Tag Archives: blogging

The Psychology Behind Reverse Instruction

You have no idea

It is not a secret that reverse instruction alters the traditional landscape of education. I mean, what kind of teacher just assumes that a video or screen cast can effectively deliver instruction the way a trained professional can? What happened to the human element in education? Are teachers an endangered species as a result of reverse instruction?  Will Khan Academy threaten my future?

Please! Where do these irrational questions come from? Are teachers predisposed to the role of devil’s advocate? The first understanding of this approach in education is that it is not very innovative or revolutionary. I teach high school aged students and my colleagues would agree that at some point these learners must begin developing habits that allow them to be responsible for their own learning. Actually, in the 21st century, it is earlier than high school. Try Kindergarten.  What I find most practical is that reverse instruction acknowledges the transformation of what we used to value in education (knowledge) to what the world values (information).  Technology may have enhanced and facilitated the forms and resources for learning, but the Socratic method is quite alive in the flipped classroom. The best part of the flip, hands down, is that the students can finally drive the class.


The Flipped Classroom Model Full Approach


I teach IB Psychology and some of the concepts and theories students must master in the course are quite sophisticated. Schema Theory particularly can blow your mind. The cognition necessary to build conceptual understanding cannot be derived from someone else’s mind. The brain doesn’t work that way. It is impossible to share a mental framework with another student and thus “plant” information in their minds (I also don’t believe narratives do this, but they are entertaining). Reverse instruction of sophisticated material requires student engagement and inquiry. The in-class agenda becomes predominantly deep discussion with Q & A time allowed.  In-class activities can engage students in research, organization, and further extensions of the learning with emphasis on the specific meaning connected to the information. This is the flipped classroom: jumping “head first” into a new and interesting concept, while the teacher “life guard” throws the life line when necessary. I cannot lecture on notes, I cannot present lectures embedded into power points. That is a waste of time and the learning moment is seriously marginalized.  Interestingly, I suppose it doesn’t matter if the students utilize videos, notes, articles, textbook; what matters is how those students are expected to relate to the information. What they need is an essential question to guide their understanding outside of class so that they do not lose focus. Once in class, their responses can be challenged or shared. Ultimately, the classroom experience should allow for thinking time, peer reflection/discussion time, creative activities, and student feedback. It would be difficult to schedule these important experiences in a forty minute lecture.

If you have an hour of time, it may be worth it to listen to Eric Mazur discuss how moving away from lecture has transformed his teaching.
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 Psychology & Reverse Instruction

I feel there is some sound psychology at play in reverse instruction.  Cognitive and behavioral sciences have elicited a number of interesting ideas about learning, decision making, and motivation:

  • I think the motivation factor is one easily addressed in reverse instruction, particularly if there is variety in the forms of resources and reasonable time expectations. I also believe that if students actually feel more confident about their cognition, then they will try more difficult tasks and become better at self-regulation, abilities inherent in not just academic success, but future success.
  • Moving from conventional to conceptual understanding does not happen in lecture. It comes from time and attention, deep processing, and articulation.  Importantly, when students do well with conceptual problems, they do well with conventional problems. This cognitive effort works the slow thinking system that is less intuitive and demands more information and time.
  • A major part of the flipped classroom should engage students in abstract and integrative thought processes. Mental models of information and associative memory are extremely vital to success. In fact, creativity has once been described as “associative memory – that works extremely well.” Creativity and systematic understanding can be fostered through inquiry and constructive (or connective) activities. Teachers can facilitate a classroom that move away from favoring cognitive ease by giving less of the information and providing more of the challenge.
  • Teachers should train students to self-prime for their individual self study. Priming techniques are powerful, yet can be extremely subtle. Experiments have shown that simple visuals or words can prepare the mind to learn or behave in particular way. Using priming in reverse instruction significantly enhances the students engagement outside of the classroom.

Reverse instruction also conditions learners to build organizational skills, seek help and assistance, and construct their own personal learning environment. Technology has greatly facilitated learners by allowing them to crowd source information (like using wiki’s or sites), apply and construct visuals that enhance understanding, and share those materials with others. I feel that if teachers communicate the value of using information over  the acquisition of knowledge, then learners will seriously reexamine their roles and responsibilities.  With reverse instruction, what we really expect are students that perform at a high level, not regress to the mean, as so often happens when certain units favor their abilities or piques their interests.

In the end this is about good pedagogy. When the brain learns something new the first time, there is a lot of work involved in regard to neural activity. Anyone who learns something new (a procedure, information, language) must devote an appropriate amount of time and attention to that new learning.  That makes the learning part of education quite difficult. In the words of High school chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam ,

 “Good teaching, regardless of discipline and age, should always limit passive transfer of knowledge in class, and promote learning environments built on the tenants of inquiry, collaboration and critical thinking.”

This doesn’t sound like reverse instruction, but forward instruction. As for the questions at the beginning of the post,  isn’t exaggeration a truly wonderful literary device.


For more on the flipped classroom check out the following resources and articles:

Should you Flip your Classroom?

Flipped Classroom Livebinder

The social media master.

I am finding it difficult to blog these days because my brain is filled with so many random pieces of information and ideas about what I wish to convey to the other cohort members. It is 11 am on Saturday and so far I’ve watched 2 NCAA Basketball games, explored the exciting and engaging presentations from the EARCOS Teachers Conference from Twitter, read an enlightening point of view regarding the National Writing Project, learned about 2 new design tools, and begun planning a workshop. Did I mention I got out of bed at 8:15 am.

Technology has transformed my Saturday mornings and who I am as a person by contributing to my understanding of the world and then allowing me to share that understanding with others. I don’t know who these others are but I am pretty sure that they are a lot like me: connected and interested in what is out there shaping our local and regional landscapes, while monitoring the global ebb and flow of trends in information, innovation, and social change. Basically I can’t stay away from social media because I firmly believe it allows me to be a better person.

Enter edmodo (or Facebook for school as it is called). I have been using this tool in the classroom since January and it has been fantastic for me as an organizational tool, message board, and general medium for students to share knowledge, products, and ideas. I have become a social media monster and I have never felt such intensity in the classes. They are thinking about relevant topics in core content areas, they are practicing information literacy, and they are communicating in a variety of modalities.

(made with Chrome extension Awesomescreenshot)

In social media I explain that there are only a five reasons to communicate on-line (please comment if you have different ideas about this):

1. a decision has been made

2. a reaction has been made

3. to monologue or reflect

4. to paralogue  (yes I made up this word) – literally to speak side by side; or speak beyond the conversation topic.

5. to share information – literally “this is interesting and this is why….take a look whoever you are.”

What can social media do for teachers? Well as far as I’m concerned the most important aspect of social media is in it’s support of 21st century skills. Framing formative assessment around good commenting practices and concision of writing can be a start. Critical thinking in content areas are easily embedded when you attach some resource (article, song, video) and then ask students to find a relationship between the resource and a topic/theme/concept. Another way a teacher may utilize social media with their students is to have them create a relevant question related to the topic/theme/concept and then have them use their research and information literacy skills to find 2 or more different answers to the higher order question. They then must make a decision regarding which is the most valid response and explain their rationale for the reason. (assessing skills??? I think so!)

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What I have really enjoyed seeing more and more are these ginormous google docs and spreadsheets that are open to the public and are updated with peoples names to follow on Twitter, or a list of web tools for literacy based instruction. These collaborative documents are gold mines!!!   Here are some more ways to use Social Media in the classroom. In two weeks I will be presenting a workshop on this to teachers at Ruamrudee International School in two parts. I forgot to mention that I use Social Media for professional development. That is part II. of my workshop, “Creating a PLN.”

To end on a relevant note I wish to welcome the new cohort from EARCOS 2011 to the blogging community. I read about ten of your posts yesterday and I wish to personally thank you for sharing your experiences in the workshops. You saved me money & time and my only regret is not being able to have a lovely beverage with all of you in a lounge or at a gala. I especially want to thank Sara Browne for posting two great entries on working memory & revising Blooms. I believe that if you are teacher you better have some understanding of how the brain learns. Read these entries if you don’t.

Also thank you Mixpod.com (social media tool that allows people to share their playlists) – I have enjoyed some excellent song mash-ups while writing this blog entry.