E-Learning Instructional Design

Another flip

In February with time running down in the second, and final, trimester of AP Euro I did something that I should have done  long before: I devoted two class periods to student textbook reading.   This seems to fly in the face of my embrace of constructivism, my desire for students to meaningfully engage in the historical process.  It was also a (qualified) success.

Freud PromptImportantly, I did not abandon student discussion, but instead flipped it out of class and online through Moodle.   In groups of six or seven students discussed excerpts from Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Civilization and Its Discontents in light of the chapter reading on the Age of Anxiety (McKay 9e, ch 28).  Student discussions were generally rich and demonstrated understanding.   Doing the discussion online allowed students to dive deeper into aspects of the readings and make more comments than they might in class; unfortunately, despite forum discussions being an occasional feature of class since Fall, one third of students did not participate and another third did not fully engage.   This group of AP Euro students always did better than that in class and should have done so online.  Moving the discussion online decreased participation albeit while increasing depth.

Naturally, with two hours of class time to read chapter completion increased and with it scores on the multiple choice chapter test.  On face, this seems a poor trade off.  Textbooks are a problem with their shallow, uncritical presentation of history as settled fact (although I find McKay to be much better than average in this regard).  Some have even plotted to put them on trial.  Giving textbooks more love at the expense of closely reading key sources is not the way forward.  I did it anyways, however.

I paired the students high-low and middle-middle based on their chapter test grades.   Pairs each started reading the same part of the chapter.  The sections of the Age of Anxiety chapter are mostly not chronological, so students who had completed different amounts of reading before class could read the same section at the same time.   I’ve learned that to read in class means to only read, and that requires total silence for some. So, in a sixty-seven minute period students read in twenty-five minute chunks, each followed by a burst of paired discussion.  I encouraged students to concentrate this discussion on finding consensus on the most important main ideas and key details in their passages.

Less confident readers in AP History often worry that they aren’t sure what is important, so they write it all down and/or try to memorize it all.  Neither works out well.  I often see some of these students over thinking test questions, and I was hoping that these brief chats would help less sure readers to more confidently identify key ideas and details.  This is why I should have done it much earlier.  Despite all the problems with textbooks, improved skill at decoding and comprehending them will serve my students well in preparing for the AP Test and  in the future.  This is also why I should have done this much earlier; building confidence and skill in reading in the Fall would allow more time later in the class for close reading of primary sources, which is the real work of the class.  More time will be available when students become stronger more confident readers of the textbook, thus making content acquisition less of a drain on their time.

Physics Question

In a sense my AP History classes are already flipped as students acquire content, mainly from the textbook, outside of class, and we discuss, analyze, and construct in class.  I also use Moodle quizzes to give students practice opportunities outside of class.   Quiz attempts jumped by a third in this chapter, probably because more students finished the chapter. This lesson reflipped the class by bringing content acquisition back into class, but putting responsibility for it on the shoulders of the students.  I also focused precious class time on the area where students were feeling the most anxiety.  While the loss of discussion participation along with the message that history is a set of settled information to be briefly memorized are costs far too great to make this a regular feature of my class, I will be flipping a few days for paired reading next fall when I am teaching AP World History for the first time


By Eric Beckman

I am a veteran high school history teacher interested in decolonizing history curricula, anti-racist pedagogy, and e-learning.

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