Sigrún Svafa Ólafsdóttir – Keilir academy – Iceland
I have been a teacher for 6 years, teaching adults the Danish language as a part of their preparation for University. My job is very interesting, especially since Icelanders are not very keen about learning to speak Danish. That being said, I love the challenge and spend a lot of time trying to find new learning strategies for my students so they can get the most out of our time together.
During my first two years as a teacher, I used the traditional method of lecturing for the class. I remember that often my students had questions for me, but I did not have time to answer because I was so busy talking. I was exhausted and my students were both bored and tired; they had a lot of homework but had a hard time finishing it because they needed help and I did not have the time to give it to them.
Luckily, in the year 2012, the school’s director heard about “The Flipped Classroom” for the first time. During a teacher’s meeting, he suggested that we try this method with our students. Our small group of twelve young teachers agreed to the idea, even though no one of us knew how to do this. To the best of our ability, we pre-recorded all of the lectures and tried to activate our students in the classroom; however, we made many mistakes in the beginning. One of our biggest mistakes was to repeat a lecture in class after finding out that the students had not watched our videos at home. This resulted on students not listening to the lectures at home before the next class, knowing that the teacher would repeat it anyways next day.
The first year I started “flipping my classroom”, I had the best intentions. I had my course all planned out, all my lectures were ready and I had defined all projects and deadlines. In the beginning of each class, I outlined how my students should spend their time and even wrote the schedule on the whiteboard. I even defined how many minutes the students should spend on each topic. Every now and then, I even said to my students: “now you should change projects, stop doing this and start doing that”. In only a few days, I realized that this was a mistake. I was constantly stopping the workflow of the students that worked slower while the students that worked faster wanted to leave class as soon as they had finished all the projects of the day. I realized that I was trying to have control over the class, as I was trying to be in charge of everything in the classroom. After that I started to let students work at their own pace and take more control over their own studies; the result was that no one was at the same place in the book, but it didn’t really matter because the lectures were accessible at all times and the answers to the exercises were online as well, so the students could check if they were right or wrong and then just keep working. I had a lot of time to walk around, talking to all the students, answering questions and getting to know each and every one of them.
After the first year, I felt that the flipped learning method had worked well, as most of the students were happy with my course even though many things could still get better. Throughout the years, I have been continuously improving my teaching skills, always trying something new and rethinking ways to deliver the curriculum in effective ways, with the aim of making their lives easier and their learning more interesting.
The two most important things that I have found out through my work with adults is how important it is not to waste their time and to give them more than one option on how they can deliver their knowledge. My experience is that adults want to have something to say about their studies and they want to feel that the teacher respects them as grownups, acknowledging their personal lives. Flexibility is one of the main pillars for a successful relationship between teacher and students, yet accountability should be maintained.
One of the most interesting things I have learned in this process is the realization of why I was teaching things the way I did in the beginning. Most of my teaching methods came from my own experiences as a student. Now I try to remember to ask myself the question “why are you doing that this way?” Sometimes the answer is valid, but once in a while I find myself answering “It has always been done this way” or “just because!” and then I know that I have to rethink my approach on that topic.
This year I took a big step and quit using both final exams and grades. The reason was that I wanted my students to put more focus on practicing the language, not only focusing on the projects that counted into their grade. It was also important for me to remove the stress and bad feelings about exams from the students. My students were very happy about my decision and what I have already noticed is that most of them get more work done than before. Now they can make mistakes and learn from them, without it affecting their grades. There is a great deal of power in being able to make mistakes and learn from them, without being penalized by bad grades.
I would never even consider changing back to the traditional way of teaching and the positive feedback from my students supports my opinion. In addition, I love the challenge of constantly trying to improve my work, reflect on how things are working and think of new and better ways of teaching the curriculum to my students. The flipped learning method gives me time and space to improve my course as well as myself as a teacher.