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Reflections on my flipped learning journey (part 1)

January 16, 2018

I flipped my first class about 6 years ago.  I flipped because I was dissatisfied with my teaching and my approach to the classes I taught.  I got the idea from an article I read in the popular press.  I went about it doing the best I could from what I understood about the flipped classroom.  When I went online to find out more, most of the discussions centered around video.  The discussions were about how to make videos, what were the best applications, what were the best strategies, and how to make them available to the students.

Because I started flipping with little preparation (definitely not the best approach), I found myself scouring YouTube for videos I could use for my class.  I found some videos about the more common topics like fragments, run-ons, and parts of speech, but I had to make videos when nothing appropriate was available such as for the different types of paragraphs like cause and effect and comparison or contrast that my students were expected to write.  Curating videos meant spending a lot of time looking at poorly made videos, good quality videos teaching incorrect grammar like one that mistakenly identified fragments as run-ons and vice versa.  I also found it difficult to find videos that matched some problems my students were having.  Admittedly, I also found some gold.  The videos on Jennifer ESL helped me out on several occasions.

I tried challenging my students to make videos, but after a couple of semesters with poor participation and only one good video, I abandoned that.  I used the good video for my class until my last year teaching the class.  Students, I think, faced the same issues I did.  The models for good videos were few, and the time needed to make a good one took time away from other things they needed to do.

After a couple of years, I divided my video making into three categories: how-to videos, just in time videos, and core videos.  How-to videos showed students how to do something such as make a timeline for a reading using Google Drawings.  When an issue arose in class like when before, after, and until are used as prepositions or as conjunctions, I addressed the issue with a quick video sometimes using Explain Everything on my iPad, sometimes using Quicktime or Camtasia on my computer.  The core videos took longer to make since they were designed to be used again and again.  They were about topics the students needed to know in order to do well in the class.

As I worked at becoming a better flipped teacher the emphasis changed from the flipped classroom to flipped learning.  Discussions about flipped learning became more pedagogically focused.  This change led to deeper explorations of learning and how to enhance it.  They caused me to continually reevaluate my practices.  As research emerged about flipped learning, it reaffirmed what I was already experiencing in my classes.  Students engaged in class activities with much more enthusiasm, discipline problems were minimal, student participation increased, and student performance on assessment measures improved.  In fact, for one class, I had to redesign the exams because the existing exams were too easy now.

I worked at incorporating what I learned from other teachers and my practice into improving my classes.  I expanded my understanding and use of active learning, project-based learning, and formative assessment.  I spent more time listening to and observing my students and engaging them as human beings and not just as students.  I better understood the heroic efforts some students were making.  Furthermore, I was able to spend time and nurture students who might have fallen by the wayside before.

I have retired recently, and my biggest regret is that I did not discover flipped learning much earlier in my career.  It helped me get closer to being the teacher I always wanted to be.



Preparing for Note Taking in Listening

August 26, 2017

Part of my communication class involves working on note taking. Note taking presents several challenges.  We need to capture the main ideas and key points and record them.  I have experimented with and exposed my students to different practices including the Cornell system and mind-mapping.  But I often had students trying to take notes before I prepared students for what to listen for.

In order to address that problem, I have experimented with inserting questions into a video.  I would use the caption tool on MovieMaker, for example, to insert questions at certain points in the video when a speaker signals something like topic or support. I currently use Angela Lee Duckworth’s presentation on grit as the practice video.  The video here is her TED talk.  I respect the copyright gods too much to put my version up.  Suffice it to say, I insert questions into the video at points I identify as key points.

However, I thought the questions were not sufficient, so I devised an exercise in which the video would be played three times: the first time for content, the second time to identify the elements of the speech, and the third time to identify the language used to identify the elements of the speech.  The handout looks like this.

duckworth chart

The challenge in note taking is to record the pertinent and important information.  By working with the students to identify organizational patterns like problem and solution, time order, and cause and effect, we can help them anticipate where important information occurs.  This activity seeks to make students more aware of signals that a speaker might use to indicate important information is coming and what kind of information will come.

Since TED talks rarely include digressions, I need to find other talks to help students identify when a speaker is making a digression, and they can relax in their note taking.

Pronouns and Reading

August 24, 2017

I haven’t read up on this, so maybe I am way behind the curve on pronouns and reading. I find my students experience difficulties in tracking pronouns to their referents or antecedents in reading.  One of the first activities I do at the beginning of the semester is to take some paragraphs from our first reading and ask students to identify the referent for the pronouns.  In the following screen shot is the first paragraph of the reading taken from Focus 4: Reading and Vocabulary.


About half the class found the exercise difficult either taking a great deal of time with it or identifying the wrong referent.  It could be that referents for it are more difficult to track than gendered personal pronouns.  However, the difficulties indicate possible areas affecting reading comprehension that need attention.

This type of activity can be easily replicated with almost any text where the writer uses pronouns in the text.  It forces students to slow down and process the text and gives the teacher an idea of where text misinterpretation can occur.  This type of activity along with circling the referent and drawing lines from the pronoun to the referent can help students understand how the text is put together.  In addition, it can help teachers assess which student find this difficult and need more work with identifying the referent for the pronoun.


August 20, 2017

I was listening to a podcast, EdTech Take Out, and at the end of the show, each of the two podcasters mentioned favorite new tech products.  One of the podcasters mentioned  I decided to check it out because the review indicated that it might help my reading students.

I did check it out.  It looks promising enough that I will share it with my students this semester. takes a text and rewords the difficult words into either simpler words or explanatory phrases.  Here is an example from the Custom House chapter of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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Each of the highlighted words or phrases replace more difficult vocabulary items.  The difficulty calculations are based on the Corpus of Contemporary American English word frequency calculations.  When the highlighted area is clicked on, the original word or phrase will appear.

rewordify definition

We can also get information about the text this is entered including reading ease and vocabulary density.  We can find this out by looking at the top of the page which immediately provides information about how many difficult words are in the reading. If we choose Stats,Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 8.27.50 AM

we can find out more information about lexical density and readability.

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Looking at the stats reinforces the initial impression that this would be a very difficult text for English language learners.  Print and Learning Activities give us a menu of different resources to use including vocabulary lists and quizzes.

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I haven’t tried these out yet, but I did do the vocabulary list with definitions for the first reading my class will do.

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 8.10.33 AM

The site provides educator assistance if you choose Educator Central at the top of the menu items.  Educator Central looks like this.

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As I have said, I haven’t used this site, but it looks very supportive for the users both teachers and students.  I haven’t decided how to use this site for my class but plan to use it.  If you use it, please let me know what your experiences are.


July 27, 2017

Flipped learning requires constant formative assessment. Many of these assessments occur in class with the teacher looking on. Other assessments involve checking work with the class, getting feedback through exit tickets and asking for it. But sometimes, I like to switch things up a little with a game-like activity. I use [Kahoot] ( a game-like assessment activity.

kahoot page
Kahoot is a free online application that can be used to create quizzes, surveys, or open ended questions. I have created 25 Kahoots for my reading and for my writing classes. I generally make multiple choice quizzes. In making the quizzes, the creator can add images and even video (though I haven’t done that yet) to the quiz. The process is pretty straightforward.reading and for my writing classes. I generally make multiple choice quizzes. In making the quizzes, the creator can add images and even video (though I haven’t done that yet) to the quiz. The process is pretty straightforward.
Students can access Kahoot on their cell phones, tablets, or laptops. They sign in and give themselves names. I don’t require a transparent name (I don’t always know who is who during the game). The questions with the choices appear on screen with the choices in different geometrical shapes and colors. Students select the shape of the correct answer. What makes it challenging and exciting for the students is each question is timed. The scores are recorded with the top scores reported. This continues until the quiz is finished.themselves a name. I don’t require a transparent name (I don’t always know who is who during the game). The questions with the choices appear on screen with the choices in geometrical shapes of different colors. Students select the shape of the correct answer. What makes it challenging and exciting for the students is each question is timed. The scores are recorded with the top scores reported. This continues until the quiz is finished.
For the teacher, the results can be exported to a Google Drive Sheet (an Excel like application), so teachers can examine the results. This helps because, in class, it sometimes looks like a student is doing really well only to find out later the student struggled after the first question or two. This information can be used to shape reviews.
I have found Kahoot a useful formative assessment tool as well as a good change of pace during a long semester. Students usually have access as long as wifi is working in the a useful formative assessment tool as well as a good change of pace during a long semester. Students usually have access as long as wifi is working in the classroom.
I haven’t assigned Kahoot outside of class, but that seems to me to be a good option to explore. Here is a video introducing Kahoot.

An app I use for ebooks

July 26, 2017

I have been writing or compiling e-books for a few years now. This has made it possible for me to supply free resource books for some of my classes.
The first one I did was compiling many worksheets for our advanced reading class. Most of the materials came from the files and were put together in order for students to be able to practice outside of class. Since I have rarely taught the class and the teachers tell me the book is meeting their needs, I have not updated it.
The second one I wrote. I wrote it for the advanced communication class I teach. In this one, I tried to make it a resource book that would guide the students through the different assignments. I describe assignments, steps for successful completion, available resources for practicing listening, making presentations, making videos, and completing some of the other activities for the class. This summer I completed the 6th revision of it.
I have also written parts of and compiled resource books for our intermediate reading and intermediate writing classes.
To put together these e-books, I have been using an application called Jutoh. Jutoh is not a free application, but I had problems with free applications when I was starting out resulting in the loss of hours of work. As a result, I decided to pay and searched for what was a reasonable option.
Jutoh proved to be it. Jutoh has served me well. It takes a little getting used to but is a powerful and flexible e-book tool. It has done most of what I want (it probably does more, but I haven’t figured out how to do it) and continues to improve. I now write and compile to an ebook, save it as a pdf, and also upload it to the web with the HTML save capacity.
At first, I thought students should access the book only as an e-book, but when I found out how to make it available in other formats, I did so.
The person behind Jutoh is Julian Smart. He constantly upgrades it and responds personally when users experience difficulties with the application. If you wish to try out writing or compiling an ebook and find Google Docs or word processed e-books don’t fit your needs, try Jutoh out.
If you really get into it, you may find yourself editing books for Amazon or for other writers.

Test retakes

February 3, 2017

A year and a half ago after reading a couple of blogs about testing and retakes, I thought I would try it.  My reasoning was that this might encourage students to study the material better for the second attempt.  With many of the tests, but not all, I provide the students with feedback on the skills tested and how they did on each skill.  I have constructed spreadsheets to help me generate this data.  From this effort, I have arrived at a few impressions.

First, the students’ enthusiasm for retakes does not match the number of students who show up.  When I announce the opportunity for a retake in class, the enthusiasm suggests at least two-thirds of the students will take the test, but the total who take the retake usually come closer to one-third on the first retake.  As the semester progresses, the number who avail themselves of this opportunity decreases.

A concern with giving the retake is that the test will be fresh enough in the students’ minds that they will be able to remember the test and do better based on memory.  While I can’t explore their brains or memories, the results indicate that this concern is unfounded.  While some continue to make the same mistakes, others make new mistakes.

I would think that the weaker students would find this a welcome opportunity to try to improve their grades.  They get a chance to pass the test after they failed it the first time.  However, many of the students who take the retake are trying to raise Bs to As or Cs to Bs.  The ones most in need of the additional push are less enthusiastic about taking the retake.

Finally, the results so far show mixed improvements.  A little over half of the students improve from one test to another, a few do the same or nearly the same, and a small number do worse.  Few students do well enough to increase their scores to move up a grade level such as from a C to a B.

Still, I plan to continue with the retakes to give the students interested in the opportunity a chance.  It seems to help many of the students who do it while at least getting most to review the materials, that is, except for the few who appear to think that maybe their luck will change with the retake.