In my two years as a flipped classroom educator, I’ve always been curious about flipping the whole-class novel. Typically in my resource room, we spent the class reading the text aloud and discussing it so the students understood the elements of the story and could analyze the text. However, this ate up a lot of time and left little room to do anything else other than read and discuss during class time. It wasn’t differentiated-- half the class was bored because we were moving too slowly and others were struggling to keep up. This year, in order to prepare my sixth graders for the demands of seventh grade, I decided to flip our final whole-class novel.
Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo is a simple enough book. It’s a little over one hundred pages and the events are easy for the students to understand, which made it the perfect novel to use with some of my reluctant readers. Despite its short length, Tiger Rising is jam-packed with symbolism, elements of characterization, and theme-- an excellent choice for diving into analysis. So, I got two class sets for my resource rooms and off I went to plan my adventure in flipping novels. It was then that I started to panic about the model:
What if the students don’t read? What if they struggle for support while reading? What are we going to do now during class? Where am I supposed to start?
I’ve mentioned before that flipping the resource room hasn’t been easy. There’s not a lot of other flipped special educators out there and the only research conducted seems to favor the in-class support model. Like my preparation for the regular flipped model, I had to connect ideas from a lot of different places to make it work for my students. I had recently heard about hyperdocs, which move beyond traditional worksheets and creating interactive Google Docs for students. I knew that was where I needed to go to make this flipped novel work.
My hyperdoc is an 18 page document that breaks down the entire novel for the students. I split the novel into five sections with approximately twenty-five pages in each section and at least five chapters. On the first page of the document, I liked the audiobook for each chapter from YouTube to support my auditory learners who like to follow along as they listen. I also linked all the subsequent assignments that would appear on the remaining pages. Each of the five sections required three tasks: one Must Do and two May Do assignments. Must Do tasks are questions or activities that they are required by me to complete. They focus on a particular skill in language arts that I believe they need to master or understand in order to truly get a grasp on the book.
The May Do section lists four tasks connected to the events from that section. The students were responsible for choosing two tasks to complete. These were still skills that I thought the students need to learn but the variety of options differentiated the task so students could choose either what interested them or skills where they needed assistance. Some topics included: word choice, character motivation, character traits, symbolism, allusion, etc. Assignments varied in direction, some were based around inferences, predictions, or text-to-self connections. Others were more creative and allowed for students to express themselves. In one activity, students are asked to take a virtual reality tour of the Sistine Chapel and explain how what they observed connects to the character, Sistine.
Since the hyperdoc was so big, I made everything in the document hyperlinked. On the initial page, students could click on the “Must Do” for a section and immediately be transported to that section of the Google Doc. At the end of each section’s tasks, student clicked an orange arrow to return to the top of the page. A large document can seem overwhelming and I wanted students to have no question about where they were supposed to go after reading (plus, it made grading each section easier on me). I created a video to help students as they moved through the hyperdoc at home. They were given a week to complete each section. Some came to me during academic assistance (our version of study hall) to work on the assignment each week, with most finishing in about two days. After each of the five sections, I gave them a grade and feedback on their work.
During the week, we worked on activities and discussions that connected to what the students had been reading at home. We wrote open-ended questions for each other and answered them around the room on the desks with Expo markers. We completed characterization dodecahedrons where the students determined the character traits and what type of character each person in the story represented. We created ABC books and went through the entire alphabet, using alphabetical words and phrases to represent important parts of the novel. We created symbolism presentations where the class chose a symbol and taught the class to understand the meaning of that symbol, like the tiger, suitcase, Sistine’s dresses and name, and Rob’s rash. Some days, we just engaged in deep discussions about character motivations and the events of the plot, making text-to-world connections and bringing in aspects of our own lives to understand the situations of the characters.
For the most part, the students completed the work each week for the novel. In traditional flipped classroom fashion, I did a quick post-assessment to see if the students understood what they had read and used that information to place groups, create discussion questions, or adjust the focus of the lesson of the day. While there were several students initially who did not complete the reading, once they saw they were missing out on valuable experiences and activities with their classmates because they had not read, they jumped on the bandwagon to complete the assignments.
Some important things I learned about flipping the whole class novel:
Overall, the flipped classroom novel in the resource room was successful. I don’t think I’ve ever had a group of students understand a novel to such a high caliber and have as insightful and analytical discussions about the text. My resource room said they did not feel overwhelmed with what was provided and definitely felt like connected with this novel and the work more than they have in previous units.
Verdict? Success! Can't wait to use it again next year!
Over these first two years of my teaching career, I’ve devoted a lot of my time to Google Classroom. Looking back at the time I spent unit and lesson planning as an undergrad, it’s a wonder I ever planned anything that didn’t involve the platform. I’ve vouched for the awesomeness of Classroom at conferences and workshops and just in casual technology chit chat, but it wasn’t until a few days ago I realized the reason behind my commitment. Google Classroom is my physical classroom.
As a special education teacher, I’m aware of the classroom issues that this area of education faces. More specifically, the lack of your own physical space. As special educators, we’re likely to share rooms (sometimes with 3 other people: shout out to my awesome roommates). For me, I’m fortunate that my resource room periods are taught within my home space, the room where my desk is located. For others, who organize their classroom on a cart, it’s not so easy.
The act of shifting teachers in an out of a room can be difficult. It means setting up desks in a neutral position for the different teaching personas of the people in your room. It means you can’t write down your day’s agenda, Do Nows, or homework assignments on the board. Even things like greeting students at the door as they enter can be taken for granted because you’re racing around the school. I’m thankful for the days I arrive a second before the final bell rings.
But Google Classroom changed that. It provided me with a digital space to act as my physical classroom.
No Physical Classroom Problem: Can’t Leave Work on the Board
For awhile I was obsessed with those creative and interesting Do-Now or Start Up activities. The ones where the teacher draws a design and pictures on the board and prompts the students to get thinking as soon as they walk into the room---but in a nontraditional way. I love the ones like “Way back Wednesday: What’s your favorite thing we’ve done so far this year.” They’re adorable but hard to do when you don’t have a board to draw on in the morning.
Google Classroom Solution: Digital Warm-Ups
Either I have something ready to go as soon as the students enter the room, or the rest of the period is total chaos. The problem is I’m not there to get them started. I needed a solution or a way for me to be there without really being there. So, I started using daily warm-ups, or daily challenges, to give the students something to do...on the computer. My class was expected to come in, get on a laptop, and complete the question or activity on Google Classroom, even if I wasn’t in the room yet. Last year it really took off and became a part of our daily procedure.
No Physical Classroom Problem: Minimal Classroom Resources
When you’re on a cart, or share a room, you’re limited in terms of space. You can’t have a section of the room where students look for absent work or a place to write down the homework. And sure, you can make some accommodations, like how I hung a whiteboard near the clock on our classroom wall to put my daily objective and homework assignments, but it doesn’t take away the fact that there are things in the room you will not have. And for the teachers in more than one classroom, this issue is even more apparent.
Google Classroom Solution: About Section
The About section of each Google Classroom is a fantastic--yet often underutilized--feature. I remember the first time I asked my students to refer to it at the beginning of this year. I was met with a lot of “I didn’t even know this existed!” But it’s actually proven to be very useful for classroom procedures as a replacement for physical classroom space. For my gamified classes, it’s their place to check out the leaderboard, look at their gaming profiles and badges, and track their badge opportunities. It’s where they sign out books from the classroom library. It’s also where they find links, attachments, and templates for things we always use. Anything I’d put around the room for frequent easy access is automatically uploaded into this section. And the students know exactly where to go. Furthermore, as far as the “absentee area” goes, Google Classroom’s stream itself is where my students go to find all the work they’ve missed.
No Physical Classroom Problem: Cleaning Up After Class
Running off when the students do (or a few minutes after) means there’s not much time to disassemble things, tidy up papers, and put things back in order before leaving for your next class. When you’re using someone else’s room, you’re rushing to put things back the way you found them and if you’re one of those teachers that’s into flexible seating and collaboration (like me), you have to stop class earlier than usual to bring the desk back to functional order. In that panic of moving and running, things get lost. Papers get jammed into my bag and things likely get lost in the shuffle.
Google Classroom Solution: Log Off the Computer
It could also be a valid argument for going digital-- nothing to clean up. Essentially with Google Classroom, you close that laptop and you’re all set. There’s no papers to collect. No worrying if I misplaced any student work as I leave the room. Everything is saved neatly in my Google Classroom for that class period and there’s absolutely no chance of misplacing it. I hear there’s a great art to organizing a cart: developing specific places for different resources and materials. But with Google Classroom, the organization is already done for you.
No Physical Classroom Problem: Losing Positive Environment and Atmosphere
Let’s face it. One of the most important aspects of the classroom is the atmosphere. Without a teacher’s touch, a classroom is just bare walls and empty desks. It takes a teacher to put decorations on the walls and create an accepting environment. But the problem persists: if it’s not your room, how do you make it your own? How can you get the class to mimic your teaching style? How can you get the students to feel comfortable and relaxed?
Google Classroom Solution: Create a Welcoming Space
The immediate assumption about your Google Classroom is that it has to be cold and unfeeling. “It’s just a place to distribute assignments and share resources, right?” No. It can be colorful and exciting and embracing. A movement has been going around where people make their class header a picture of their students or even one “Student of the Week” each week of the year. That within itself creates a welcoming image. I like to mix up the academic work with personal accomplishments and praise. A Do Now question doesn’t have to be academic. It can simply be a chance for students to share what they did over the long weekend and then comment on each other’s posts. I post exceptional student work and give them praise for their accomplishment. Other students will chime in and add a comment praising the student, too. You’d be surprised how much students like to give each other positive feedback. In ELA it can be so “negative” with revisions that it gives the students the chance to genuinely be proud of each other. This allows your Google Classroom to have a positive feel, where students feel comfortable making mistakes and learning from them or where they embrace taking risks. If a particular student earns a special badge, I’ll post the badge as an announcement and celebrate the student. In addition, now that Google Classroom has the differentiation component, I can push out individual praise to each and every student. I can pop on their stream on a random day with a little motivator if they’re having a rough time with something. It’s personal, it’s private but it promotes the idea of a positive learning space...all without decorations on the walls.
Although it goes without saying, it takes a teacher to build a classroom, not technology. But it definitely doesn’t hurt to have Google Classroom on my side to act as my physical space when I need it.