to put students at the center of their learning experience.

This new teaching style is making an impact on my students’ achievement scores. Our Ohio Achievement Test scores rose steadily year over year, from 63 percent proficient to 79 percent in four years. In that last year, 2012, the state average was 66 percent. The difference in my mind was the effective and consistent use of the interactive teaching technologies.

I think John Dewey would approve of this new style of interactive and flipped teaching that I’ve incorporated and the difference it’s made in teaching, learning, and achievement gains. Using technology that allows for cooperation, collaboration, and feedback has played an important role in driving my students’ inquiry, discovery, and learning.

Darren ‘Mike’ McGuire is a fifth grade teacher at Granby Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio.

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