Flipping Out Before Summer

The end of the academic year is nearly here; you can see your six weeks of freedom on the horizon.  For those who are finishing GCSE classes, you’re either saying goodbye or setting them up to start their A Levels. But what about you? You’ve worked hard all year, the exams are coming to a close and just when you think it’s safe, the powers that be mention CPD.

There seem to be two ways to view CPD as a teacher. Some view it as a great opportunity to practice and develop skills that will get you on the road to promotion or increased pay scales. Others stifle a groan at its existence, viewing it as a waste of time going over skills you don’t feel  deficient in and it generally takes up time that could be better used just getting on with the job. Whatever your views, teachers are entitled to 30 hours of Continuing Professional Development each year and schools and colleges are supposed to provide at least some of it. The ATL Union suggest a wealth of options to fulfil your CPD hours, ranging from training and workshops to shadowing and mentoring to attending conferences and exhibitions. Most teachers rely on sharing of best practice, which is a very useful tool in a working department. However, even this has come under scrutiny as the process has been accused as another way for teachers to be critiqued in an already overly critical system. For whatever its strengths and weaknesses, CPD is a way to reflect on the year, what worked, what didn’t and what could be done differently next year.

With Ofsted’s new framework now fully underway, accountability through data will be slowly phased out and they will be asking Senior Leaders what measures the school has in place to make teacher workloads manageable in order to reduce stress. They also have a focus on teachers incorporating more use of technology to further reduce the time they spend making and managing resources for use in their lessons. This will undoubtedly be a topic for some of this year’s CPD where you are.

So, all you need is an idea that uses technology your students are familiar with that will be less work for you and have a positive impact on their learning. Easy, right? Well, actually it is. A style of lesson that is gaining popularity is called the “Flipped Classroom”. This is where the content of the lesson is made available before the lesson, through access to video clips or reading material, and then the lesson is focused around deepening understanding through discussion and working on practising the skills the students need. It has huge advantages of allowing the teacher to work individually with students on resources that might otherwise be homework and avoids the excuses of “well, I understood it in class but just didn’t get it when I got home”. It allows for time to work with any lower ability groups on their skills to try to raise them up to a strong pass and can also allow for you to work out who is hiding in the middle that could profit from a more personalised approach. The higher achievers can also benefit by being appropriately challenged in a way that matches their pace.

Another advantage is that it is presented to the student in a format that they understand, as clips from YouTube or teaching resource sites, such as Your Favourite Teacher, can be viewed from most mobile devices. They can also pause, rewind and replay the content as much as they need to until they think they understand it. Any issues with understanding can then be tackled at the start of class, avoiding excuses of why homework or classwork was not completed.

Possible disadvantages include that it is different from the traditional classroom model. Most conventional lessons are teachers imparting content based knowledge to the class and then using resources to check their understanding, using extension exercises to deepen their understanding when that is appropriate, then probably setting homework on the topic. The Flipped Classroom requires the content to be broken down in much the same way but you have to trust that your students will view the content and will be ready to start on the resources for the day’s lesson. It is a change from the norm and you’ll need to ensure that everyone is engaged in trying something a bit different. It might also seem like more work to try and find the videos and resources to make it successful. However, feedback on this approach has been positive and is definitely worth considering as a topic for CPD.

Now, we’re not suggesting that the Flipped Classroom be done for every lesson. That’s unlikely to fit in with the whole year’s scheme of work. However, think of the applications! In English, the students could view a video that breaks down a character or poem for analysis and then the lesson focuses on utilising those key points in their essay response. More in depth work can then be done on sentence structure and essay planning. In Maths, you could examine the principles of expanding brackets and then use the lesson to deepen understanding and then apply techniques to more complex equations. In Biology, the students can view a clip on setting up an experiment before the lesson and then the lesson itself is a focus on how they use that knowledge in practise. It takes away the problem where pupils need to crowd around a desk to observe, which can be an issue where class sizes are large and student focus is mixed. The possibilities are endless, depending on what you want to achieve and what your students need. The main point is that you can save time and use your lessons for more than delivering content.

CPD can seem like another plate to juggle, especially after another hectic year. With the new GCSEs in effect (and with the course content becoming seemingly larger with a delivery time that is undoubtedly shorter), perhaps looking at an alternative way to present content is a worthwhile use of your CPD for the remainder of this period. It might give you other ideas to reduce your workload and stress for the upcoming academic year. It is certainly a way to get the content across and work with students to develop their skills, without feeling any doubt that you’ve utilised the time in the most effective way. Whether you embrace CPD or dismiss its value, any way to make the job easier is at least worth investigating. Then all that’s left to plan is what you want to do and when you want to do it as you enjoy your summer break.