In my last post I related how, for the first time, I had entirely flipped the most high stakes unit of my Civics class, the Constitution unit. It is “high stakes” because you cannot graduate from high school in Illinois without passing the test, and in our school passing the test means getting a score of 70% or higher.
This is the first time I have fully flipped this unit in 20 semesters because I always felt like I couldn’t let students “fend for themselves” on such a high stakes test. There will be slackers who need my help, etc. etc. But since I have been growing in the flipped pedagogy, feeling very confident with it, this semester seemed the time to “take the plunge.” So after laying out a bunch of Constitution resources for students, including electronic “flash cards”, my podcasts, quizzes along the way, and suggestions for a pacing schedule, I left the responsibility for this important test on them. I did not lecture as I always used to. I did spend two days, toward the end of the unit, on a Constitution review game. I used Kahoot, an online gaming system to deliver the quizzes. It was a fun change of pace for the students. After their diligent and often solitary quest to master the Constitution material, Kahoot makes the review fun by gamifying the material. The reviews were fun, yet fruitful.
So today is the big day. And I am starting this blog before two of my classes take the test, because my period 2 class just finished, and they achieved, by far, the best scores of any class I can remember in the last 10 years! Our Constitution test has remained relatively the same over this time, so the test is the same. The only thing that changed was the delivery method I chose for the material: flipping my Civics classes. Instead of listening to me lecture live each day, as students from the past had always experienced, they would now be using the electronic flashcards and watch my podcasts on School Tube (they are also on YouTube, but that site does not come through the censors on our district’s proxy server.) They could rewind them, pause them, take notes on them. I did require that they take notes on the 8 podcasts which covered the Constitution material, so that they would have that as a basis for study the night before the test.
As I have related in previous posts, there is a psychological price I have paid in moving out of the center of the class. But I have done this willingly and consciously because I really believe that the pay off is greater student engagement. They realize it is on them. Mommy is gone. I feel like the results I have just seen from my period 2 class are a “proof” of sorts. My sense of “You need me or you will fail. I am responsible for your success” was misplaced. Obviously I am still involved. I answer questions, I do goad them during class periods if there is too much noise or fooling around, I did take time to make the electronic resources. So I am still involved. But I am not the center.
This is not a teacher-centered class, nor is it really a student-centered class, it is a learning-centered class. And, if this Constitution test is a gauge, our country will have better citizens because these students’ scores were higher on this Constitution test because they were more engaged, more personally responsible. America’s generally poor understanding of Civics concepts at the 4th, 8th and 12th grade level (see this recent front-page article in the Chicago Tribune, which featured this same 2nd period class, ways of presenting Civics, and graphics on America’s poor scores in Civics) can be improved, partly by requiring more Civics education (this is the 1st recommendation of the Illinois Governor’s Task Force on Civics Education ) but also by experimenting with teaching methods to find better and better ways to engage kids, to tap into the conative domain, to make them more active learners, responsible for their own successes.
For the record, my other two Civics classes, 4th period and 7th period, also achieved class averages higher than I have had before in over 10 years of teaching Civics. To me, this is “evidence”. This is data confirming what I have sensed in my teacher’s heart. There is something positive waiting to be unlocked in students if they are given the chance, the tools, the challenge. My heart is full.