10 things I learned flipping my classroom

Up for a new challenge? Learn from another teacher's experience

In the spring of 2013, after attending several conferences and beginning research for my dissertation, I set out to flip some of the aspects of my classroom. The term “flipping your classroom,” coined by Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams more than a decade ago, has become a flexible term used to describe a number of different teaching techniques for turning instruction on its head. After five years, three grade levels, hundreds of students, and a lot of trial and error, here are 10 takeaways from my experiences flipping my classroom.

1. The title is misleading
The concept of flipping the classroom originally referred to the time and place of homework versus direct instruction. Rather than watch a lecture in class and complete homework at home, students would watch a video lecture at home and do the “homework” in class. While that might be interesting for a while, it does not really change much. Students are still learning via direct instruction, still having to work outside of school on their own time, and still receiving virtually the same pedagogy. To me, and many others, flipping is more about flipping the focus of the classroom from the teacher to the student. Once that has become your primary objective, everything else can follow.

2. Question everything
Schools hold many things sacrosanct—whether they’re mandated by districts or just a part of the student-and-teacher expectation. When I committed to flipping, I realized that it would only work if I were prepared to question everything. Things like late policies (“If it’s not in by Tuesday, it’s a zero”) and homework, and even traditional planning, all had to be brought into question. Students needed the flexibility to redo assignments if needed, turn in work a day or two late if life got in the way, and even have the option to work ahead or design their own projects.

3. Flipping the grading
One technique I have used in my classroom for years now is based on Bloom’s concept of Mastery Grading, as well as video-game leveling. Traditional grades are designed to be easy for the teacher and to mimic quality-assurance spreadsheets. Students begin at 100 percent and are gradually whittled down to their deserved score when, in reality, the opposite is true: Students build knowledge as they go.

In my class, students start at 0 and earn “Experience Points” by successfully completing each assignment until they ultimately reach their goal. If they fail to meet expectations on an assignment, they are not permanently punished for the nine weeks, but are able to fix their mistakes and resubmit, much like one might do on a level of Angry Birds or Candy Crush. This mastery-grading approach lets kids control their final assessment, rather than its being dictated by means, averages, and spreadsheets.

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