Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gaming Grammar--What I've Learned

Last year I decided to jump, both feet, into the flipped--game-theory-classroom with my 8th grade during their grammar unit. I spent hours at school, recording all of the videos, putting together all the resources, and then trying to stay one step ahead of my accelerated learners who devoured and mastered everything I set in front of them. I was nervous about the whole thing--I have books upon books that tell me I shouldn't teach grammar in isolation, yet I had years and years of students not learning in context. I had friends who had mastered the flipped classroom and others who were asking me how to do it. In the end, I felt like the most frazzled, incompetent, overworked teacher ever, and I wasn't so sure it was worth it.

But when my students sat down to take that final, end-of-the-year grammar test, 95% of them passed  with an 80% or above--something I never thought I would live to see. And even better, for the remainder of the year, I heard them using grammatical terms when working with their writing and revisions. And finally, this year's high school teachers report that most of my students are retaining  and applying the information still.

So it couldn't have been the flop that I had thought it was, when I stood in the classroom, quickly grading quizzes, punching numbers into a calculator, not answering every question, forgetting which students needed help, juggling mountains of paperwork, feeling completely overwhelmed, but too far in to admit defeat.

This year, instead of scrapping the unit because it was difficult and I had made many many mistakes, I hesitantly decided to tweak it a bit. Currently, we're three weeks in, and I am hearing comments like, "I LOVE what we are doing in your class right now!" When I hear them say this, I want to take them squarely by the shoulders, look them in the eye, and say, "You DO know that we are studying grammar, right?" I mean, I've never heard a collective group of kids equate pronoun agreement with fun. But really, we are having fun. And while I'm still making mistakes, they are not quite as grievous as last year's. I feel more in touch with students and have found ways to manage the workload a bit better.

So...for those of you playing with the idea of flipped classrooms and game theory? Here are the mistakes I made. Try to avoid them, if you can:

  • I didn't check in w/ students at the beginning of class to make sure they had notes taken, so many kids wouldn't watch the videos & use class time to do this. That meant I didn't have time to work with them or get a feeling for where they were.
  • I did all of their assessments on paper, and they weren't allowed to move on to the next level w/o an 80 or above, so I spent most of class time grading papers and not working with students.
  • I had a graph paper spreadsheet for grades & points, so when I wasn't grading, I was adding up tallies to give to the students.
  • In my state of being overwhelmed, I didn't give many formative assessments, so I never knew who was struggling until they had taken the quiz and failed.

This year, things are different. The classroom is calmer, and I am connected with every student. What are we doing different?

  • Students are required to take notes by a given day--these notes are checked & counted as a grade or points (and a quick aside: when doing game-theory, points are much more important to the students than grades!). Videos are only watched in class if they need reinforcement or are moving ahead.
  • All assessments are hosted on Edmodo. They receive their grade right away, and if they didn't do well, sit with me. I can spend my time breaking it down for them, recognizing where they need further help, rather than just spitting out numbers.
  • On Edmodo, the points are automatically tallied--no calculator for me!
  • Every class period starts with a quick, formative assessment. Based on how they did, I am able to group and regroup students for more practice, further instruction, or studying. On any given day, some students are working with me, others are practicing with a friend who has already mastered the material, some are playing a computer game for practice, some are sitting with an old-style grammar book, and others are moving on to the next topic. I know who struggles, who is stuck, who needs a quick reminder, and who is marching on at full speed. 

As with anything, all or nothing generally doesn't work (I would like to say I have moved from flipped-classroom to blended-classroom), and when we do things for the first time, we are likely to fail.  As teachers, we want our students to understand the benefits of learning from failure, but we are too afraid to model that risk-taking ourselves. Yet, anybody who is contemplating playing with a flipped- or blended-classroom model (and I highly recommend it!) or integrating game theory into his or her classroom must be prepared for imperfection. But if you are willing to learn alongside your students, change your pace midstream, and admit your downfalls, you might be surprised at what blooms within your classroom walls.

1 comment:

  1. I'm fascinated by this entire concept. I keep hearing naysayers say the flipped approach won't work in ELA, so I'm glad to see you're having success with it. I can't wait to get back to my classroom to try it!