What Is A Flipped Classroom And How Is It Changing How Teachers Teach?
In 2011, Salman Khan’s Ted talk calling for a reinvention of education sparked a fierce debate. He had this radical notion: Flip your classroom using Khan Academy videos! Let us teach the concept while classroom teachers create simulations, games, and other practice methods.
This seemed heretical to many educators who couldn’t imagine turning over the “teaching” to videos of any kind.
Five years after this TED talk, I am in a teaching environment ripe with possibilities. Even as I am faced with the daunting task of learning new curriculum and adjusting to a new school culture, I am invigorated by the idea of how I could teach differently because access to technology has changed dramatically over the last five years.
This doesn’t mean that every student has a laptop at home or an iPad in their backpack, but it does mean that the near-ubiquity of smartphones and an influx of affordable devices has furthered teaching methods, especially the flipped classroom.
What does a flipped classroom look like?
Regardless of the age group or discipline, a flipped classroom looks different than a traditional classroom. The teacher no longer stands in front of the class leading a discussion, but instead moves content that can be front-loaded at home. In math, for example, it could be explaining place value or the Pythagorean theorem. Science teachers could use videos to outline photosynthesis. English teachers might begin with grammar, teaching sentence structure, and parts of speech through a video.
Flipping doesn’t need to be limited to concepts. An English teacher might create a video or even audio file of a modeled reading of a class text such as Lord of the Flies. I love teaching William Golding’s dystopian novel, but the language can be challenging both because it’s complex and because it’s archaic to some students. I’ve had to dedicate a lot of class time to reading together to keep students with me. But if I flip it, my students can read and watch with my commentary, and work on responses to the text. I’ve leveled the class in they can all come to the table, ready to participate.
The process builds a productive and cooperative classroom culture because all students can come to the table with ideas regarding the reading, rather than having a few who are ahead, some behind, and the rest in the middle.
Because you’re creating the videos and have control over the delivery, they can be short and direct. You get in, deliver the concept, and get out. For example, I can use the video instruction time to introduce the direct and indirect characterization. My students can watch my explanation once, or a few times as needed. Once they understand the concept, characterization, the path is clear for applying it to the text.
Continuing my Lord of the Flies example, our class time can be dedicated to exploring how Golding develops the novel’s characters through direct and indirect means. Together, students can do activities to support and deepen their exploration of the novel rather than spend significant time just on reading.
Flipped Classroom: Teacher benefits
There are other benefits to instructors. Teachers who flip their classes say the set-up takes time, but we know that any curriculum-development takes time. And, there are real efficiencies on the back-end.
In his post 8 Reasons Why a Flipped Classroom Works, educator Troy Cockrum says he takes fewer papers home because he does most of his assessments in the classroom in real-time as students are working on it. This is great for a teacher, but fantastic for a student who gets immediate feedback on her work and can make changes in the moment.
Another upside is that once your curriculum is mapped out and videos are developed, you’ve got a bank of material you and students can turn to. If you’re absent, critical content is taken care of by your videos and online resources rather than a substitute teacher who may or may not follow your lesson plan.
The challenge of having access to technology shouldn’t deter teachers from considering the flipped model. Fourth grade teacher like Laura Baker Smith said she flips in her classroom, using videos she makes for remediation (you can hear Laura talk about this on this episode of the Teach for 2020 podcast). Smith can make videos about different math concepts such as regrouping with subtraction or double digit multiplication that students watch and review in class, at their own pace. Smith walks around the class and provides one-on-one time where needed.
Proponents build a strong argument for flipping as a means to reach students all along the learning spectrum, allowing them to come ready to engage. Flipping teachers are arguably more responsive to their students individual needs because they are able to teach to the individual during valuable class time. Flipping allows for teachers to reteach material as needed, and for students to access and review material as needed.
When Salman Khan’s flipped classroom talks spread through the education world, the idea was radical. Send material home for a student review? How could this work? But with the more and more students having some kind of device available for viewing a video or listening to an audio file, flipping becomes less radical and more attainable.
If you’re curious about flipping your class, there are a number of resources out there, but here are a few to get you started:
- What It Means to Flip English
- 8 Reasons Why a Flipped Classroom Works
- Salman Khan: Liberating the Classroom for Creativity
- Flipped Learning Network