On the reactions to my criticism of ‘flipped classroom’ teachers


“My students don’t know how to learn.  They don’t know how to succeed.  And, it doesn’t seem like they care to change any of that. And, (which is the hardest part), they do not seem to be trying any of the learning strategies, success strategies, and tips that I teach and model for them.  I have spent SO MUCH time this year talking about how to be successful, how to learn, etc… and it seems like it is all a waste. ”   -Crystal Kirch from her blog ‘Flipping with Kirch: My biggest struggle this year…’

“Students are awful in regards to using my teacher site, my videos, pdf’s, etc. But, they are all over the apps & games!! The students do not know how to learn . . . true!! How do we get them to start taking more ownership of their learning?”  –Kieran Boyle in response to Crystal Kirch’s ‘Biggest Struggle’ post

“I also have a couple of smaller classes than yours of freshmen in IPC that I stay awake at night thinking about. Like you said they are great kids; if we were at the lake roasting marshmallows they would be awesome. It’s their academics that baffle me. They are very intelligent; the problem is they are not interested in school.”  –Stricklandg – ditto

“I put the most fascinating subject in the world out there for them every day and some of them soak it up like sponges, and some of them are like the ones you describe: perfectly fine with not learning anything except what their particular interest is. They have such a narrow view of what is going to be a useful skill or information. I teach them explicitly how to learn, how to study, what to expect in the future, how little they know about what the payoff of today’s learning will be, etc. Part of their self-centered world view gives them the idea that they can judge what is important. At their age, mind you! They’re so smart, but some of them have very little imagination. So much of what I teach is not my subject, but how to get the most out of the attention you give to the problems at hand. Schools of education have no clue how very directly you must demonstrate the usefulness and importance of learning. Students do not automatically buy in. It’s a consumer culture.” –Stephanie Molchan – ditto

“What do you think has made our students these days feel that anything that requires effort is not worth doing? Where did they learn that from? That is something that just puzzles me. I always remember the quote “anything worth doing is worth doing well”, and that just seems to be as far from reality in my CP classes as possible.”  Crystal Kirch in response to a comment on her blog

The above quotes are all from teachers, and appear on Crystal Kirch’s blog “Flipping With Kirch.”   (By the way, in case you don’t know what a flipped classroom is – as I didn’t –  it is when the kids watch a pre-recorded lecture at home in the evening and then do their ‘homework’ at school.)  After I read the post and all the comments, I wrote a comment myself, in which I stated that saying some kids “don’t know how to learn” is false, and I gave reasons why.   All comments to the blog must be approved by the moderator – in this case the author.   My comment, and one or two others that I know of, were never approved.   Ostensibly because we were not 100% supportive of what Kirch had written, and voiced our criticism.   Which is the blog author’s prerogative, but gives the impression that everyone agrees with her.  (One might also call it censorship, if one was so inclined.)

My subsequent blog post of a few days ago, “The smoke and mirrors of Oz” got some pretty interesting comments itself.  All of which you can read – even those that are critical of what I wrote.  The teachers who commented took large exception to my criticism of other teachers (particularly criticism of Crystal Kirch who seems to be something of a flipped classroom guru)  and the idea that they might actually use a worksheet in class.  Crystal Kirch and her colleagues are caring, innovative and wonderful people who take failing students and help them succeed or at least do better in school.  They do it WITHOUT worksheets.

And I’m sure all of that is true.  But that’s not the point.

In the comments that I’ve quoted above, you see glimmers of revelation, but they are inadvertent and go unnoticed.   One teacher writes that the kids are intelligent and fun, but just not interested in school.   Another writes that her kids are only invested in learning those things in which they have an interest.

Well yeah.

See, my problem with these teachers and their comments is not that I question their good intentions.   My problem is that they all believe that the only type of learning that is valuable is THEIR type of learning.   That only they can teach kids to learn in a way that will be valuable in the future.

In disagreeing with them, I am immediately the bad guy.  Apparently teachers who are using such “innovative” methods in the classroom are above criticism.   We unschoolers are all elitist, arrogant members of a privileged club and we hand down such verdicts from our pedestal on high.

Or so the critics would have you believe.

Well, here’s my elitist background.   I grew up in rural Indiana on a small family farm.   Which meant that, starting in about 1980, we were always on the verge of financial catastrophe.    As a good friend of mine recently said, “Yeah, we all know you’re rockin’ that Indiana Farm trust fund!”     I attended public schools and went to college on a (small) scholarship and Pell Grants.  My husband dropped out of high school at the age of about 14 in Israel.   After the army, he came to the U.S. with $200 in his pocket.   He lived in the basement of a moving company where a friend of his worked because he had nowhere to stay.   And then he worked.  And worked.   As a mover, then a supervisor, then a locksmith.   24 hours a day, 7 days a week until he’d saved enough to buy his own store.

I’m telling you this to illustrate that I know first hand;  what leads to success in life is not what is learned in school.  I take offense at people who say that some kids “don’t know how to learn” because that was my husband.   He was one of those kids.   It doesn’t matter what “amazing, caring, innovative” method is being used in a classroom if the teacher believes that some kids don’t know and don’t care about learning.   I wonder if any of Crystal Kirch’s students read her blog.  How would it make YOU feel to be one of her Algebra I kids and read that all they do is tell lies about their understanding of the subject matter?  How would you feel to read that your wonderful, caring, innovative teacher believes you don’t know how to learn?

I find it wrong of adults to assume kids don’t know what type of learning is valuable to them and their future.  Teachers I quoted above admit that the kids are smart and just aren’t interested in school.  But they never seem to ask themselves why.  Instead they say that’s because the kids feel entitled.   That somehow only wanting to learn about things that interest you is bad.    Kirch wonders why “students these days feel that anything that requires effort is not worth doing.”   Which to me is an arrogant statement.   Watch any kid working on a project of their own choosing and design and they will work harder than you can believe to get the desired results.   She then goes on to say she remembers the quote “anything worth doing is worth doing well” and I want to jump up and shout “Bingo!”   Maybe the kids don’t think the work they are being given is WORTH DOING.  So why bother to do it well?

Yes, I get passionate about this subject.   Some might say that I am alienating the very people – these innovative teachers – with whom I should be working to change the system.   But here’s the thing:  when I have tried to reach out I am often dismissed as someone who is “not formally trained to educate children” so my opinion, in their eyes, doesn’t count. Respect is a two way street.    It’s funny that people think it’s fine to censor unschoolers, to call us names and tell us we’re dooming our children to a life of misery.   But if we point out to a group of teachers that their way of thinking might be flawed and might even contribute to the difficulties they are having, we are being overly critical and accusatory.

I’m happy to sit down and share ideas with any teacher who expresses an interest.  Such a coalition on a broad scale would be a good thing.    Would Crystal Kirch feel the same?

You’ll have to ask her.





18 comments on “On the reactions to my criticism of ‘flipped classroom’ teachers

  1. Pauline says:

    I see great passion on both sides here, expressed differently for sure, but passion nonetheless:passion for kids to learn and grow.Coalition, collaboration and communication is undoubtedly the way to go. We all have much to learn from each other. As a student teacher many years ago,one of my favorite mentors told me that education is a three legged stool:student, parent, teacher. Without the input and support of any of these three, the stool falls down.

  2. Cindy says:

    I’m sorry you felt I attacked your good intentions, Amy. I think you have a lot to offer. I understand your perspective of feeling like you won’t be respected because you don’t have credentials. I’m right there beside you. I just think what Pauline said is right, somehow we still need to keep our respectful position even as we passionately advocate. Keep on, keepin, on Amy! We need our voices. I’m just coming full circle myself, having started off as a collaborator, then got into a “what’s wrong with you if you don’t get it” phase, and now I’m coming back to my roots of respectful collaborator. Or so I’m trying… I’m thinking there’s some kind of learning cycle for advocators…each stage has something to offer, but there may be an optimal stage to strive for.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Cindy! I didn’t feel attacked; misunderstood, yes. (I’m quite used to being attacked, actually) Everyone jumped in to defend the teachers’ good intentions, which are not in question. And although I do try to be respectful, I will also speak vehemently when it becomes apparent that my opinions are being censored from a discussion – as they were in Crystal’s blog – just because I disagree.

      I don’t think any change can come without a real debate, and real debate means disagreement. No worries that I’ll ‘keep on keepin’ on’ and thanks again for your comments. Always.

  3. CMBG says:

    Fantastic. I’ve often thought that if somebody is asking, “What’s wrong with all these kids?” — especially if they happen to be talking about a lot of kids — then maybe whatever is wrong is not with the kids. Maybe some, or many, children are simply not well served by compulsory schooling, regardless of the good intentions and boundless enthusiasm and incredible abilities and experience of their devoted teachers. And maybe it’s OK to admit that (even knowing that the kids have to keep going to school anyhow, at least for the foreseeable future, because that’s just how it is). Maybe it’s not only OK to admit it, but necessary, if real understanding is to be had, and real solutions sought and eventually found.

    • Bob Collier says:

      …”even knowing that the kids have to keep going to school anyhow, at least for the foreseeable future, because that’s just how it is”…

      Or perhaps how it really is, is that I can carry an entire K-12 curriculum around with me on an electronic device in my pocket. No classroom required.

  4. Pauline says:

    Hey Bob,, have you read Why School by Will Richardson? I think you would find it interesting, I did :)


  5. CSM says:

    Here’s the thing, Amy.

    You have good and valid things to say about education. You are obviously passionate.

    But the way in which you’re saying them is hurtful to some of the very people who would agree with you most. Both JAT and I (as well as Crystal) work hard to make our classes relevant to our students and help them find ways to take their passion and bring it into their learning.

    There are three main points to the flipped class movement, as we define it:
    1. focus on higher order thinking in class
    2. best use of face-to-face time
    3. student-centred pedagogy

    I don’t see how that’s different from what you fundamentally believe. It’s a different scale and a different context, yes. And we have people above us telling us what we can teach, when we can teach it, and how we can teach it. That limits our ability to throw out the curriculum and do what we would like to do. In that sense, I envy you.

    But I have given my life – the same way Crystal and JAT have – to help students who often don’t want my help. Who fight back because they’ve been let down and failed so many times by the time they reach us. Who, yes, often struggle to learn.

    I don’t expect to change your mind. But I do hope that you’ll dial back the rhetoric against Crystal. She is a good teacher, who works really hard, and cares even more. She does not deserve your scorn or your attacks.

    I don’t care if you ever think she’s as great as I think she is.

    But please. Choose someone else to hate.

    In education, there are lots of people who deserve a lot more criticism than a teacher trying to do her best.

    • Amy says:

      Hi CSM,

      I don’t hate Crystal. I don’t even dislike her, because I don’t know her.

      I dislike her belief that some students don’t want to learn or don’t know how. I dislike the fact that in her blog post, she chose not to publish any comments – no matter how diplomatic – that disagreed with her; and now the entire post has been removed. As I stated repeatedly, the fact that she is dedicated, innovative and caring is not in dispute and not the point. The fact that she and many of the other teachers who commented on her now removed blog post agreed that some children don’t know how to learn and don’t seem to care about their learning IS the point.

      Where do you see hate? I see vehement disagreement and an invitation to discussion. Disagreement is not hate. There was no name calling. Some of the people I respect the most are people with whom I have passionately disagreed, and we have argued vehemently (and with sarcasm!). I am disappointed that Crystal chose not to answer her critics, but to simply ignore them by removing a controversial post. I am disappointed that when I disagree with something she says; when I point out that despite everything she does she has a basic belief that in my view is flawed- I am seen as hating her or at the very least being unfairly critical.

      When you write a public blog, especially on a controversial topic like education, part of the deal is that some people will disagree with you. Hopefully they will do so without saying you’re an idiot who should be thrown in prison, because that’s not very constructive. Crystal is welcome to tell me why she thinks I’m wrong; why in her view some children don’t know how to learn. I would welcome that discussion.

  6. Ajani says:

    Fantastic post. Thanks. Whenever I heart teachers lament that “these kids can’t learn” or “these kids don’t seem to understand what I’m working so hard to teach them” I want to shake the teacher and say, “Then maybe YOU’RE the problem!” Seriously, if my kids aren’t understanding something I realize that I have to change my approach. And maybe ditch the lesson altogether. It’s not about me. And it’s not about these teachers, no matter how good their intentions.

  7. CMBG says:

    CSM, how is it hating or attacking to say, “Although you say, in so many words, that the children don’t know how to learn, they actually do”? How is that hate? Who does that attack?

    Reframing the question can help. For example, you actually know very well that the students know how to learn. They learn games very well, as somebody mentioned, and whatever else is important to them. It is obvious even to frustrated teachers that students “know how” to learn. But for some reason, they’re not learning what teachers (schools, the curriculum) want them to learn. Why not? Maybe that’s a better question.

    Why aren’t students learning what they’re told to learn? Lack of ability? Lack of interest? Because they just don’t want to? Why don’t they want to? Does it matter? *Should* they want to? Should they be forced to “want to”? How can that be accomplished? How can somebody be persuaded (goaded, cajoled, coerced, encouraged) to want something that they *do not* want?

    Please don’t simply leave it at blanket statements like “they don’t know how to learn” and “we have to teach them how to learn.” There are so many more questions to ask — and with them, solutions to be found. Please be open to those.

    Thank you.

  8. Anne says:

    Hi! I am an educator who has left the classroom to focus on my famIly. We are currently travelIng the world together and I plan to continue some form of free schoolIng when we return to Seattle. I can’t call myself an unschooler sInce the term itself is negative – but I appreciate the philosophy. What you should appreciate is that giving up control is hard (and occasionally disasterous) for teachers (and parents). I’ve worked for years as a teacher to make schooling better, more child centered and flexible and engaging. I still believe it is possible. I admire what you are doing!! Happy to help any way I can.

  9. Kristin says:

    “I’m happy to sit down and share ideas with any teacher who expresses an interest. Such a coalition on a broad scale would be a good thing.”

    Your quote is exactly what #flipclass (online PLNs, conversations, sharing) has become. A place to connect with educators who understand there is a better way. Coming together to share stories, ideas, strategies and support one another along the way.

    It is so important to keep in mind that everyone is in a different situation and that our resources/obligations/communities are different. I am curious, Amy…

    What would your 50 minutes a day of classroom time with 39 high school students look like? Really! Start with something tangible.

    • Chris says:

      I think it’s great to have people like yourself who are not formally trained in education to share ideas and collaborate with. As an “outsider” you can bring a different perspective that could be a solution that we just haven’t seen.

      I usually start off the year by asking students why they are in my class and why is it important to take physics in high school? Most of them give many reasons, but last year one said it isn’t important… which I said was a valid answer but you have to back it up and defend it. She said she was going to be a legal assistant and work in her mom’s office and saw no need. Over the course of weeks I had casual conversations and presented some what if questions to her. Never convinced her fully but got her to think about it a little more. She did what was needed to pass the class but could have done much better if she wanted to. I wasn’t thrilled about her performance but realized there was not much I could have done to change that. What would you do in this situation?

      I know this is a lot to ask but I would also like to see what you think the best use of instructional time is, much like Kristin asked. I know the system is flawed but given the real-world confines in which I have to operate I would love to hear ideas on what you would do.

      37 students in a room that is cemented down lab benches 3 rows x 12 seats across (no center asile to walk down and extra student is just squished in somewhere) a big teacher demo station across the front with big screen, whiteboards and LCD projector in front. 53 minute periods. Most have access to tech at home and I use a website to list learning resources, have online discussions, manage projects, take short quizzes etc. 12 laptops in class, but often times wi-fi does not work. Have to teach certain standards per quarter and school expects higher and higher performance on standardized tests. Students expected to be highly engaged in class. Homework can be given but it’s not something I personally rely on.

      • Amy says:

        Hi Chris!

        I wrote an answer to Kristin, which I’ve now entered here as well. I realize that some of what I said is unworkable (sitting in a circle in a room with cemented benches, for instance) and does not specifically take into account working toward expected standards. And changing things up among students who are used to a particular type of class can mean some floundering around at least in the beginning. I know this first hand from being in an English class where, as I mentioned in an earlier post, our teacher told us on the first day that 95% of everything we’d learned in school to that point was garbage. (We were seniors.) I took to it immediately – the open format, no testing, no grades (just an evaluation that the teacher translated into a grade because he had to), no cut and dried answers – but many students struggled to adapt, and their grades suffered for the first term.

        Then an amazing thing happened. We all started to be able to think. We looked at the books we were reading from a completely different perspective and asked for more. At least the majority did. I’m sure it wasn’t every student.

        So in math, I imagine that you would need an entire year to make a dent in the idea that math is something you learn and memorize (see my latest post for more on that).

        Wow, I don’t think I really answered your question. Let me think about this some more – look at my response to Kristin which was more coherent :-) And thanks for your comment!

    • Amy says:

      I’m glad that’s what #flipclass has become, because continuing discussion is the only way things will change for the better. That said, it needs to be an open discussion where conflicting views can be shared if it is to be of any real value. (And maybe it is, despite my recent experience with one such forum).

      Before I answer your question, you must understand that my ultimate goal is a complete deconstruction of our school system as it now exists. Meaning it would no longer be a compulsory system in which specific subjects were required at specific ages. Rather it might take the format of open learning centers – I envision them sort of like expanded libraries, where anyone is free to learn whatever they want, but with instructors available to assist when needed. They would include labs, gymnasiums, theaters, lunchrooms and of course libraries, computers etc. A teacher might explain an entire concept or simply be available for quick answers. Kind of like the people at the Apple store who teach you how to use your computer or give tutorials on different functions.

      And the best part would be that if you didn’t want to make use of the open learning centers – if you preferred to do what we do now as unschoolers – that would be your choice.

      It’s a myth that if not forced into school children would opt to learn nothing. It’s just a myth we’ve come to believe.

      Ok, now to the question which must be answered from where we are now. We’ll pretend it’s a Math class, since that is the class taught in the flipped classroom that started this discussion.

      39 children & 50 minutes? I’d start with a “speed round” of what do you love to do, fully expecting flip answers, since I don’t know if that is a question anyone has ever asked without an ulterior motive. So I’m sure I’d get a lot of “sleeping”, “texting my girlfriend” etc. But I’d make no commentary or any assignments based on what they said. Then I’d do the same with the question “What kind of math do you use in life & how did you learn to do it?” I can actually think of a bunch of such speed round questions I might use in the beginning – having a timer so everyone gets 60 seconds to answer…. Or maybe doing super speed rounds of 10 seconds each so there’s no time to think – and keep it light and (hopefully) fun. No judgment about answers. And I’d take note of what was said. Maybe let the kids choose the question on a couple of days – it wouldn’t need to be math related. Maybe make one day a week “speed round” day. And then, depending on what particular type of math class it was, I’d find the history of it and put together examples of its’ existence in the world today. (Maybe do a quick general history of Math) The function of this would be to bring it out of the abstract and also to avoid presenting the students – at first – with formulas or theorems. Maybe ask them to come up with examples of practical application on their own – maybe not. It would depend.

      None of this would be in a lecture format. If possible I’d ditch the desks and sit in a circle.

      Ok I’m stopping for now. My next blog post is going to deal specifically with Math & is part of the reason I’m not going to get into the “equation” part of things.

      But maybe this will give you an idea of the type of classroom I’d run. Schools would probably hate me. :-)

      Thanks for joining the discussion!

  10. Chris says:

    I appreciate your response, and your reply to Kristin. I’ve read many of your posts and like your ideas of schools where teachers are there to help the students work on subjects they are interested in no matter the age or grade much like the Genius Bar at Apple. That would be a much better learning environment than shoving everybody in the smallest possible space and expecting everyone to learn the same things and the teacher to reteach all those that aren’t learning the standards at a high enough level.

    The answers to why students are taking my class are telling. Only about 15-20% of them actually want to learn about Physics (or learn how to think critically and problem solve), the others are here because parents want them to be, they’ve heard the class is fun, it’s easier than Chemistry, it will help them on SATs, they need it to get into college etc…

    I think online education has the potential to bring about some radical change if the structure is opened up. “Disrupting Class” and a “A NewCulture of Learning” are great reads on this. However we classroom teachers are stuck in the now and unless we quit we still are expected to teach all of our students and drive their achievement on tests higher and higher. In this situation, on any given day, if you expected your students to give their all to this task and they didn’t it is very frustrating. Pointing out that it’s because they don’t want to learn is good but the system does not accept this as a legitimate answer and often times assign this blame to the teacher, who stays up late at night trying to find ways to do a better job. Now more than ever, everyone is supposed to be college ready no matter what. Under these conditions I hope you can understand the task a teacher faces day to day is daunting.

    Your idea of asking questions and trying to connect with students and show them how Math is relevant in their everyday life is great, and even better to have students develop their own questions, which they have the freedom to investigate. After following Crystal’s blog for almost a year and reading “Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions” I have started implementing this process. Problem is, if students don’t ask/care about one of the standards that’s on the test, and the state says they need to know that and they pay me to do this, then I have a problem. I try to compromise and do both but am never satisfied with all my student’s levels of learning. Sometimes I feel ultra frustrated and may have even said student’s don’t know how to learn. Not that I believe that they are incapable of learning at all, but they are NOT motivated to and it really isn’t about who’s fault that is. In conducting staff development surveys this idea surfaces over and over. Students aren’t motivated to learn, what can we do to change this?

    I really think your ideal learning environments would be better for teachers and students. It would be interesting to see what the repercussions on our country would be; maybe there would be some unintended side-effects? However, most teachers and students are facing the grim reality of today’s antiquated system of education. What are we to do? What is the most important use of our instructional time given the constraints that we have? According to the Flipped Class workshop I went to that was the focus. It wasn’t about the videos or homework, it was about answering this question. I wrote this blog post which elaborates http://learning.instructure.com/2012/10/flipped-asq/. Still not satisfied, but trying to learn from my experiences and improve.

  11. adwitiadwiti says:

    A v intresting discussion as a teacher who has taught
    across the ranges of age and abilities from the v bright too special. From 43 students in a class to one on one. The point that teachers need to understand and get is.NOT that some students dont want to learn to that some students cannot learn. Everyones brain is wired differently and it takes massive amount of effort to change that wiring. I ve taught high school math and science and honestly it is v hard for a number of kids. Some of them are meant to be doing something else we need to find out what it is and let them do it. That is why traditional schooling fails sometimes. But many of my colleagues just arent able to get this. so many talents among children die out because of this. so lets not say dont want to learn . for example if i had to do fitness aerobics and my instructor asked me to do 20 exercises i would get exhausted and wont be able to do more than 10 then he might say i dont want. but the point is i cant my bodies limits are only this much. same it is with the brain.

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