The Blipped Classroom… Or Flended Learning?

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Last year, I had major voice problems. A combination of poor breathing habits and too much coffee resulted in a very strained voice. I couldn’t be more thankful for those voice problems. They really pushed me to reconsider the way I teach. Around the same time, I bought an iPad. I also couldn’t be more thankful for my iPad, because that too helped me find alternative methods of teaching. I stumbled across ShowMe, an iPad screen-casting app. That was the beginning. To avoid delivering content to my students in the lecturing style of teaching, which strained my voice the most, I recorded all of them at home, in a quiet environment that did not require raising my voice. I would them post them to my ShowMe profile, give the students the URL and they would watch it at home. I later came to learn that this was the concept of the ‘flipped classroom’, which is becoming a huge trend now in education. It was funny that I was only driven to that way of teaching to preserve my voice and help it heal!

I also started using blogging with my students around the same time, as it was a ‘quieter’ discussion platform. I relied on the school’s intranet LMS for that. I did not have to conduct the same discussions in class, where I would have to use my voice often to facilitate the discussion. Basically, class-time was used to solve worksheets, for revision and for group projects, where my talking would be limited to one-on-one or to a small group (a much more manageable task when you have voice problems). I also set up a wiki on the school’s intranet LMS for creating revision notes. The students did not really make use of electronic devices in the class, partly because I was still learning about which apps to use and how, and partly because there was no clear policy at the school for BYOD device. Here are some screenshots of what we did in class through the intranet LMS system.

 

 

This changed with the beginning of this academic year in January. Year 7 students were all required to purchase iPads and I was one of the eLearning leaders (because I literally begged my principal to assign me that role). The school had drafted a BYOD policy and I had to help create a framework for using iPads and eLearning/mLearning in the school, and to train teachers through PD sessions so that they too can become more comfortable with the use of such devices. Of course, in my role as an eLearning leader, I was sent out to a lot of conferences and inservice sessions, and my learning was exponential.

I was only teaching drama for the first half of the academic year (as I was employed part-time to allow me to finish my masters). But during the second half of the year, I was asked to step in for two teachers that went on long-service leave, one after the other. I created a blog for my year 9 humanities class, which I primarily used as my teaching notes and a revision resource for them, should they need it. I tried to encourage them to blog more but I only had the class for four weeks and creating that culture of blogging takes much longer. Then I stepped in for a year 8 English class. I used the school’s intranet LMS to create a blog for discussions in the class. I also used the blog to teach them about effective ‘digital citizenship’ and how to create a positive ‘digital footprint’. Now, I am back to only teaching drama again, and I am using my drama subject blog more to document the student learning and to show what we are doing in the class.

Through this journey, I have learnt a lot, and I believe I have found the right mixture of Web 2.0 tools, a mixture that works for me. This is not to say that these tools are the best out there, but they work for me, and this is the main lesson I have learnt: it is all about what works for you and your students, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for using ICT in the class. ‘Flipped classrooms‘ and ‘blended learning‘ sound like very fancy terms, but at the end of the day, the teacher is the main driver behind student learning and student success. I do believe in the importance of blended learning, as we need to prepare students to become effective digital citizens and to possess the necessary ICT-literacies that are in very high demand in the modern workplace. I also believe that flipping the classroom has its merits: most of the lecturing can be done at home where students work at their own pace, and this frees up class time for doing the nitty-gritty learning stuff!

So, here is my Web 2.0 and ICT classroom framework, which I believe combines the two concepts (others are definitely allowed to disagree, in fact I would appreciate all feedback and suggestions for improvement):

  1. A class Edmodo page: this is the central LMS system. This is where I would post content: worksheets, videos, quizzes, polls, hyperlinks etc… This is also where I would make announcements, and maybe start discussions about class-related material. I love Edmodo because of its quizzing, polling and library tools, and because I love social networking!
  2. A class blog: possibly using the school’s intranet LMS as the class’ central portal for blogging. The advantage is that it is all internal, however our intranet LMS can be quite limiting. Additionally, students can not really author their own blogs on our school’s intranet LMS, but rather only respond to posts from the teacher. This class blog will be used to facilitate discussions and to coach students in the practices of effective digital citizens.
  3. Student blogs: Additionally, I might set up one blog per group of students (4-5 students in each group) using a school-provided google account. The students would alternate posting and commenting roles throughout the semester (maybe inform them that you expect them to post TWICE during the term and comment on at least FIVE different posts, for example).
  4. A class wiki: this could be set up using the intranet LMS and could be used to create revision notes or a class textbook, or a collection of resources about the topics studied in class. The students can create and embed material using VoiceThreads and screen-casting tools, so that the wiki consists of a variety of multimedia tools to cater for their different learning styles.
  5. Combining Google Forms with screen-casting: this can be used for formative assessment of student understanding. I could create a screencast every week for the theoretical material that needs to be covered, and embed it in the class blog, along with an embedded/hyperlinked Google Form to measure student learning. I rely mostly on my iPad to create screencasts, using apps such as ShowMe or ExplainEverything. I have used Google Forms more than once already, and I love this tool. I have used it to collect feedback on a unit of work from students, I have used it to facilitate peer evaluations in my drama classes and I have used it as a worksheet to help in defining slapstick comedy. I can see many more ways of using it and there are lots of ideas out there.
  6. Using Google Docs: in the event of having to submit an essay or a powerpoint presentation (which is required in a lot of Common Assessment Tasks at school), I prefer requesting that the students use Google Docs. The advantage of doing so is that I can be granted access to the document while it is being created and can be involved in the whole process, which can then be assessed, as opposed to assessing only the final product (a submitted essay or powerpoint presentation). Students can also share their documents with a classmate while they are working on it, and this is to make use of peer feedback. Google Docs also encourages collaborative learning, which I am a very big fan of.

To conclude, I believe this framework doesn’t really fully flip the classroom, and it also makes use of blended learning. So I am going to combine the two concepts in one term, which should it be: FLENDED LEARNING or BLIPPED CLASSROOM?

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Looking after your voice?

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When I started teaching, I thought all you needed to be a good teacher is good presentation skills and a loud commanding voice. Obviously, I believed I had both, and I assumed that was enough as the most effective teachers I came across had both. A teacher’s voice is among his/her most important assets. I learned that the hard way.

I used to constantly raise my voice at the beginning of my teaching career. I raised my voice to get the students’ attention. I raised my voice to tell a student off. I raised my voice to ask them to be quiet. I raised my voice to explain and teach concepts. I went by just raising my voice for a good couple of years. After a full day of raising my voice, I’d feel really tired and exhausted, and the last thing I could do is socialize with friends, as that too requires that I use my voice. It didn’t take long before I started to feel pain while speaking, and I developed very serious voice problems.

I couldn’t be more grateful for these voice problems, as they drove me to seriously revise my classroom management procedures and my classroom engagement techniques. I jumped online and browsed many websites about preserving your teacher voice. I believe they have not just helped my voice heal and become stronger, but they also made me a better teacher.

I will share a few of the tips and tricks I learned:

1- Breathe, breathe, breathe…: sounds like common sense, but in actual fact it isn’t. We tend to breathe shallower shorter breaths when we get anxious, and a noisy classroom can definitely make a teacher more anxious. Practice deep breathing and maybe some meditation techniques when you are free. Pretty soon, these techniques will become internalized and you’ll use them unconsciously. Deep breathing before reacting to a situation will also help you calm down and think clearly.
2- Warm-up your voice: there are plenty of vocal warm-ups that actors and singers use before putting on a show. Your voice is like a muscle, the more warmed up it is before a workout (i.e. teaching), the better it will perform and the lower the chances of straining. Here is an example of a website with good vocal warm-ups.
3- Silence…: sometimes when classes got noisy, I used to try to raise my voice over the students’. But I discovered a simple technique through reading and professional learning: SILENCE! When the students are noisy and not attentive, just stand there silently and use body language that expresses disapproval (I tend to cross my arms). It requires a lot of patience, but I noticed most high-school students catch on and realize that you need them to be quiet so you can resume. Also, try to keep your voice level as low as possible, so that the students have to actually pay attention to be able to hear you.
4- Use a variety of non-verbal signals: there are many examples of these online and in many books written about classroom management. Bring a small bell into class maybe, and ring it three times and wait, then two times and wait, until finally the class is quiet. Some teachers raise their hands up in the air, and everyone is expected to follow until they are all quiet. Some teachers put their hands on top of their heads, then touch their ears, noses and so on until all students start copying and return their attention to the teacher. There is also the infamous ‘noise-o-meter‘ to teach students to self-regulate the noise-level. These are just a few examples I came across. Of course, you will need to teach the students those procedures so they understand what is expected of them.
5- Use short and simple vocal cues to signal class: of course, there is the infamous “Stop… Look… Listen…”. Teachers often use this cue/signal with appropriate gestures, such as pointing at your eyes when saying “look” etc… Another one that I use often, especially when students are working in groups and get very loud, and I need to gather their attention back to me (I found this one in ‘The Effective Teacher’s Guide‘) Raise your hand and count off each finger saying, calmly but assertively:

  1. Stop what you are doing
  2. Mouth is quiet
  3. Look at your teacher
  4. Hands are still
  5. Listen for directions

These signals have the advantage of telling students how to behave or what is expected of them, as opposed to telling them not to do something.
6- Using the whiteboard: I often use the whiteboard to show recognition of positive behavior, or as a gentle reminder of what is expected. If I assign a certain task in class, I write two columns on the board: ‘students who appear to be on-task’ and ‘students who appear to be off-task’. Obviously, students want to get their name up on the former column, rather than the latter. Students who end up on the latter column know that this is their warning, and that consequences will follow if the behavior is not self-corrected. Obviously, this strategy needs to be updated regularly, as some students might end up on the ‘on-task’ list and then slack off. Positive rewards can also be put in place for students who are on-task for the whole lesson, though I do not necessarily like material incentives and prefer rewards like free-time or a choice of a game to play at the start of the next lesson.
7- Get students to teach: whenever I can, I try to ask students to research certain topics or concepts and then teach them to the rest of the class. Additionally, when some students are struggling with a certain concept, while some students have fully grasped it, make use of peer-tutoring and get them to teach the struggling ones.
8- Eat and drink the right stuff: I conducted a short informal survey at the school I work in, and most teachers barely drank any water during the school day! Water is very important for looking after your voice. Additionally, these teachers mostly had coffee or tea to keep them awake during the day. Caffeinated beverages dehydrate the body, coupled with insufficient water intake, and teaching all day, that’s a recipe for a strained voice. My reading has also made me realize that excessive intake of dairy products produces a lot of mucus and contributes to voice problems.

Of course, all of these tips and tricks are ones I learned from my reading, research and personal experience. I hope you find them useful! Please feel free to leave comments, as well as more tips and suggestions!

Additional reading:
Keeping Your Voice Healthy
Voice Care
How to look after your voice