The truth about flipped learning

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.

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