The English Department teachers operate in ”Wiki Wonderland” at Wamogo High School; all class materials for English classes, and other disciplines as well, for grades 7-12 are available 24/7 on our class wikis using the PBWorks platform.
Our school does have the paid subscription based on the number of students assigned to each wiki so that there is an additional level of security for students, however, the use of a wiki does not require a subscription. There are numerous wiki platforms, (Google, Wetpaint, Wikispaces, etc) and most have free classroom editions with limitations on design and security features.
English Department teachers use either the assignment page template or insert a table (see below) to post a schedule of activities by week, quarter, or semester. We are able to link materials on any page in the wiki itself, to a link on the Internet or to a document that has been uploaded. The wiki also allows us to embed videos, audio clips, animations, pictures, and other widgits on a page; we often have students comment on these embedded masterial by responding directly on the page.
A lesson or unit can be completely organized on a wiki page (directions, resources, responses) so that students may work independently, in or outside class. Organizing materials, pages and files, on the wiki for ease of use by student/parent is probably the most challenging task for each teacher.
Using the wiki meant that we are moving towards a “blended classroom” of in class and online learning. For the past two years, we have been very happy with the wiki in class. Plus, we thought by using the wikis that we were “cutting edge”.
Then came the flipped classroom.
The flipped classroom is organized so content usually delivered in a classroom is posted as homework , and the homework given to provide students some practice with content is completed in class. This approach allows a teacher the opportunity to devote more time working with students rather than lecturing or demonstrating a particular skill.
So, English Department teachers are now trying to incorporate the flip. There are some challenges, however; English is not a “content driven” class. In fact, the skills a student is taught at the elementary level are the same that are taught at the high school level: reading, writing, speaking, listening. The process of aquiring these skills in English is not so much a sequence, like a staircase, as it is a weave, like cloth. Students improve these skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening by exposure to increasingly complex content. There are more challenging texts, more sophisticated vocabulary, and more rigor with grammar as the student moves through an eductional system.
A simile in the picture book Quick Like a Cricket is the same literary device as a simile in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a theme in E.B. White’s Charlottes’ Web can be as universal as a theme from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and a rhyme scheme by Shel Silverstein can be as clever as a rhyme scheme by Shakespeare. English is a discipline of warp (writing structure) and woof (writing style) that is centered on the application and practice of skills rather than the aquisition of a body of facts. The collection of information (content) belongs more to history, mathematics, science and social sciences.
That said, how does a flipped English classroom work? What can easily be flipped?
Currently, we are trying to develop grammar lessons into a flipped model. New grammar content can be created and/or uploaded for overnight viewing (adverbial clauses) as well as remediation (capitalization of the letter “I” when used as a pronoun). Materials placed online for the flipped classroom have the added benefit of having materials available for review if a student forgets one of the rules in our complex language.
Since many of our students do less and less assigned reading for homework, our English Department teachers are dedicating more time in class to active reading, read alouds, and silent sustained reading in class. In a sense, we have flipped the reading activity to the classroom. However, providing instructional class time for reading means that a focus must be on having students responding to the texts effectively. At present, many responses to literature are begun in class, completed for homework and then peer- reviewed in class to prepare for the final polish before turning the response in the following day.
We have also organized our independent reading materials by unit (coming of age, people in conflict), and each book’s summary, book reviews, and a selection of passages from books have been placed online on the wiki so that a student may “shop” for a text outside the classroom rather than waste time perusing the classroom library looking for a book.
So far, those are the successes our teachers have had with the flipped classroom model; we will be experimenting this year with using the flip model for vocabulary, providing context materials for literature (not front-loading, however!), and promoting texts.
At present, I do not anticipate that the English classrooms in my department will be completely flipped, just as our English classrooms are not completely blended. Yet, the degree to which blended learning with resources on the wiki for instruction in and outside class is being influenced by the principles of the flipped classroom I cannot say. I do know that more and more of our instruction is taking place online, and because we are adopting the methods of blending or flipping instruction, teaching English in the 21st century means the teachers must be more flexible, almost gymnastic, than ever before.