Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Flipping the Classroom

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The "flipped classroom" is all the rage right now. There are articles in the Economist, The Chronicle, and Wired, and there's even a Wikipedia entry. The basic premise is that passive learning activities are moved outside the classroom and active ones are moved inside. For many disciplines, that means posting lectures as videos to YouTube or course management systems like Blackboard Learn or WebCT. What does it mean in the composition classroom?

Lectures in the composition classroom are rare, in my experience. Students may read outside of class (passive learning, though we try to get them to take notes and actively respond). In class, the most passive of approaches is large-group discussion with Socratic questioning. Often there will be small-group exercises to assist students with comprehension and analysis. And sometimes there is in-class writing. So, the basic composition classroom is already "flipped." (Contrary to the Wikipedia entry, the flipped classroom doesn't necessitate the use of internet technology.)

What, then, can composition glean from this trend? What if we move the major active learning activity into the classroom? That's right--let's write in the classroom.

Last week in my composition class, I spent 30 minutes watching a 30-second commercial with my students. We watched it again and again and again, taking a different set of notes each time. Their homework was to perform the same note-taking for the commercial they have chosen for their first assignment. In tomorrow's class, we're going to transform those notes (in groups) into model first drafts for the first paper. I'm very excited about this idea because it allays student anxiety. It provides a strong foundation, showing them how to perform the steps toward the paper. It presents writing as a process. I like it so much that I wish I had time to have them write the first page of their actual drafts in class.

Where does reading fit in? The reason I don't have time for more in-class writing is that there is some assigned reading we need to discuss. I could simply record a video lecture about the reading and have them watch it. But I also need to build a foundation for the second paper, which requires close textual analysis. I could reduce the amount of reading, but ultimately good writing is dependent upon good thinking, which comes about from reading and discussion. It's a hard balance.

Have you flipped your classroom? How do you balance reading and writing in your composition classes?