reverse instruction


This is going to come as a shock I know…but pre-service education programs are not preparing teachers for a technology rich classroom teaching experience. Or to put that another way the classrooms of today.

According to a Project Tomorrow Report

…principals concluded that they want to hire new teachers with creative ideas about how technology can be leveraged to create authentic and differentiated learning experiences. But student-teachers report that their tech training focuses only on simple management tools. At the same time, the report concludes that those who have the biggest influence on new teachers — veteran educators –  don’t always embrace new ways of using technology to engage students. ~MindShift

Photo Credit: uoeducation via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: uoeducation via Compfight cc

This is an issue and one I have seen first hand. I have had the privilege of meeting with pre-service educators in both undergraduate programs and Master’s In Teaching programs…mostly here in the State of Washington. Now some of these programs are doing things different, trying to do things differently or bring a different approach. However, for the most part what I’m finding is technology is still an afterthought in these programs and not a true representation of what is happening in schools.

One of the main issues I see is that technology, in many programs, is a separate course and is not integrated into each of the subject/classes that a pre-service educator takes. History teachers….as part of their program should be required to know how to use all the amazing layers found in Google Earth. Math teachers should know about things like PhotoMath and how you could leverage this in the classroom. English teachers should study and understand how writing has changed over the years and have students practice writing in mediums that apply to 2014. Blogs, Tweets, Status Updates, images and videos. Those are the writing tools of today and of the future.

Or how about just on an professional level. I wonder how many pre-service program cover things like:

  • How to respond to an upset parent over email
  • How to respond to an upset student over email
  • How to respond to colleagues professionally over email
  • How to write a professional email that conveys your message and will be read
  • How to handle a situation in which a parents sends you a DM on Facebook about their child (yes they can…yes it happens)
  • How to handle yourself professionally when everyone has a camera in their pocket
  • How to update your “class website” in a manner that is appropriate, within school guidelines and gets your message across to your community

That’s a list that just rolls off my head in about 5 minutes…I’m sure you can add more to the list in the comments.

Teachers-in-training say coursework focuses on technologies that help a teacher stay organized, rather than ways to engage students. In their methods courses, where teachers learn the mechanics of running a classroom, 71 percent report that they’re taught to use simple word processing, spreadsheets and database tools, 64 percent report learning how to create multimedia presentations and 55 percent say they’ve learned how to use interactive whiteboards. ~MindShift

It’s not just that technology is not being integrated into the course subjects and methods courses but that what is required to be produced is not good stuff typically. Sure 64% report learning how to create multimedia presentations but are they good presentations that take into account what we know about brain research? I’m going to guess not.

Are pre-service programs and methods courses looking at what skills need to be replaced for this generation? Are they studying new approaches to learning such as gamification and reverse instruction. Where they might work and where they might not. Are they studying new and emerging learning theories like Connectivism that was written and has been around since 2005 and is the foundation to what MOOCs are based on.

I shouldn’t be complaining I guess this is exactly what has made COETAIL so popular. We cover all these topics and so much more over the course of our program. BTW a new cohort is starting in February…feel free to spread the word!

We have work to do throughout education and preparing students for their future. We can’t rely on new teachers coming from pre-service programs to be the answer. Yes…they use a ton of tech in their own lives but have never been taught how to apply that to the classroom in a safe and learning focused way. Are they ahead of the game….sure….but without the focus on how and why learning changes when we have access to a connected classroom that tech life skill is wasted.

We can do better…..

By Stefan

When most people think of the flipped classroom model or reverse instruction, which ever term you like best, they automatically think videos, screencasts, and when you get down to it lecture based instruction.But that doesn’t have to be the case.

In fact every time I have helped a teacher flip their classroom in the high school it has never involved videos. Instead it involves students actively finding information, making sense of it, and then coming to class ready to discuss with the teacher what they have learned, what questions they have and, what it is they still don’t know/understand.

Currently I am working with a history teacher who came to me with some “really dry historical content” that he needed to cover in his 11th grade Thailand and Southeast Asia history class.

We discussed some options and settling on following a similar set-up that I used in a English classroom last year.

First we came up with an essential question to focus the students. That essential question will be the summative assessment in some form or another when we finish this unit.

The essential question: How does the past influence the present?

Next the teacher came up with sub-questions to help the students focus their research and transfer of knowledge.

  • What is the relationship between the ‘modern’ and the ‘traditional’ in this time period?
  • How was the Thai nation conceptualized or interpreted during this time period?
  • That is, how was the notion of ‘Thai-ness’ or what it meant to be ‘Thai’ defined in this time period? Did it change over the course of this time period? If so, how and why?
  • Analyze the evolution of social forces during the time period.
  • For example, what is the relationship between the ‘old’ order and the ‘new’ order during this time period?
  • How did different social forces try to make use of the machinery of the Thai nation-state during this time period in order to control or influence state power?
  • What is the role of Western influence, both direct and indirect, within this time period? What is the Thai response to such influence?
by Sailing “Footprints: Real to Reel” (Ronn ashore)

For this specific unit the students are studying Thailand History (required class for all students in Thailand) from 1932 – Present.Next we listed the skills we wanted students to gain through this unit of study.

  • Become better searchers of primary source documents and quality web sources
  • Be able to post a blog post with media relevant to the content
  • Be able to leave a quality comment on a blog

Then came the knowledge and understandings we wanted students to gain.

  • Understand how the past influences present day politics in Thailand
  • Understand Thailand’s role globally through the years
  • Know the role that Thailand plays in the global economy

Once we had those in place we set out to create the structure over the next two weeks. Both the teacher and I felt we were crunched for time as the student’s Global Citizen Week (all students leave on a week trip to global destinations) made for a natural break in learning. With that in mind, here’s what the class periods looked like:

Thurs – 1/26 1932 – 1948
Group A Blog Post due Saturday 6pm
Group B Prepare for Discussion on Monday 1/30

Monday – 1/30 1948 – 1972
Group B Blog Post due Wednesday 6pm
Group A Prepare for Discussion on Friday 2/3

Friday – 2/3 1972 – 1996
Group A Blog Post due Sunday 2pm
Group B Prepare for Discussion on Tuesday – 2/7

Tuesday – 2/7 1996 – Present
Group B Blog Post due Tuesday 9pm
Group A Prepare for Discussion on Thursday – 2/9

As we start week two of this flipped project the students are getting more comfortable with what is expected of them. It has been amazing the pushback we have received both from students and from parents on this flipped idea.

Students telling us they would rather listen to a lecture and powerpoint from the teacher then have to struggle through the mass of content out there to find the answer themselves.

Parents calling into question the idea that the teacher isn’t “teaching my child” and the frustration their child is having to “find the right answer.”

Both of these comments scare me….a lot!

Students who have come to expect that the answers will just be given to them in a lecture now complain when they are asked to find information on their own rather than having it spoon fed to them in 90 minute chunks.

Parents who still believe that learning in the high school should be teacher directed and test based and call into question any deviation of what they know “school” to be.

As an employee of my school I am very concerned about the notion of what good learning (not teaching) looks like in a world that is filled with information that is chaotic, messy, and ever growing. If I was an administrator at my school I would be concern if I wasn’t receiving more calls from parents telling me “the teacher isn’t teaching”.

Reverse instruction can look different in different classrooms. To often we see one good example and we assume it must be done that way when really it’s the idea that is important. How you decide to “farm out” the content discovery and knowledge accusation is up to you. The main thing to ask yourself is simple:

How do I structure my time so that I get the most out of our face to face interactions?

Complete Lesson Plan Outline Here

brian bennett

The more presentations I give and see the more it takes to impress me. I’m constantly looking for that teacher that is doing what I believe the Internet allows us to do…that is flip the classroom. Otherwise known as reverse instruction

There are a couple things that really get me excited about Mr. Bennett who I met for the first time today. 

  1. He’s only in his second year of teaching! Which means he’s young, full of energy, and when he says things like “Just upload it to YouTube” the rest of the audience looks at each other. He’s the next generation of teacher and he gets the power of the connection….what’s not to get excited about.
  2. He sharings EVERYTHING he’s doing
    1. His vodcasts (iTunes link)
    2. His Notes (Class site link)
    3. How his class works
    4. His YouTube Channel
  3. He’s connecting himself and creating a PLN 
    1. The Flipped Class Network
    2. His Twitter Account
  4. He’s constantly changing and modifing his lessons
  5. He’s willing to put in the time on the front end, knowing/trusting it will pay off later.

You know a presentation is good when people are leaving the session with remarks like, “He’s got to much energy” and “I don’t have time to create all that stuff”.

It was fun to watch the audience react to what he was saying….nobody disagreed with his pedagogy or approach…what they were disagreeing with was the time it takes to do it right. Yes….good teaching takes time, reverse instruction takes time, but the payoff comes in the quality conversations you have with your students. Conversations you can’t have when you’re busy teaching content. 

I strongly recommend you watch his 3 part YouTube videos on how he runs his classroom. Well worth your time…and a great conversation starter in departments.

I have to say….it’s hard to break into my RSS reader and make it into my must read section…but I added Brian’s blog before I left his session today. Looking forward to learning more from this new international educator.

“How many of you have done the 18 minute, right before class, copy and paste, plagiarized, bullet point, turn and read off the screen PowerPoint Presentation? Be honest.”

Every hand in the room goes up.

We know it as educators, kids know it as students. The presentation really is about finding information, putting it on some slides, add some transitions and then telling the rest of the class what it is you found.

Then there is the audience who is suppose to take notes on the information. A.K.A. copy the bulletpoints in bulletpoint format onto a piece of paper. Because there is so much learning in copying words from the slide to paper….NOT……and of course as you are busy copying the words you’re not listening to what the presenter is saying…not that it matters they’re just reading the words off the slides anyway. 


Pecha KuchaWhat if there was a different way? What if the presentation was a story, a journey, an in-depth look into some aspect of a book, a time period as told through images and the research of the storyteller. What if the preperation of making the presentation was about learning? What if it was about crafting a story and understanding a topic to the point where you could stand and without notes, without bulletpoints tell your story. 

That’s exactly what I’ve been working with in partnership with one of our high school English teachers. Let me give you the outline.

Students in 9th grade English are reading To Kill a Mockingbird. A classic read for many students in high school. To help students understand the novel and the time period in which it takes place. Each student researches some aspect of the 1930’s. Students are given a list of topics or are free to come up with their own. Some topics include, Adolf Hitler, Fascism, The Great Depression, FDR, Women in 1930 America. 

Students have free range to choose a topic (Autonomy) as long as they can tie it some how to the book, or how this might have affected the characters in the book in that time period. 

Once they have chosen their topic and had a conversation about the angle they are going to take with it and how it ties to the book, they are set free to research (Mastery). 

The Purpose is to craft a story on how or why they feel their topic ties to Kill a Mockingbird

Students use a modified Pecha-Kucha format. Because of timing instead of 20 slides 20 seconds a slide. We went with 15 slides x 20 seconds for an even 5 minute presentation.

Time Period: 2 Weeks (including 2 weekends)

Why a Pecha Kucha:

  1. Equality: Every student gets exactly 5 minutes. No 3-5 or 5-7 minute presentation. Everyone gets 5 minutes to tell their story.
  2. Style: The style of a Pecha-Kucha which is very much telling a story through pictures allows students to think both literally and symbolically about the pictures they use to tell their story. The focus is on the story not the slides. The slides act as a visual representation of the story and are not the story themselves.
  3. Content Knowledge: When using the Pecha-Kucha format there is no faking content knowledge. Students need to know their content to a depth that they can stand and deliever a story using pictures as a visual trigger to the story telling process.
  4. Examplars: Using the Pecha-Kucha.org website students have a vast array of examplar presentations to learn from and get ideas from. 


Because telling a story is all about whether or not you made your point, the audience (students) rated each presentation right after it was given. We created a form in Google Docs. Kids would listen to the presentation and takes notes. Once the presentation was over and as the next presenter was setting up the students would fill out the rubric on the presentation, hit submit and get ready for the next presentation.

Questions on the rubric. Answered on a 1 – 5 scale of 1 = Stongly Disagree to 5 = Strongly Agree

  • The presenter has answered the ‘so what’ factor effectively
  • The presenter has a clear thesis statement
  • Vocal features (tone, pace, volume) are present
  • The presenter has used visual images symbolically and has linked them clearly to the thesis statement
  • The presenter has utilized eye contact and not referred to notes
  • The presenter has provided a handout with sources and a Works Cited page
  • The presenter has shown creativity in their use of Pecha Kucha (15×20 – 5 mins)
  • The presenter – answered questions from the audience with confidence
  • Comments to the Presenter

Use of Class Time: The research and the creating of the actual presentation where done outside of class. Class time was used to teach about creative commons pictures, creating compelling presentation, research skills, a clear thesis statement and answering the “so what” factor as the presentation related to the book. In other words class time was used to teach skills and context of the presentation. (Reverse Instruction)

Student Reaction:

  • Hate it: A lot of work for 5 minute presentation. (Love it!)
  • Hate it: Had to come up with my own topic, just tell me what to research. (Love it!)
  • Hate it: Finding pictures and thinking about how they fit with my story was tough. (Love it!)
  • Like it: I really learned what it was I was researching and in some cases ended up going in a different direction then where I started.
  • Love it: Being in the audience you really had to listen and figure out how the picture tied to the story. 

Teacher Reaction:

  • By far the best presentations I’ve seen from kids hands down.
  • The bump up in learning was amazing.
  • Watching some kids who struggle in class shine blew me away.
  • Will never go back to an “old” presentation style for this project again.

Lastly invite every administartor you know to come in and watch. You can’t help but listen to a couple of these presentations and go WOW. The level of learning, the content knowlede, the creativity and use of pictures is far beyond what even I expected. On top of that some of the angles students took on their research and how they believed it tied to the book was far beyond my own comprehension. Kids are at all different parts of the book as they read To Kill a Mockingbird. More than once students were caught whispering to one another “I haven’t gotten to that point in the book yet…..I need to get reading.” The teacher, loving the format and the learning he was seeing also did this same process with 11th grade IB students. What they produced was college level thinking and the depth that some of them with their thinking can’t be put into words. Simply an amazing project that I believe has changed both classroom practice and student knowledge for years to come. 

I wanted to follow up on the reverse instruction lessons I’ve been working with teachers on.You can read the first blog posts here on the outline in English and U.S. History.

Here’s a bit of the chat conversation:

‹Alex› what if there was no external validation? wouldn’t we all become crazy?
‹TK› we cant live alone isolated within ourselves ‹Holden Caulfiel› yes, by definition
‹Jenna› @TK, well thats because we were brought up that way ‹jutecht› @Alex….yes
‹Holden Caulfiel› a crazy man is one who lives in his own reality
‹Stporn Mint Nit› @Alex – we kind of “create” our own life. we think in some way. we act in some way. and we face consequences according to our actions. however, the existence of others may also affect the way we think in some cases?
‹Holden Caulfiel› however, the reality he lives in, is his own
‹Holden Caulfiel› therefore, he sees everything that everyone else sees, but his perception is skewed
‹Jay› Do we have the right to say someone is crazy then?
‹Jenna› so then a crazy  man can also be an existentialist?

That’s only a snippet of a chat-room that involved 8 students that was very intenses both in speed and in depth of thinking. This was the first time any of these students have been in a chat-room for this type of learning and the feelings where mixed about whether or not they liked it…..let me rephrase that. They all loved the chat-room but they were split on it’s relevance to the fishbowl discussion.

“I felt like I got sucked into the chat and wasn’t listening to the discussion in the fishbowl.”

“I liked it….it was great to grab something that they said in the middle and have a deeper discussion about it.”

The students felt they were missing the conversation in the middle of the fishbowl being so wrapped up in their chat. However, they all agreed that the learning/discussion in the chat was just as valuable…the problem was they wanted both!

by Flickr ID: ChrisDownUK

Debriefing with the teachers afterwards we found about what I expected. That some of the quieter students in class discussions shined in the chat-room. Whether is was just more time to think and write, or not being overshadowed by more vocal students, both teachers found shining moments for some of the more shy kids in the class in the chat-room. Some of the shyer students even asked if they could just keep doing the chat…it was more comfortable to them while those more vocal seems to want to…well…talk. 🙂

I think everyone could agree one of the most powerful aspects of the Fishbowl activity was having the students talk about what they learned from reading their classmates blog entries. To be sitting on the outside of the circle and hearing other kids quote your blog….was pretty cool…even if the kids wouldn’t always admit it…the smiles on their faces when they were quoted was all you needed. The quality of the blog posts and writing was another fantastic outcome from this experiment. You can read some of the blog posts here and their in-depth thinking as they found research and then tried to make sense of what it was they were reading. It was interesting to read these blog posts next to some of the others the students have posted. In this blog post they had an audience (the other half of the class) and they knew that their writing was going to be read. Creating that audience for students in the beginning of blogging is so important. Give them an reason to do their best writing…and “somebody might just happen to read it” is not a good enough reason for an 11th graders. 

We’re halfway through the experiment and we continue to talk to the students as now we have new essential questions and the roles within the class have been flipped. I’m looking forward to what this looks like on a common assessment. 

U.S. History has to be one of the hardest classes to teach at an international school. When at best half your students would be from America and at worse none…yet our U.S. based curriculum says we have to teach it. So how do you motivate students who for the most part have no buy-in into U.S. History? The teachers do a great job of trying to look at U.S. History with a wider lens and that’s what this reverse instruction lesson is about.

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What are the characteristics of a civil war?

What were the causes of the U.S. Civil War?

So those are the questions posed to the class yesterday. The class was broken into two groups. Each group would research one of the questions and was paired with a partner researching the other question.

Our plan followed much the same process as the one I blogged about using with the IB English class. However instead of using the blogs to post their research the students in this class will be using our school Moodle install. We set up a forum for each question. Students will post their information in a forum where their partner will be able to read and comment on it. Everyone in the class of course can read all the entries making one big study guide for the class.

On Friday we’ll be doing a similar fishbowl routine as in the English class. The group who researched the characteristics of a civil war will talk about the U.S. Civil War while those that researched it will be in a chat room listening and commenting on the discussion. We then reverse the roles the second part of class.

The teacher Casey Corning, has been doing a lot of great things with tech this year, and is probably my best user of a teacher blog in the high school. She has a blog for each of the courses she teaches, and has helped to transform our senior seminar class into using the blogs as their semester long reflection. So it wasn’t a shocker when she stepped up to want to try this approach in her classroom. She then decided to take it one step further and we’re doing a little action research around it. She teachers two periods of U.S. History. So one period is getting the “traditional” teaching model while the class I’m helping with does the student-centered reverse instruction model. At the end we’ll talk to the kids and use the assessment to see if there was any knowledge difference in what the students learned with the two approaches. It’s always great when you have teachers willing to take a risk like this.

More to come on Friday.


reverse instruction
reverse instruction

Today was our first day back to school after the holiday break and the first day of my little reverse instruction experiment with teachers and students. Jim Fitzgerald, who I’ve blogged about before, decided he’s be one of my guinea pigs….again.

 What is Existentialism?

Every good student-led lesson starts with a guiding or essential question and here is ours. It’s a simple task really for these 11th graders. Research existentialism and write a blog post about what you believe it is linking to 3 or more resources in the process.

So here’s how we set up the lesson.

Day 1: Introduce the question and the plan


Half the class (9 students) will research the question and write a blog post based on the research they found and what they believe existentialism to be. Their blog posts will be posted by Wednesday at 5pm.

The other half of the class (9 students) starting Wednesday at 5pm have until class starts on Friday to read the 9 blog posts, leave thoughtful comments, take notes, and prepare for a fishbowl activity Friday in class where they will talk about what they’ve learned and what they believe existentialism to be based on the research of their classmates.

Day 5: Friday’s Fishbowl:

Friday in class the commenters will be in the fishbowl along with Mr. Fitzgerald discussing what they believe existentialism to be quoting their classmates and the research they linked to in their blog posts.

The researchers will sit in a circle around the comments not allowed to talk to them (much like watching fish) but will be engaged in a chat-room (within Moodle) with each other discussing what is being talked about by the commenters in the middle. I will monitor the chat-room.

At the end of class…we bring everyone together to debrief about their experience.

The following week we give another question and we switch roles. The commenters become the reports and the reporters become the commenters. I’m really interested to see if the blog posts, comments, and discussion improve the second time through this lesson.

How we use class time:


After explaining how this lesson will work, I took about 30 minutes to talk to the researchers (which is all of them in the long run) about how they find quality information on a topic they know nothing about. We talked about how Google works, how you can narrow down your search and how to use different syntax likes site:edu (which they thought was very cool). We talked about verifying the information once you found it by cross referencing with other sites, looking for an author and a date on the website as well. We talked about using Wikipedia, the links in the notes and the discussion tab as a starting place to narrow down the search to good, already authenticated, resources. 

The kids didn’t touch a computer



Will be used to answer any questions the kids might have at this point and then Mr. Fitzgerald will launch into talking about The Stranger, the book they are reading at the moment, and have a class discussion about the book (which they have finished outside of class time).


The Fishbowl activity described above.

Closing the Circle:

So that’s the plan.

What I love most about this is I talk a lot with teachers about “closing the circle of learning” when it comes to students producing information on their blogs. That at our school, we have students write things on their blog, but we hardly ever use that information they produce back in the classroom. This activity brings the blog post, the research, back into the class to spark a discussion. So the circle is:

Students Research —–> Students writes blog post —–> Blog post becomes classroom discussion —–> Leads to more research/questions

Teacher’s Role:

What is the teacher’s role in all this? Could Mr. Fitzgerald just give a lecture and have a discussion about existentialism? Absolutely! But having the students come to their own conclusions about existentialism before having the discussion guided by the teacher we hope is more powerful. 

The teacher’s role is also to teach the skills the students will need to complete the task. Today that is what I did. I taught the skills the kids would need to complete the task at hand. We talked about search, validity, and authenticating sites. We talked about what a good comment would look like, how you give feedback on an open web, and some strategies to use. We used class time to teach skills…their homework is about the content.

The teacher’s role (Mr. Fitzgerald) will also be to guide the discussion on Friday to ask questions and help students to find their own understanding of what existentialism is/means.

So…there you have it…..I’ll write more on Friday and if I have student permission I’ll include some of their comments and maybe a piece of the chat. Meanwhile if you want to read the blog posts the kids produce you can find them here when posted. The word “Existentialism” will be in the title.

More on Friday!

Last Tuesday I was given 10 minutes at the staff meeting to update the high school staff on tech happenings here at ISB.

This would be the most time I’ve spend in front of the entire high school staff this year and I wanted to try and use the time to demonstrate technology and inform them of up coming changes all at the same time.

So I created a Pecha-Kucha presentation (20 slides 20 seconds per slide) to demonstrate one way you could have students create a presentation in the classroom. No more “about 5 minutes” or “about 10 minutes” of students reading text from a slide. No…6 minutes and 40 seconds exactly…and it’s fun…and you have to know your stuff…no faking a Pecha Kucha.

Within the presentation I talked about the school board finalizing our 1:1 roll out which will see 9th and 10th graders getting their MacBook Pros in 2012-2013 and the 11th and 12th graders the following year.

I then launched into how using technology should be revolutionizing our classrooms. How we should be utilizing more reverse instruction strategies in our teaching and ways we can use Moodle, Blogs, and Google Apps more effectively.

This is my first year in the High School and I’ve spend the first semester getting to know people and building relationships.

I ended the presentation with this:

“Starting 2nd Semester I want to form a partnership with you and look at teaching and learning through a new lens. I want to team teach with you, plan with you, and be in the classroom with you. Here’s what I’m proposing. I will partner with you for 1 period over a two week (total 5 classes) and together we’ll try and apply some of these strategies I’ve just mentioned. We’ll look at how we can use technology to find time in your classroom to have deep meaningful discussions. I’m looking for 3 teachers to be my partner for 2 weeks. We might fail…we might succeed…but one thing I can tell you…we’ll learn something.”

I had 8 teachers replay…..5 before I left the staff meeting.

Prepare yourself….2nd Semester is going to be a lot of fun!