Category Archives: Professional Development

The Flipped Classroom and Its Discontents

A couple of years ago, in a “professional development” (a term I use both loosely and charitably when referring to the role it plays–or doesn’t–in the institution in which I serve) session, a colleague presented a workshop on the concept of the flipped classroom. I confess that my initial reaction was incredulity followed closely by hostility. After all, this person basically confessed (in my view) to turning over direct instruction in his classroom to a series of internet videos. To make matters worse, he presented no research to buttress his assertions about this style of teaching, save a promotional squib featuring a couple of young teachers (or actors playing young teachers) acting like fools as they extolled the virtues of the flipped classroom. I assumed this was the advertisement from the vendor supplying the material;  whatever it was, it was far from the kind of research validation I personally would need to see to consider adopting this method in my own classroom.

More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that during the latest round (over the past couple of weeks) of high-stakes state testing here in New York, while I was proctoring math tests, several students complained that they didn’t understand the material because the flipped classroom didn’t help them to learn it, let alone master it. A couple were particularly disgruntled by their experience with the flipped classroom.

About eighteen months after the presentation I attended on this, while reading Jerome Rekart’s The Cognitive Classroom (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013),  I came upon this passage, which again aroused my skepticism about this method of instruction:

We know that even with intensive daily exposure to video instruction in language, infants fail to maintain phonemic awareness (i.e. ability to differentiate between the sounds that are particular to a specific language) of the learned language, unlike infants who received face-to-face instruction (Kuhl, Tsao, & Liu, 2003).

Whether such studies have any bearing on older children or adult learning remains to be determined. If similar results are seen with other subjects and age groups, as they have been with the acquisition of English in early childhood, it will seriously squelch the current fervor over ‘flipped classrooms,’ with their reliance of video delivery of lecture material (Sparks, 2011).

The Sparks citation refers to this article, from Education Week, by Sarah D. Sparks. Ms. Sparks ably covers the pros and cons of the flipped classroom approach. Unfortunately, what emerges is a lot of uncertainty about the method in general, and in particular whether it is effective for all students.

As it turns out, there is a plethora of research on the flipped classroom. Even a search on ERIC (Education Research Information Services) limited to peer-reviewed articles with their full text available on that website turns up dozens of articles on the effectiveness of “flipping” a classroom. And a search of the Internet using the term “problems with flipped classrooms” also turns up page after page or articles on flipped classrooms, some of them balanced analyses like this article from Mary Beth Hertz at Edutopia; some are skeptical, as is Robert Talbert’s blog post from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Many, however, are corrosively critical, like this article from Professor Jonathan Rees of Colorado State University.

As both a teacher and a blogger, I really have no horse in this race. Because I serve students who struggle, this method of instruction would be flatly inappropriate for my classroom. What concerns me is the unquestioning acceptance of a pedagogical method that clearly shows mixed results; moreover, I have never much cared for the magpie-like fascination among some teachers and educational administrators for every shiny new thing that comes along.

We owe our students and their parents (the property tax payers who underwrite our salaries, incidentally) better than this. If we want to be treated like professionals, we must actually conduct ourselves as professionals. That means we don’t just uncritically accept every pedagogical fad that comes down the pike. We must review the research, consider methods of application of new pedagogical strategies, and finally and most importantly, consider the needs of our students.

If we fail to do so, there is a nice solid noun to describe what we’re doing: malpractice.

Auxiliary Verb

“A category of VERB that regularly accompanies full verbs such as write, run, shoot, is in is writing, has in has run, may in may be shooting. In English, auxiliary verbs are customarily divided into: (1) The primary auxiliaries be, have, do. (2) The modal auxiliaries or MODAL VERBS can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must. The marginal modal auxiliaries are also called semi-modals, are dare, need, ought to, used to. They are called marginal because they do not share all the properties of the others or do not do so regularly. Auxiliaries have four properties: (1) They are used with the negative not to make a sentence negative: Frank may buy me a sweater/may not buy me a sweater. (2) They form questions by changing positions with the subject: Wendy has invited me/Has Wendy invited me? (3) To avoid repetition they can occur without a full verb: Has Jonathan written to you yet?—Yes, he has. (4) They can emphasize the positive, in which case they carry the accent: David may not be there—His mother told he WILL be there. The same properties apply to be as a full verb (Jonathan isn’t tired) and particularly in British English as an alternative to have as a full verb (I haven’t a headache). In the absence of any other auxiliary verb do is introduced for these functions: Leslie didn’t tell Doreen; Did Leslie tell Doreen?: Yes, he did; he DID tell her.

The auxiliary be is used to form, with a following –ing participle, the progressive (is employing, may have been proving) and with a following –ed participle the passive (is employed, may have been proved). The auxiliary have is used with the a following -ed participle to form the perfect (has employed, may have been proved). The modal auxiliaries convey notions such as possibility, obligation, and permission. They are the only verbs not to have a distinctive third-person form in the present: He can/They can contrasts with He is/They are, He has/They have, He sees, They see. Like auxiliary do they are always the first verb in a verb phrase (should have apologized, could be making, did tell) and are followed by the bare infinitive. In standard English, two modal auxiliaries cannot co-occur, but they can in some non-standard varieties, such as Appalachian English, They might could dance.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Concept Formation

Process of developing abstract rules of mental concepts based on sensory experience. Concept formation figures prominently in cognitive development and was a subject of great importance to J. Piaget, who argued that learning entails an understanding of a phenomenon’s characteristics and how they are logically linked. N. Chomsky has argued that certain cognitive structures (such as basic grammatical rules) are innate in human beings. Both men held that, as a concept emerges, it becomes subject to testing: a child’s concept of “bird,” for example, will be tested against specific instances of birds. The human capacity for play contributes importantly to this process by allowing for consideration of a wide range of possibilities.”

Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

David Labaree on the Five-Paragraph Essay

Several years ago, one of the assistant principals in this school loaned me a couple of books by the great professor of education, David Labaree. I read both The Trouble with Ed Schools (that link takes you to a review of the book by the esteemed sociologist Nathan Glazer) and How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning; I thought both were excellent.

As I go through old folders in the Text Terminal archives, I found a note reminding me to post this article on the five-paragraph essay by Professor Labaree. It meets his usual standard of excellence in his publications, and has much to say, I think, about the obsession with the five-paragraph essay.

Dr. Daniel T. Willingham on Using Context for Building Reading Skills and Vocabulary

“Looking words up in a dictionary will be of limited use—not useless, but, but we must acknowledge that it will be just one context in which to understand the word’s meaning, and it’s possible that the student will misunderstand the definition. Explicit instruction of new words is more likely to be successful the way teachers usually implement it, with multiple examples and with the requirement that students use each word in different contexts. There is a good evidence that students do learn vocabulary this way.

In addition to consistent vocabulary instruction, teachers can make it more likely that students will learn words they encounter in context. They can give students pointers that will help them use context for figure out an unfamiliar word. For example, students can learn to use the clues in the sentence about the unknown word’s part of speech, to use the setting described in the text to constrain the word’s meaning, and to use the tone of the text to help constrain meaning.”

Excerpted from: Willingham, Daniel T. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

“German political philosopher naturalized U.S. citizen 1950. Arendt received her doctorate at the age of twenty-two from the University of Heidelberg, where she studied with Karl Jaspers. She fled Hitler’s Germany in 1933 and eventually settled in the U.S. (1941), where she held numerous teaching posts and became the first woman to be appointed full professor at Princeton University. She ended her career at the New School for Social Research in New York. Her reputation as a profound and independent philosophical analyst was launched with the publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), in which she documented the belief that Nazism and Communism had their roots in the anti-Semitism and imperialism of the 15th century. She continued to offer challenging and unconventional theories about the decline in values in modern society, in such books as The Human Condition (1961), and Crises of the Republic (1972). A storm of controversy surrounded the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), in which she suggested that even the Jews could be held partly responsible for Germany’s barbarisms in World War II. Her other works include On Revolution (1963) and On Violence (1970), in which she suggested that violence is a response to powerlessness. Her philosophically most ambitious work, The Life of the Mind (1978), a three-volume study of the fundamental mental activities thinking, willing, and judging, though unfinished (only the volumes Thinking and Willing were completed), it is a penetrating analysis of the processes of the mind and of their corresponding effects on action.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

 “American poet, novelist, critic, and dramatist. Cullen was one of the leading poets of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s. Following the traditional verse forms based in part on the works of John Keats, Cullen is best remembered for his poems treating contemporary racial issues. His first volume of seventy-three poems, Color (1925), won the Harmon Award for high achievement in literature. Among his most notable poems in the volume are ‘The Shroud of Color,’ ‘Heritage,’ ‘Yet Do I Marvel,’ and ‘Incident.’ His other published collections include The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1927), Copper Sun (1927), The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929) and The Medea and Some Poems (1935). He also edited Carolina Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets (1929). His only novel, One Way to Heaven (1932), was praised for its accurate portrayal of Harlem life. The Lost Zoo (1940) and My Lives and How I Lost Them (1942) are children’s books. Two important works published after his death were On These I Stand: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen (1947), and My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance (1991). 

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.