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The Academy Hout Bay: “Flipping” the Lessons – Blended Learning

TAHB Flipping & Blended

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After having completed eighteen months in The Academy, several factors have become apparent: the Montessori approach is a wonderful ideal – “In the soul of the adolescent great values are hidden, and in the minds of these boys and girls there lies all our hope of future progress (Dr Maria Montessori)”.

However in practice, we have noticed that many of the young students coming into the school are not ready to grasp their own vision for their future; they are not ready to take full responsibility for their own learning, which is what the school strives to attempt.

We have tried to allow for their freedom and have watched them closely with a tool: a mapping and tracking device or a spreadsheet where all the weekly assignments are regularly monitored, as well as maintaining an attendance report.

We have allowed for individual learning at the student’s personal pace but in the process, we have discovered a deeper truth, and this is that until the student understands the responsibilities and duties of the freedom granted in the school, the sheep mentality so strongly ingrained from previous learning organizations is a contradicting factor, which directs them to actually wait for and expect the teacher to tell them what to do and when to do it.

The Academy actually granted self-leadership and self-directional learning to these students but it was soon clear that the element of proactivity was missing. We saw that the students would come into the school and sit and wait for the teachers to come and fetch them in order to show them into their classrooms when instead, we would have expected them to come and look for their tutors, find their classrooms, open the books without being asked to and start throwing questions in a participative manner, or discussing the subject matter. Like the school’s Principal (Daniel Landi) says, this attitude would be “a bridge towards University”.

In a normal day, the students would fail to present their assignments, which is understood in the school terminology as undone homework by the students but as a missed deadline by The Academy.

But the fact is that there is no homework to be done in The Academy.

The basis of The Academy’s work is a concept called “flipping the lessons” where the student would check the lessons to be seen the following day in the online system called “Colls”, would go through a first revision of the subject to be discussed, would write down his or her notes or questions and would draft or prepare his or her assignments in advance, in order to spend the lesson discussing, completing exercises and generally interacting in a dynamic fashion.

This would in turn give the tutors the possibility to coach, mentor, support, teach, lecture and, in one word, educate the student as deemed necessary and in the direction stated by the needs of such student.

When the students do not proactively revise the lessons, the teachers are forced to lecture and start the content from scratch during the time of the lesson itself. This creates a passive learning approach on the side of the student and means that the tutor has to sustain the energy of the class on a 100% – 0% share.

The feedback is that students get bored and a high percentage of the content delivered is not integrated.

However, if a lesson gets revised ahead of the time of the class, the teacher has the opportunity to share the participative time in the classroom in a learning/teaching split on a 50% – 50% basis, or 40% – 60%… or whatever percentage would be appropriate depending on the lesson and the content to be covered.

In my opinion, one of the most exciting parts of tutoring a student is to be able to share the learning process with them and learning from them too. The process would then be of a mutually encouraged discovery.

After all, nobody knows everything! I regard our students’ creative thinking very highly: I love it when they throw questions at me that I had never considered before. They definitely keep you on your toes and test your knowledge!

I believe that we all have something to teach, young and old. And for me it is clear that nobody can sustain being talked at for 8 hours every day – the brain just can’t do it. So when we slip in the traditional classroom teaching methodology, it is clear that our students’ minds slip into some sort of a mental comma where it is clear to see that the information being delivered by the tutor goes, almost literally, over their heads.

The mind is curious. The mind wants to learn. It is a natural thing – we are born with it and children are primary examples. We switch off the brain when we are not interested in something. And we can’t possibly be interested when a teacher is throwing at us a whole load of information in a way that may not be relevant to us.

It is possible that the language of the teacher doesn’t match or resonate with the students’ – this provokes a switching off action on the part of the student, whom I often see slipping into that metaphorical comma, which in turn makes the life of the teacher a misery indeed. There is nothing worse for a teacher than talking to a student who is not there; they are there in body but not in mind or soul.

It is a total waste of their time and yours. And it is silly to say I did my job just because you were present in the classroom and offloaded the content of a lesson on a comatose student. We have to ask ourselves: What is the job: To teach, deliver a lesson or transfer information? Or to educate?

You may talk for an hour but if the students do not take the information in, then I can tell you for sure that the time, energy and resources have been wasted. You know it and your students know it. So for me, it is little comfort to say: “I have done my job because I was in the classroom for one hour and delivered an hour worth of information”. I do not consider this to get the job done as the receptive half in the communication chain is not engaged… unless you simply enjoy the sound of your own voice.

For me, it is clear that this strategy doesn’t work and hence, this doesn’t account for teaching.

I rather spend the time of the lesson educating my students, motivating them to find self-empowering strategies for success, igniting their passion for learning and their curiosity for the subject rather than just talking to someone who is pretending to be interested, when I clearly know that he or she isn’t.

At that point, when they are within the confines of my classroom and I am in charge, I consider it to be my responsibility to reach them. And yes, I am aware that many students have issues at home, which may prevent them from focusing or paying attention and I do agree that teachers are not to blame for their students’ “personal his-story”, but I do know for a fact that taking the time to say a little word at the right time, a gesture, a look right into their eyes… can make a small difference. Many little gestures, many times, in a persistent way, whenever they are in your presence, inside and outside of the classroom… like a drop dripping on a stone, the softness of the water will erode a little mark in the hardness of the stone… and one day they surprise you with an unexpected growth or a mature decision.

Call me naïve because I have faith in them. The way I see it, if I give up on them they will never come up to my expectations.

For me, the many accumulative small differences over a long period of time can mean sometimes to get a student to turn their behaviour around. I have seen it with my own eyes, time and time again. So it is my personal principle never to give up on my students.

I understand that like a seed planted on what may seem a non-fertile soil, sometimes it takes so long that it seems that nothing is happening. But something is always happening. And I advocate for consistency, persistence and tough-love. It works for me.

So what I want for the students is that they come to the school completely switched on, with an attitude of wanting to grab their future and actively reaching out for it, not sitting down waiting for someone or something to bring it to their lap. This is not how life works.

As we were becoming painfully aware of what it was like to deal with switched off teenagers (just like in any other schools, I am sure), the teachers went into a “purging face” and underwent a process that I created based on a mix of a life coaching, public speaking skills plus some good teaching, communication and interconnecting techniques. In this program I endeavoured to translate the language of the tutors and link it to the language of the students. I call it “The Hummingbird Teacher Development Program”. You will be able to read about this program in a further article.

In this program I wanted to develop the team of teachers into a cohesive group with clear focus,  expectations and responsibilities adapted to the school’s ethos so as to raise the standards of excellence and create more coherent results in our both, internal and external examinations.

The reputation of the school is always at stake and we know we can do it – we just have to establish ourselves in a platform where there is no doubt that our methods work and that we can be a bridge between traditional education establishments and the current on-line / self-teaching methods of the 21st century blended learning.

Let’s be real – it is indeed a very rare teenager who can sit by him or herself, go through a whole curriculum with little help from a tutor and finally succeed to get a good passing grade in his or her external examinations. Firstly, because it is a very difficult thing to do even for a grown-up: it requires a high degree of self-discipline and focus. Secondly, because there are plenty of external distractions to put you off your task. Thirdly, because the syllabuses today are broad and difficult. And finally, because it is a very lonely road to get through your complete education all by yourself.

And this is where our tutoring centre comes into the picture. We are not a school, so the students are able to not attend the lessons if so they choose, as long as their parents notify us in writing. Education is after all, or at least should be, a family affair. The students can also work from home, be home schooled, come to the school to get their work checked or to pose questions… or they can design other model that suits their lifestyle. This freedom is a wonderful thing, but we found that firstly, we needed some (not many, but some) boundaries and rules, and secondly, maintain them consistently. Within the flexibility of the school there had to be a backbone – a set of firm boundaries.

If the students can keep up with the on-line system that we use instead of books (lessons loaded by the teachers in a correlative order, e.g. Week 1 – Lesson 1 – Term 1, and so on and so forth) then there would have to be a common meeting point where everyone would need to meet a specific deadline at a specific time, regardless of whether they worked at their rhythm, at home or attending the lessons at The Academy.

Although the beauty of this system is that it allows for every individual to grow at their own rhythm, if there is not enough “mapping & tracking” measures in place, we can’t make sure that we can establish a certain degree of order in the potential chaos!

We believe that we are in the right track and we are working at establishing our brand. We are looking for families who believe in our vision: partners in education, so as to speak.

We don’t expect the typical scenario where parents drop off their children at a school for a few hours every day as if we were a care centre; then these youngsters go home in the afternoon and the typical question is thrown at them: “do you have any homework?” which they are supposed to complete in that solitary road where you know that you are supposed to meet everyone’s expectations but don’t quite know very well how to get there.

And since the inner motivation is not that strong because they haven’t linked their energy and motivation to their life purpose yet, if the parents are not fully present to encourage and support them through those solitary hours, it is likely that these youngsters will be tapping into their social media through the multiple technologically advanced devices they today possess, instead of really doing the work that matters.

I don’t blame them.

This work that matters in our case is “the flipping” or reviewing of their lessons in advance. The role of a guardian or parent is to be present at some level; either being involved in the learning process, or supervising the student’s completion of the required activities, or simply by offering the comfort and strength that is given to a young developing adult when he or she knows that someone has his or her back.

A bit extreme, I hear you say? Well, if you remember your student days, you will agree that it was not fun to go alone through the pain and misery of spending hours learning for an exam, or doing lots of homework, or finalising a difficult project, not just emotionally but also physically.

Sometimes simply knowing that someone loves you enough to hold your hand through the process of building a system of self-discipline and self-containment will make the difference between our youngsters sticking to the task at hand or giving up. Especially in the complicated and demanding educative environment we have today.

For me, finding these families and reaching out so that they find us and learn about us is translated into an investment: when the parents, the students and the teachers work together for the same goal, the success is assured.

And since we strongly believe in our vision, we will continue to work towards creating a matrix, weaving a net of understanding between our community and ourselves in order to become a bridge to empowerment. The students in our school know this and they will tell you clearly that they feel privileged to be treated like this.

We will flex our muscles to adapt to the challenges that education in the 21st century poses. We will do the right thing for the right reasons. We don’t have all the answers but we are very happy to work with our partner-families for a very worthwhile cause: the success of our future generations and the possibility to create a better world.

By Dr. Ana Garcia PhD, DTM.

July’ 2017

Article from my book: “The Academy Hout Bay: At the Doorsteps of the Future of Education”

ISBN: 9781080564323 (Imprint: Independently published)

“The Academy Hout Bay is in the words of its Principal <a social experiment>. A Cambridge-registered school offering online and off-line Middle Years (Project Based), IGCSE, AS and A Levels curriculum, The Academy Hout Bay has an Ethos based on teaching students through <resonance and not dominance> and is inspired by the Montessori philosophy of education, creating an environment which feeds its students’ souls as it is a place they are passionate about. In this book, I describe the process of how The Academy Hout Bay community came to be and how we created a space for teaching and learning, tapping into the requirements of the educational needs of the 21st century”.

THE AUTHOR:

Dr Ana has a Doctoral Degree in Metaphysical Sciences (PhD). She is a Reiki Master, a Coach-U CTP Life and Business Coach and author of several books in the field of spirituality, self-help and personal development. A polyglot with qualifications in 4 languages (Spanish, English, Basque and French), and the highest Diploma in Communication and Leadership from Toastmasters International DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster), Dr Ana was an external examiner assessor for quality assurance with the School of Languages and Literature at UCT (University of Cape Town) and she is today the Director of Teaching and Learning for The Academy Hout Bay as well as the architect and Head Tutor for Modern Foreign Languages for the French and Spanish On-Line Cambridge IGCSE and AS curriculums.

Copyright © Dr Ana Garcia PhD, DTM (2003 – 2019)

All rights reserved. No portion(s) of this book can be copied, used or reproduced for any manner without the expressed written consent of Dr Ana Garcia.

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