HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Flipping In-Service Professional Development

by Vardit Ringvald and Janice Silverman Rebibo Issue: Rising Ed Trends

Flipped learning is usually evoked as a tool for the classroom. The authors, leaders in the training of Hebrew educators, developed a method of flipped instruction for PD that can serve as a model for schools and other programs.

We have found that the flipped classroom is an ideal framework for conducting in-service professional development for Hebrew teachers.

Flipped learning has fallen in and out of favor. It surged in the 1990s when web-based instruction and full-out online classroom management systems became the vogue. “Blended learning” and “hybrid programs” morphed easily into the “flipped classroom,” taking advantage of computer and Internet technologies along with face-to-face learning. The most dramatic inversion came in the form of video-packaging of knowledge. Videos replaced in-class lectures by the instructor or guest experts. Students were prepped with prepackaged knowledge for their subsequent classroom activity, consisting of probing or experiential learning.

If you discuss flipping with experienced classroom teachers, however, the reviews are mixed. There are some apparently serious issues with personalization and transitioning. Theoretical questions arise about the objectification of knowledge in video packaging, which could obstruct a learner’s reflective abstraction and ability to move to other contexts. Students may become dependent and lack resourcefulness. Why is it then that the flipped approach is so effective for Hebrew language in-service PD? What can we learn from this?

Hebrew at the Center was formed to respond to the need to strengthen student Hebrew language acquisition outcomes through in-service work with classroom teachers on assessment-based second language teaching and learning. After initial successes with individual schools, we began designing a systematic, multiyear, regional approach for delivering cost- and time-effective PD to large numbers of school personnel. We employed a “hybrid” model with a significant percentage of technology-based interactions.

Over time we developed a multitiered approach: 1) professionalize a school’s Hebrew leadership, their Hebrew language coordinator or lead teachers first; 2) then support these leaders in mentoring and professionalizing the entire Hebrew faculty of their schools. Our model of flip learning for in-service PD emerged from this hybrid, multitiered model during a regional project with LA schools, in partnership with BJELA and with technology-targeted support from the Covenant Foundation and the Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Foundation.

Our goal for teachers is the improvement of their teaching methods in order to maximize the Hebrew language outcomes of their learners. When Hebrew teachers embark on their journey of embracing new knowledge and new skills, they undergo a dual process: they must unlearn their old ways of teaching and learn new concepts to be translated rapidly into new skills. Our version of flip learning for in-service PD resulted from this need.

We can begin to understand the viability of flip learning for language educators in the context of Bill VanPatten’s work on “processing instruction.” As we have observed in our programs, the phases that language teachers go through when transforming their old, familiar ways of teaching parallel the phases that language learners must go through when acquiring a new language. Moreover, we surmise that the language acquisition model is useful for understanding the universal process undergone by educators engaged in PD, regardless of their particular discipline.

According to VanPatten, learners move through four stages when acquiring a new language. First is the input stage. This phase of the acquisition process allows them to become embedded in the new language and understand the meaning of new elements presented to them. In the second stage, learners intake and absorb many of these new elements. During this phase of the process, they are able to make use of such elements only in exactly the same way in which they first encountered them. In the third stage, characterized as the developing system, learners are now able to use their meta-linguistic understanding and differentiate and categorize these same language elements according to their linguistic structures. In the fourth and last stage, called the output stage, learners are ready to make use of the new language. They retrieve, recombine and manipulate language forms in order to create new meanings.

In the same way, teachers in training must first understand the new concepts they need to internalize. They must also rid themselves of their old knowledge and skills. Because this dual process of learning and unlearning occurs simultaneously, teachers will require constant access to the new knowledge.

At first, our central innovation for our in-service PD offerings was the production of an extensive video series (fifteen to date) intended to package our HATC Tools for Hebrew language teaching and learning. Asynchronous video delivery of our expert lectures, as well as interviews and roundtable discussions with additional experienced leaders and practitioners in the field, afforded repeated yet cost-effective exposure that would benefit any teacher PD program. Flip learning was not our explicit objective at the time. It evolved naturally because we chose to open each of our LA learning modules with an Internet-posted video. By doing this, we were in effect already engaging in the basic, most familiar form of classroom flipping: frontloading video-packaged knowledge.

In contrast, our fully developed flip model is not linear. It permits constant access, surrounding learners with the new knowledge. Both before and during the period in which they meet with experts and peers in-person and online, teachers can also stream videos in their free time and at their own convenience. In the PD programs we now implement, they also download and view slide presentations and take part in a community of practice bulletin board for listening and reading about new concepts. There they view a variety of examples and read and post comments in moderated peer discussions. Returning to the VanPatten model, the teachers maintain control of their own time and resources and can sustain a pleasant input phase for as long as they wish and need. As adult learners who are also fully employed professionals, teachers find that this approach creates a long-term, user-friendly environment.

As they repeat the above input process again and again, most of these in-service teachers find themselves intaking the new knowledge, i.e., memorizing the materials in the same way they were presented to them. They can recite definitions, summarize the content and describe the examples given to illustrate and clarify the new ideas.

At this point they are offered the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session with the expert. This may be either in a distance format (phone or video conference) or face-to-face. The goal of this session is to help teachers unpack the new materials by breaking them down into smaller elements and by elucidating further. The most efficient ways to accomplish this transitional phase involve answering questions and analyzing case studies related to the topic. In addition, the mix of online and in-person interactive workshops that form part of their training allow them to experiment with the new concepts through exercises and drills that imitate true classroom situations. This allows for internalization of the concepts.

Recording these Q&A and workshop sessions and making them accessible online for teachers to revisit allows them to review the cases and repeat their learning independently—again, on their own time and at their own pace. These activities foster the teacher’s developing system. Their processes of synthesis and integration, like those of second language learner, eventually lead to output with their new knowledge having become available for productive use.

Following Van Patten’s model, the output stage of our PD design would be the phase in which these learners implement a new concept with the help of a mentor. This implementation phase requires the teachers to demonstrate their ability to retrieve information about the topic in real time in their classrooms. The presence of a mentor, sometimes from a distance due to considerations of logistics and resources, permits monitoring of their activities and immediate feedback. In our approach, the support given by the mentor creates the sense of a safe space in which teachers may experiment with the new way of teaching. It facilitates what might otherwise be an abrupt, perhaps unsuccessful transition to implementation.

Because their flipped learning environment is made up of so many elements and options that they may rely on and access on their own, these Hebrew educators become independent, resourceful learners. In this environment, they take responsibility for their own learning process and demonstrate an increased capacity for advancing from stage to stage.

We were spurred to consider the theoretical underpinnings of our multi-dimensional structure when we observed the relative success of the LA participants in internalizing the concepts and methods. (Our Boston Hebrew at the Center schools may be seen as forming a region in addition to our Atlanta and LA regional projects, and we have delivered our PD services to more than 20 individual schools and camps.) The LA group’s overall pace stood out early on when we began to hear the “language” of the HATC Tools coming from several participants.

We observed that when designing and constructing an in-service PD program, even when distance is not an issue, a well considered variety of asynchronous and synchronous approaches to PD activities can impact outcomes. Other strategies eased the anxieties of transition from stage to stage, especially mentoring through to the output stage. Ideally, the teacher is an active participant in personalizing the scheduling and coordination of individual or small group mentoring sessions. Thus we may see continuous mentoring as a flipped function as well because it occurs alongside real-time, interactive group PD. Mentoring is thus external but also critical to the fullest success of hands-on activities.

Mapping our program in terms of VanPatten’s insights helped us bring to light the connections between activities and learning processes in this regional PD program. On this basis, we recommend an approach to PD that is both blended and flipped. While Internet technologies may or may not be chosen to facilitate real-time, interactive activities, asynchronic means such as videos, slide presentations and message boards make content “flippable.” As we learned from our experience with our Hebrew language projects, participants in in-service PD benefit when such flipped activities make up a large proportion of a program. The balancing act between extrinsic and intrinsic program activities is shared with the teachers, who are allowed to control the flip.

When teachers share control of the extent and repetition of their use of activities we design, we also acknowledge their individuality as learners and empower them on their journey toward independence from the outset.

In short, providing learners with the means to repeat the lessons at their own convenience, need and pace empowers each person to learn the material al pi darko, in his or her own way.

Vardit Ringvald PhD is the director of the Institute for the Advancement of Hebrew, a joint initiative of Middlebury College and Hebrew at the Center. ringvaldv@gmail.com

Janice Silverman Rebibo is the senior program officer and technology director of Hebrew at the Center. janicer@hebrewatthecenter.org

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