Local School Tests ‘Flipped' Curriculum

Teachers at Friends School Haverford on the Main Line are embracing a new teaching method that eliminates classroom lectures and focuses on an individual and small group teaching approach called, "workshop."

"For years teachers have thought that the most efficiently way to teach kids is to stand up and talk to them. But teachers are beginning to let go of the need to be in front lecturing students," Friends Haverford Head of School Michael Zimmerman said.

"When teachers do that, when they let go and actually engage with students, we begin to see how brilliantly the model works for them and for the students."

The workshop model is a non-traditional teaching method in which teachers follow a four-step instruction process that eliminates lectures. Instead, teachers briefly share an overview of the day's learning goals, followed by a brief set of instructions, and then releases students to work individually or in groups for the remainder of the day. The workshop closes with a short debriefing to give students an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned that day.

Zimmerman believes the curriculum will soon be adopted by teachers in elementary and middle schools throughout the country. Friends Haverford is one of the first schools in the region to adopt the teaching method, but it certainly won't be the last.

This week, administrators from several schools, including Penn View Christian School in Souderton came to visit and observe the workshop method in action at Friends Haverford. Kathleen Taylor of Penn View says the school is debating adopting the curriculum and wanted to see how it worked first-hand. Taylor said she was impressed by what she observed in Chris McCann's fifth grade math class.

"We're looking for a program that stretches their thinking and it seems like there's very good thinking processes that are being done here; the reasoning and problem solving involved seems to be pretty strong," she said. "I also like that it is hands on."

In McCann's class, students can be seen working alone or in groups of threes or fours, as he rotates from group to group answering student's questions and embedding himself in ongoing conversations about the day's assignments.

"There's a lot of independent practice and with no lecture, it's much more of a conversation," McCann said. "When I send them off to work on things independently, it is maturing them, and it works much better than if I stood over their shoulders."

Ellen Skilton-Sylvester, a professor at Arcadia University said she found the workshop method to be particularly helpful for her two daughters who attend Friends School Haverford.

"If students are applying new information by themselves at home and they get to something they don’t understand there's no room for a teaching moment. The workshop creates those teaching moments right in the classroom," she said.

"I think that is needed in all kinds of classrooms and I think it has really made a big difference for my daughter. It's made her feel like she’s able to understand these new concepts."

While Zimmerman acknowledged that small class size--a circumstance not afforded to many students attending inner city public schools--helps to facilitate the success of the workshop model, he still believes the method is effective and will soon be used at many other schools.

"In public schools, it's obviously harder to do with a higher teacher to student ratio," he said. "But the method is more challenging to the kids and they learn more quickly, so I believe it will begin to catch on."

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