Flipping the Classroom, Flipping the Mindset

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Name Signs_Rachel
see: http://www.ethicalela.com/namescommunity/

Nameplates help teachers learn the names of students efficiently. Lesley Roessing posted an enhanced version of the nameplate strategy on Ethical ELA last year, which incorporated interest-imagery and art (see example on the right). This year, I opted for flipping the nameplate activity in order to flip the mindset of our classroom, which meant I also needed to flip how I introduced myself.  I am not sure if the flipped classroom is still on trend, but in this post, I share two flips to emphasize kind collaboration and questioning-to-uncover, foundational elements of the ethical classroom.

Flipping the Nameplate Author

Instead of students making their own nameplates, students made a nameplate for a classmate.

To begin, students generated a list of non-academic bits of information they wanted to learn about one another, which ranged from favorite YouTube channels to cats versus dogs, from hobbies to creamy versus chunky peanut butter. I handed out cardstock and asked students to choose four topics they’d like to share about themselves and write those on one side of the cardstock — without their names.

I collected the cardstock and then redistributed them randomly. Then, I invited students to go and find their person — the owner of the card — by introducing themselves with a handshake and asking questions based on the information written on the cardstock, e.g., Is your hobby chess? Do you like cats? Once students found their person, they folded the cardstock and wrote their partner’s name on one side and the phonetic spelling on the other to value the how of saying another’s name. Then, students asked elaboration, follow-up questions to uncover the story behind their partner’s interests: tell me more, why is this, how did that happen, when did this begin. They took notes on the cardstock. Since the match-ups were not perfect partnering, there was lots of walking around and listening in on people’s conversations, so students ended up hearing a lot of stories in a short period of time.

Finally, students took selfies with their partners and created a mini video introducing their person to the class. We will post these on our blog and take class time to watch the videos and write connections and appreciations.

Because of this flip, I did not actually learn many names this week; students were talking among themselves (and were carrying around their person’s nameplates rather than their own). No one was really sitting in a desk, so the nameplates never were displayed on a desk.

This flip worked to emphasize and value the people with whom we will share our learning. It valued the names and how to pronounce them. It valued communication (talk and listening), movement (approaching others, finding space to talk), and curiosity of our shared humanity.  The experience was inter-dependent rather than individual, which is how I hope our learning community will be this school year. It also de-centered me and my role.

Flipping the Teacher Intro

Because of the first flip, I did very little speaking the first week of school. Students knew just enough about me to model the nameplate activity (crunchy peanut butter) and only knew I wasn’t big on grades because when one boy asked, “Will we get a grade for making our partner’s nameplate?” I responded, “I will never put a letter or number on anything you create, so, no, just enjoy the experience.”

Students were anxious about tests, homework, and grades, so for the second flip, instead of taking class time to explain my philosophy (and, thus, interrupt their bonding), I assigned this homework: “Go to this website: ethicalela.com/ourclass. Read, listen, watch, and come to class tomorrow with questions.”

I assigned students the introductory letter I wrote to their parents on “Our Class” page of this website. There is some reading involved, but in this assignment, students also see my Goodreads list, listen to a podcast from Talks with Teachers (an interview with me), and watch my YouTube video about feedback (or why I won’t put a letter or number on any of their papers). I embedded a survey at the bottom of the page for students to tell me 1) what they found interesting and 2) what questions emerged from their experience of the “Our Class” page.

I expected students learn a little bit about my education, expertise, and background from reading and listening to the podcast, and I expected students would have lots of questions about my not-grading, my feedback-only method from the YouTube video, but I didn’t expect how they’d connect to me, what they’d wonder about me, and how thoughtful their questions would be about my methods. The next day, I set aside fifteen minutes to address the questions submitted on the survey. (I have posted some below and here.)

For those of you shifting toward going gradeless or minimizing grades, what strikes you as important about their comments below and why?

Assessment Mindset

The thing about being a teacher who is trying to grade less or throw out grades or focus on more feedback — just trying to be better —  is that while she focuses on what she will or will not do, she also has to rethink what students will or will not do and how. She has to support students in flipping their mindset about what a learning community feels like and how it works.

From day one, the routines, materials, talk, movement, artifacts, assessment — all the experiences — have to be grounded in a consistent philosophy of learning, which celebrates being and makes space for becoming.  The mindset our learning community must cultivate together is one of assessment. Thus, if I am to do more assessment and less evaluation this school year and if I want students to be agents in that assessment process, then I must teach students to value learning relationships.