You Can’t Make Everyone Happy, But You Can Try

We try to make all of our students happy, even if they all want different things. Photo Credit: Espen Faugstad via Compfight cc

My COETAIL Course 5 project proceeds apace, as I use the course principles to reorganize the process of my classes, if not the product.

To recap my initiative: I decided to incorporate some elements of the flipped classroom, with goals of 1) making history more vivid for the students, and 2) bringing in more critical thinking and processing activities into the course, especially the in-class time. However, I tempered the model of flipping by retaining about 20 minutes of direct instruction in my 85-minute blocks to highlight critical concepts and interesting stories, and to make connection that my documentaries didn’t. The homework I’ve assigned has been 15-30 minutes’ worth of videos and documentaries, often times incorporating the Crash Course World History series. To ensure accountability, these videos are paired with Moodle forum discussions where students are expected to respond to an open-ended question that I’ve posted, respond to another student’s comments, or pose a question of their own. Previously, students were expected to use Google Docs to complete collaborative study notes inspired by the “lit circle” model in English.

My observations serve to illustrate the human, democratic character of modern education. Some students have taken the opportunity to explore the topics in a way that just isn’t possible in a class, or even a small group, discussion. Take the threads below:

The first one shows a student posing her own evaluative question. The second one shows a student conducting outside research to support her points, making modern connections to historical concepts. The third is an evaluative, analytical discussion that cites evidence to back up the participants’ claims – it illustrates the core skills we want to develop in history class. Furthermore, I’ve had students bring in examples from the videos during our class discussions and direct instruction time. These all point to how the new format fulfills the rationale for the flipped classroom: leading to more time for meaningful, student-driven learning and teacher feedback.

At the same time, I’ve had students complain that I’m moving away from my former, very traditional homework assignments. These don’t really require much thinking, but they’re an example of the very concrete assignments and activities that many of the students find helpful (along with direct instruction, which is why I haven’t completely abandoned it in my current integration initiative). So with at least two competing blocs in my classes, it begs the question:

How do we as teachers find the right balance?

This is one of the qualities that make a master teacher, and why I call education a human endeavor. Reading the mix of personalities and balancing your pedagogy is really the hard part – not learning how to do discussion activity X or design technology assignment Y. So I learned that the flipped classroom can work for some students, but frankly, that realization isn’t very useful, because it doesn’t tell me whether I’ve maximized my students’ learning. I think I need to accept that I’m just not going to make everyone happy all of the time, but wouldn’t it be nice if I could?

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