It is as quiet as a mouse. You can hear a pin drop. This is a class of seniors, taking a required course, one they didn’t sign on for willingly in most cases. Civics. Boring. But wait, if subjects are boring, and kids are given free time to attack them, they are not going to be quiet. They are going to be noisy, gabbing, avoiding the boredom.
Then why this quiet? For regular assignments that I give students to work on during class time there is often banter, levity, and socializing going on. But these students are watching my podcasts on a “high stakes” test they will have to pass to be able to graduate in Illinois – the dreaded Constitution Test. And they are taking it very seriously. Not with me goading them to study, not with me begging from up front “You are going to have to know this, you better take notes and pay attention.”
This is the first semester I have ever attempted to “flip” the unit on the Constitution. When I first started trying the flipped methodology three years ago, it still felt “experimental”. While many teachers are excited about it, and see its potential virtues, most are not doing it. It is still on a 21st Century “cutting edge.” Traditional lecturing is “tried and true” something no one would question as a method for preparing these seniors on this state-mandated test.
Along with the minor sense of being too novel a method to use, I felt like a protective mother that first year I started flipping and in all the semesters since: “I can’t let them prepare for themselves. There are too many slackers, too many babies that need my motherly cajoling, my lectures purposed to get the needed content to them.” So even though I flipped other content units in Civics, I was not going to entrust them with this, the most high stakes of the units.
That is, until this semester. As I have related in previous posts, I have been gaining confidence in the power of 1-to-1 and flipped pedagogies, the power of student collaboration, the power of rightly tilted student conation, motivation. So I reconsidered my past practice, which, after all, is really what I think flipping is all about: constantly seeking the best way to teach, the best way to spend class time, the best way to create learning environments. I have podcasts on all the main sections of the Constitution, my students all have access to laptop computers because of a mini-grant I received from my school district. Why am I not flipping this unit? So I went forward on the basis of both teacher instinct and also a growing track record of flipped successes.
The quiet of students studying my podcasts and then taking the daily quizzes and activities I give them to apply the Constitution knowledge often breaks into, not disconnected social banter, but discussion of the Constitution material, collaboration and group learning. I am not goading for it, or orchestrating it. It is happening. The Big Test is next Wednesday, a week away. I am very interested to see how students, directing their own study (for the first time in about 20 semesters in which I have taught Civics), will do on Test Day.
I have done almost no lecturing during this time. I did schedule two review days, on which I will do some traditional lecturing and playing of review games. But that is by far the least “up front” teaching I have done in 20 semesters of Constitution teaching.
So stay tuned for the results of what, for me, is a huge laboratory experiment in the very best sense. What is being measured is what my former motherly, patronizing instincts told me could not happen: Can seniors in a required course with content that is often not “sexy” be trusted to guide their own learning by successfully passing the Constitution Test? One piece of data is already in. The quiet room. Quiet because of very engaged study, taking place without prompting from me. That is, in itself, a small miracle.
Constitution Test: Next Wednesday. Stay tuned!