The beginning of the school year signals many different events. One I have always loved and hated is Back to School Night. I always want to meet the parents of my current students and get excited to share all of the great things I have planned for the year. However, the thought of standing in front of these adults always causes my stomach to do A LOT of flips and turns (even though I’ve done it more than 20 years!). It doesn’t seem to matter that I have started speaking in front of others as part of my professional development. It’s always that worry that I won’t have enough time to get through everything AND that these are the people that are going to be judging me all year. Whether teachers like it or not, parents judge you on how well their child likes you and what is learned. It’s a fact I have gotten accustomed to, but still not something I am comfortable with. This year, though I decided to try something new with the parents, just like I do with their kids. I flipped my Back to School Night!
For those of you not sure what the “flipped” concept is, it’s where (typically) students watch a video or learn something online.The teacher is then free to answer questions and work with the students on the concept 1-on-1 or in small groups instead of lecturing to the whole class. (Check out the Flipped Learning Network for more information.) I have tried this model a few times in my classroom with the students. Now was my chance to try it with the parents.
A week before the actual event, I sent out a QR code (made through the URL shortener Goo.gl) for parents to watch a video I had recorded about my classroom. Because I know 10 year olds pretty well, I also did an email blast about the video a few days later and included it on my website. These last two seemed to reach more of the parents.
The video was nothing fancy. I used Screencastify to walk parents through the basic presentation I would have shown them when they came to school. I loved that I could use the same presentation and include myself in the bottom of the screen so that parents could get a personalized feel. I had to record it more than once to get over a few nerves and technical difficulties. However, I didn’t spend as much time doing it as I thought I would. (Need to get over that I don’t like watching myself or hearing my voice online issue that is common with a lot of people!) I also created a Google Form for parents to fill out after they watched so they could tell me a little about their child and ask me any questions in advance. By using Goo.gl and the form, I was able to track how many views my video had and I had a chance to think about the parent questions. (More people have viewed the video than have regularly showed up for the night presentation every year.)
Back to School Night was finally here. The nerves were less than normal. I was still meeting with the parents, but they had already seen me talk about the classroom. The pressure had been taken off. Instead of standing in front of a bunch of parents this year, I got to talk to small groups of people about specific topics they wanted to know more about. I also got a chance to speak specifically about a few students with their parents one-on-one without waiting for our conferences in October. Usually none of this happens because I am so crunched for time that parents get less than 5 minutes to ask me questions and NEVER do you talk about the kids specifically! AND many of the parents told me how much they loved the video. I had set up computers around the room for those who hadn’t had a chance to watch the video. Once they were done, they found me to talk about their questions and comments. Parents who weren’t able to come for the event got a chance to watch it and still participate in their student’s education. A former student’s parent commented that she wished all teachers (including me back when I had each of her sons!) would do this. She has 4 kids and is never able to get to ALL of their Back to School Night presentations. Flipping it would have allowed her to be more involved in all of what they were doing.
Now that I have flipped my Back to School Night, I have no plans to go back to the way I have always done it. The ability to have conversations with the parents rather than me spewing information at them for 25 minutes made a huge difference for all of us. My biggest regret is that I didn’t figure all of this out sooner.
Please check out my video and let me know what you think!
Last spring I was introduced to Flipgrid. This wonderful tool allows students to share their thoughts on any subject created by the teacher, other students, or the global community. Students record short videos about the topic. Sounds pretty simple. It is so much more than just a simple video recording tool. Here are a few ways I use it in my class that have made my life easier while increasing student voice.
Welcome to our class - Most of my students know each other from the previous school year. However we have a few new students, and almost all are new to my classroom. Flipgrid gave us a great opportunity to not only introduce ourselves to each other, but a chance to share something new that others may not know about. This was the kids’ first experience with video program. They loved that not only could they talk about themselves (something most kids LOVE doing!), but they also had fun using the stickers to decorate their profile pics. As new students come in throughout the year, we can re-share our videos and make everyone feel welcome to our class.
Fluency checks - Being a teacher of 36 students, I don’t always have time to test each of my students 1 on 1 to see how they are doing in their reading fluency. The problem typically isn’t the actual assessment that’s the problem. It usually comes from what the other 35 students are doing when I’m with one child. Flipgrid solves that! Last week I had each of the students (all at the same time, thankfully we have a great campus that allows students to go outside) record themselves read a passage out loud. The kids were so excited to do this. Who would have thought reading would create excitement. I listened to each of the videos when I had some time, instead of taking class time to do it. The best benefit was being able to pause and rewind whenever I wasn’t sure what the student said. Talk about getting accurate data! No more trying to hear what the student is saying in the moment! AND I know have a way to download each video to create a digital portfolio of all of their readings throughout the year.
Check for understanding - This is one I did several times last year. Since the students loved creating their own videos, I used Flipgrid as a way to check if they understood the concepts. In math, they explained how to solve fraction problems. Many of the students used visuals in their diagrams as well. In science they recorded their plant growth, explaining each part of the plant as it grew. The students also created videos comparing/contrasting an article we read with a video they watched in class. Instead of having to read and grade multiple (sometimes illegible) papers, I could now watch videos that were usually less than 2 minutes. Finding out who really understood what they learned was easier for me, and more fun for them. With the new pause button, it is even easier for students to create their own videos demonstrating understanding.
Independent reading - I have been against reading logs for several years. But I agree that there needs to be a way to track if independent reading is being done. Thankfully videos are filling that need. Students are able to quickly share book recommendations, their favorite parts, and respond (with the paid version, something I definitely encourage. AND I NEVER pay for any program!) to each other’s comments. It’s like mini books clubs for the new generation.
Global connections - This is one I look forward to trying this year. There are so many experts and classrooms around the world that are posting topics for students to respond to. What a great way to add to discussions and learn about others outside your own classroom and community!
One of the many benefits I have noticed for the students is how the quietest voices in the classroom are now able to express themselves. The pressure to speak in front of their peers has been taken away. They are talking to a computer. No longer is there a shy student with so much to say and no one to hear it.
These are only a few of the ways I use Flipgrid. (Click on the buttons below to view student examples from last year's class.) There is so much more ready to explore and bring into the classroom. I encourage you to try flipgrid as soon as you can! For more ideas, check out #FlipgridFever and #TopicThursday
Many years ago, as a new teacher, I was scared. Now I wouldn't have told you that at the time. I was confident in my abilities. I had taken my trainings and classes seriously. But if you told me that another adult was coming into my room to observe or visit, whether it was an admin or parent, I would be upset/bothered/worried/frustrated at the intrusion. I felt that they were judging me. Was I doing my job? Was I good enough for their child? Did I make mistakes that would make other people question my abilities? Could I be fired? (My first job was at a private school where I didn’t have quite the protections I have now in a public classroom.) This was slightly increased when I was first told I would have a paraeducator who would be in my classroom most or all of the day. Boy do I wish I could go back to that young teacher and tell her what I know now!
Today I say, LET THEM IN! In fact, I am the first to volunteer when the school is asked for parent tours or a future teacher needs observation hours. I welcome those school board members or district people. I encourage other teachers in our school and others to watch what I do. It’s not that I am more confident now. In fact I think I am more realistic about what I can and can’t do than I was back then. What has changed is my perspective.
Whenever someone comes into my class, it’s an opportunity to reinforce what I’m doing. It’s not about impressing them. If I can explain it to someone new, then I better understand it myself. When you teach it, you learn it more deeply. This is what we tell the kids, right??? I find myself stepping away from the students to share with our visitors what’s going on without a thought. (If I am in the middle of working with a student or group, I do wait until the appropriate time though.) Since the students are independent in what our procedures and activities are, I have the ability to step away. (Love being more student centered for this and many other reasons!).
It’s a hard thing to have someone come into your classroom to watch you. Yes, you will feel judged (at least for a little while). It’s getting over that fear and embracing the opportunity. As the school year is getting ready to begin, whether you are already teaching, setting up your classroom, or spending those last few glorious days of summer trying NOT to think about what is to come, I challenge you to ... LET THEM IN!
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching