Flipping the Classroom: What’s the Concept?

In essence, “flipping the classroom” means that students gain first exposure to new material outside of class, usually via reading or videos, and then use class time to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge, perhaps through problem-solving, discussion, or debates. While the idea of student-centered learning to access higher order thinking skills (as described in Bloom’s Taxonomy or similar models) is not new to education, the use of the wide variety of accessible technological tools is changing the way teachers can do business and increase the engagement of their students.

Let’s look at the benefits of the flipped classroom approach, and then go through some points to consider that will help to make it a success in your classroom.

Benefits of flipping the classroom

  • Students are engaged and can access materials using multiple learning modalities – videos can be made to have both oral descriptions and printed words, which can also be supported by static visuals, animation, concept maps, and demonstrations
  • Purposeful differentiation can be built in to match your class profile. Students can review and learn at their own pace. They can pause, rewind, and take notes in their own time in order to fully grasp the material
  • The videos can be stored and accessed again for later review by students
  • In-class time, teachers can give attention to students either individually or in groups. By shifting the lecturing away from the classroom, teachers can focus on working through problems with the students, giving formative feedback on the spot, and guiding interactive and inquiry-based learning activities to deepen knowledge and skills
  • Students who miss class are able to review work when they are able, and not fall as far behind
  • No more homework? (Well… not really… but the students will feel that way!) Watching a short video or reading an excerpt online and maybe answering some questions will seem far less onerous than the traditional homework pencil-and-paper format.

Points to consider

As with all pedagogic tools, there are points to ponder when flipping your classroom. These points are not insurmountable, but consider the following:

  • Is my class prepared for a flipped approach? Do they have the skills and mindset needed, and if not, can I coach them to get there?
  • Are the parents / guardians of my students prepared for a flipped approach? How can I introduce the method to them such that they buy-in and become interested and engaged partners?
  • Have I talked with my teaching colleagues and school administration about the flipped classroom?
  • Do my students have access to a learning environment outside of the classroom such that they can access and interact with the videos effectively? Do all my students have reliable Internet access at home? Will some families be put under undue stress if their data plans are structured differently than I expect? Are there technology gaps that will hinder some from being prepared?

These are just a few of the points that may have come to mind, and you might even have more!

If there’s a will, there’s a way

The above points are worthy of consideration as you ponder using the flipped classroom approach. Here are some discussion points and possible solutions.

Is my class ready? The teaching and learning strategies that you have used in the past will be a good guide for you as you consider this. The flipped classroom is a student-centered approach with teacher guidance, so if have you done other types of student-centered activities successfully (such as debates, think-pair-share, jigsaw, project based learning, and so on) such that your learning outcomes have been met, you’re off to a good start.

Are the parents/guardians ready? Build them into the conversation! Invite them to an evening demonstration, send home a newsletter, or have a blog/video introduction for all. Make sure it is rooted in the theory, but have it accessible so non-educators will understand. They will like to see what their children are doing!

What about my teaching colleagues and administration? Build them into the conversation too! Find your colleagues who can be your critical friend, your confidant, and your sounding board! You may find that a professional learning community emerges; two minds (or more) are better than one and you can learn from each other as well, both in and out of class. As for school administration, invite them in to see what is going on! Administrators love to get involved AND they love to see effective, modern, and forward-thinking teaching and learning going on in their schools. Finally, school administrators may get some telephone calls from parents about your flipped classroom technique, so it is good to have them on board.

What about the learning environment and accessibility? These are significant points to consider, as you do not want Student A to be at a disadvantage compared to Student B. One family may only have one computer in the house for 5 people, another family may only be able to afford a limited data plan, while another may live in a rural area with Internet connectivity challenges. The important thing here is to keep communication strong. Get to know your students and their situations as best as possible – with care and discretion, especially pertaining to areas surrounding home life, affordability, and the like. If your school is open, encourage some students to use the learning centre or library, or give them extra time to complete the work.

Get planning

Are you convinced? Are you willing to give it a try? Are you a little nervous as you consider flipping your classroom? The great news is that you can make your entry into the flipped classroom world at your comfort level and your pace. You can start small with just one lesson and one class, or you can plan a unit… it’s up to you. No matter what your subject discipline, ask yourself:

“What is the best use of my class time with my students?”

Your answer most likely will not include “passive transmission of low-level knowledge to students”.

No matter what teaching and learning strategy you use in general, effective lesson planning always has three elements no matter the subject discipline:

  • What does the curriculum say the students need to be able to know and do in the learning outcomes (the subject content, the command terms or verbs associated with the content, etc.)?
  • How will the students demonstrate that they have met the learning outcomes, know the subject content, and are able to execute the associated command terms or verbs?
  • How will the teacher set up teaching and learning strategies to match the learning outcomes and support their students?

These guiding questions can be applied to the flipped classroom technique without hesitation. Recall that the content is meant to provide a first exposure to new material outside of class, with the in-class time to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge, perhaps through problem-solving, discussion, debates and the like.

Examine your curriculum learning outcomes, determine your Bloom’s Taxonomy lower-level points for your content for that “first exposure”, and plan your in-class activities for higher-order thinking work accordingly, as it relates to the learning outcomes and command terms.

Sharing your planning with your students is very empowering! Take the time to share the learning outcomes with the students, have them understand what the key takeaways will be (be they specific content topics, command term skills, and so on). Posters or whiteboard writing either in the classroom or behind you at home – both are useful to keep the class focused on the stated learning outcomes with visual proximity.

Now all that’s left is to get started! We wish you the best of luck.