The truth about flipped learning


Ultimately, flipped learning is not about flipping the “when and where” instruction is delivered; it’s about flipping the attention away from the teacher and toward the learner.

A flipped classroom is all about watching videos at home and then doing worksheets in class, right? Wrong!

Consider carefully the assumptions and sources behind this oversimplified description. Is this the definition promoted by practitioners of flipped classrooms, or sound bites gleaned from short news articles? Would a professional educator more likely rely entirely upon video to teach students, or leverage video, when appropriate, and incorporate other educational tools as needed for successful student learning?

Many assumptions and misconceptions around the flipped class concept are circulating in educational and popular media. This article will address, and hopefully put to rest, some of the confusion and draw a conclusion on why flipped learning is a sound educational technique.

Assumption: Videos have to be assigned as homework.

Although video is often used by teachers who flip their class, it is not a prerequisite, and by no means must a video be assigned as homework each night. As with everything else, the use of a particular learning tool (teacher-made videos, hands-on experiments, online simulations, supplementary text, or current news articles) needs to be carefully evaluated and implemented by the teacher to accomplish the learning objective.

Resulting misconception: Videos are just recorded lectures.

Yes, in a flipped class a short video (usually 8 to 12 minutes in length) may be a recorded lecture, but educators are using video as a medium to pose questions, generate conversations, provide instructions for projects or experiments, assist with remediation, create lessons that can be used during a student’s absence, give example problems and solutions, and clarify misconceptions. Teachers are also encouraging students to create videos to foster greater peer-to-peer learning practices.

For more news about flipped learning, see:

Engaging Students with Flipped Learning

Resulting misconception: Homework is bad; therefore a flipped class is bad.

Flipped class practitioners create a learning environment in which student work can be completed in class. This requires a change in the way a class (or school) is structured. Flipped classrooms may look more like “learning centers” where students are working on different tasks at the same time. Our classrooms are quite chaotic: small groups gather at the corner tables, a one-on-one conversation up front, experiments at the stations, and yet others writing in their research journals.  On a larger scale, an entire school could be restructured to reflect the value that unstructured and “unprogrammed” time has on student learning and well being. Providing students with time during class to complete their school work also reflects a respect for students’ time and life outside of school. Because the class time is no longer the teacher’s to control, time in school is now focused on student progress rather than teacher-determined timelines.

Resulting misconception: Students must have internet access at home.

If a teacher chooses to assign a short video as homework, equitable access to the video must be ensured. For those students who do not have access at home, teachers are giving flash drives to students who have computers at home, but no internet access; burning DVDs for students with no computers, but DVD players; and providing additional access to computers either in class or before, during, or after the school day. Equity is a very important (and a legal) consideration, but creating equitable access to instructional tools is not an insurmountable hurdle. The issue surround equity can be solved with a little creativity and pooling of resources.
Assumption: The Khan Academy is the flagship model of a flipped classroom.

The popularity of the Khan Academy might have come about because of Sal Khan’s TED talk, resulting in significant press coverage, or when it received funding from the Gates Foundation, but whatever the reason, the Khan Academy did vault the idea of the flipped classroom into the media spotlight starting in 2011. The media often grab on to new, flashy ideas, and as a result, video use in schools has been given quite a bit of attention. The Khan Academy is one of many powerful supplemental sites for video content resources. But a true flipped classroom is created by classroom teachers working within their school community to give the learning back to their students.

Resulting misconception: Students spend class time working through online modules.

While computer-based modules can help facilitate learning, a flipped classroom does not rely exclusively on any one single tool. Even though the national media, such as 60 Minutes, and schools themselves such as charter or blended schools like Carpe Diem show clips of students glued to computers in rows of cubicles completing learning modules, not every teacher using the flipped techniques does so. In fact, mechanized online modules are the exception rather than the rule in a flipped classroom. Rows of desks and chairs play no role in our classrooms, just as drill-and-kill modules do not.

Resulting misconception: A flipped class results in a one-size-fits-all education.

On the contrary, a well-run flipped classroom can help a teacher individually address the needs of each student. Differentiation is key, because each student has an opportunity for one-on-one attention nearly every day from his or her classroom teacher. We meet face to face with our students and converse about the lesson, as well as life. We guide students to the counselor if needed, but we listen, don’t judge, and expect our students to master the subject. The proof is in increased formative and summative assessment scores, but more importantly with our students telling us they “get it!”

Want to learn more about how practitioners are using the flip in their classrooms? Attend the 5th Annual Flipped Conference June 19-20. The Chicago event is sold out, but there are plenty of virtual seats left for $97! Visit the Flipped Learning Network for more information.

Resulting misconception: The role of the teacher becomes diminished.

Actually, the teacher’s role is amplified as the responsibility of the teacher and the learner is reversed. Educators now have a different relationship with each student that will in turn meet their needs more completely. If a teacher is only supervising students who are using computerized learning modules, then yes, theoretically, one teacher could probably supervise dozens, if not hundreds, of students at a time. But if the role of the flipped classroom teacher is to interact and meet the unique learning needs of each and every student in every class every day, then the need for qualified, caring, professional educators increases. Although video can be leveraged to deliver direct instruction, it does not, and cannot, replace the teacher as the facilitator of learning.

Assumption: A flipped classroom centers around the videos.

Teachers are still responsible for making decisions about which tools will best meet the needs of their students. For some teachers utilizing the flipped class technique, a video meets that need. For others, video is not a part of that overall strategy. Neither approach is superior to the other, and the decision must be made with the overall learning climate and learning objectives in mind.

Resulting misconception: All flipped classrooms use video as a “front-loading” instructional tool.

Looking at instruction through Bloom’s Taxonomy, an educator can take one of two approaches to teaching: start with either Lower Order thinking (and work up the pyramid) or Higher Order thinking (and then work down), often referred to as bottom-up (front-loading) or top-down teaching. If teachers use instructional video in a bottom-up (or front-loading) approach, then the teacher will lead the instructional cycle with a video and build the remaining learning activities off of the video lesson. Meanwhile, many teachers use video for extension, application, or even skill assessment (also known as higher-order thinking skills). A top-down approach places an instructional video (or any other resource) in the middle of the learning cycle as found in an inquiry-based classroom or a problem based learning (PBL) class. There is no right or wrong answer on how or when a flipped educator incorporates video, as long as it’s the right tool.
Resulting misconception: Flipped learning is a distinct pedagogy or methodology.

The flipped classroom is an ideology, not a methodology. We do not think of it as a “method” (a step-by-step prescribed process), but one of many techniques in the arsenal. Flipped classroom teachers vary in grade levels and subject matter. So, a chemistry teacher in a suburban city in Indiana and a chemistry teacher in a small rural town in Colorado might both be flipped teachers, but their techniques could be on opposite ends of a teaching spectrum because their students’ needs are different. A student who excels in a flipped class might have a self-directed schedule with little intervention or direction from the teacher, while a student who struggles will get more direction and one-on-one instruction. We have seen both types of students succeed in the same class with a different approach that meets their personal learning styles.

Conclusion: Don’t be fooled by oversimplifications

The generic term “flipped classroom” might be a bit misleading, and there could be some baggage associated with it, but that is no reason to write it off as a useless educational model. It is being utilized to help meet the individual learning needs of students. Before embracing or rejecting this technique, or any other educational tool, consider carefully how practitioners are actually using it. Do not be fooled or confused by the media hype, oversimplifications, or misinformation.

Ultimately, flipped learning is not about flipping the “when and where” instruction is delivered, although that is part of it. It’s about flipping the attention away from the teacher and toward the learner; it is about eliminating large-group direct instruction and meeting the individual learning needs of each student. Flipping a class is about reevaluating what is done in class and leveraging educational tools to enhance the learning experience.

Aaron Sams is a chemistry/AP chemistry teacher in Woodland Park, Colo. Brian Bennett teaches biology and chemistry in Evansville, Ind.

Read more about the flipped classroom and flipped learning in Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams’ new book Flip Your Class: Reach every student every day in every class. Order your copy now through the Flipped Learning Network.

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