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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

I have been asked on a number of occasions what is the biggest hurdle that teachers need to overcome in order to flip their classrooms. In my experience, the number one hurdle is that teachers need to flip their thinking about class time.

Stepping Back from an Old Model

When teachers flip their classes, I believe they must ask one key question: What is the best use of class time? Is it information dissemination, or is it something else? I argue that we need to get away from direct instruction to the whole group and instead use class time for richer and more meaningful activities and interactions.

Why is this a big hurdle? I think it is because many of us have been doing school the same way for many years. I spent 19 years as a lecture/discussion teacher. I knew how to teach that way. In fact, I reached the point where if you told me the topic of the day, I could flick a switch and start teaching that topic without any notes. So in 2007, when Aaron Sams and I came up with the idea of what is now known as the Flipped Classroom, I was the hesitant one. I didn't want to give up my lecture time. You see, I was a good lecturer (or at least I thought I was). I liked being the center of attention and enjoyed engaging a whole group of students in science.

My class was well structured, and I liked being in control of all that was happening. So when I flipped my class, I had to surrender control of the learning to the students. That was not easy for me. But you know what? It was the best thing I ever did in my teaching career.

Teaching Learners

I should provide some context for this experiment. We started flipping our classes after a conversation with our assistant superintendent. She saw how we were recording our live lectures with screencasting software and told us how her daughter loved it when her professor at a local university recorded his lectures, because she didn’t have to go to class anymore. That's when we asked the question, "What then is the point of class time if we make it so they can get all of the content by watching a video?" The obvious answer was that we could make class time more enriching and more valuable.

So as I reluctantly gave up control, I was relieved to see students taking ownership for their learning. For example, I had one student who during the first semester was not really taking class seriously. She struggled to learn in our Flipped-Mastery Model because it required her to actually learn the content. She wanted to just get by instead of engage in the content. I insisted that she learn the material before she moved on. Some time in January, I noticed a change in her. She was learning! In fact she was learning how to learn. During one conversation with her, I commented on the positive change I saw in her and told her how I was proud of her newfound success. To that she remarked, "You know what, Mr. Bergmann, I found it was actually easier if I learned it right the first time." I chuckled, but also saw great growth in this student as she was really learning how to learn.

I realized in this encounter that maybe the best thing I am teaching students is how to be learners. My thinking flipped from my class being about the content to being about the process of learning. I have said for many years, "I don’t teach science, I teach kids." But today I want to change that and say, "I don’t teach science, I teach kids how to learn." This was a seismic change in how I thought about my role as a teacher. I realized that I needed to get away from being a teacher who disseminates content, and instead become a learning facilitator and coach.

Alternative Assessments

Another way I flipped my thinking about learning was when I allowed students to demonstrate mastery of content by means of alternative assessments. In our Flipped-Mastery Model, we required every student to pass each summative assessment with a 75 percent. I was very rigid on this. A 74 percent was not good enough. But as I embraced alternative assessments, I was pleasantly surprised at how students were able to show me what they had learned without having to prove it on traditional tests. I had students designing video games, making videos and doing art projects. They pushed me to rethink what assessment should look like. Ultimately we saw about 25 percent of our students who regularly chose to do alternative assessments instead of the traditional tests. Alternative assessments helped me flip my thinking about assessment.

So if you are at all like me and have been teaching the same way for many, many years, I encourage you to rethink class time. I encourage you to flip your thinking and give the control of the learning back to the students. As you do this, you will find, as I did, how it affects every aspect of your teaching. No longer will you be the person who disseminates knowledge -- instead you will become the learning facilitator of your classroom.

My questions for you:

  • If you have already flipped your class, what was your biggest hurdle?
  • If you haven’t flipped your class, what do you think would be your biggest hurdle?

Comments (46)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Shari USA's picture
Shari USA
high school world language

@Mrs. Brookins: I've taught in elementary and high schools. The biggest difference is that there are more kids who want/need a personal cheerleader in high school. They're so used to someone else doing it for them, they have given up on trying. Younger children are still hopeful, want to please you, and try. Their parents are, too. That said, "Love and Logic" is a great book. Works wonders with little ones. By the time they are teenagers, most kids already "know everything," so it makes the climb a bit steeper. ;)

Mrs. Brookins's picture
Mrs. Brookins
4th grade math teacher in FL

Hi Shari, I see your point. Flipped or not flipped, if a student is going to make excuses, they'll make excuses. I honestly wouldn't know how to deal with that age group. Could be why I stay in the younger arena ;)

Mike Albritton's picture
Mike Albritton
Curriculum Director, All Saints' Episcoapl School, Fort Worth, TX

My biggest challenges with flipped classes are 1) kids trying to "flop" it back, and 2) uber-organization.

1) Flop: For the online lectures and readings in my economics class, I use MIT's wonderful free open course ware (http://tinyurl.com/b7heher) then do problem sets and case studies and discussions in class. Sometimes kids come back to class and say, "But Dr. A, we like the way YOU explain it better!"

2) Organization. Let's face it: most of us skilled veteran teachers can make up stuff on the fly, make adjustments based on what we see, and customize assignments at the end of class. Blended and flipped instruction doesn't work that way. You've got to have much more written out, explained in advance. It's orchestral composition, not jazz improvisation.

Mike Albritton's picture
Mike Albritton
Curriculum Director, All Saints' Episcoapl School, Fort Worth, TX

Hi Shari: I feel your pain! Here's what I've done when participation is shallow or follow through is nil: 1. I have kids take notes on the videos and grade them for a completion grade, just like the classroom notebook grades many of us have given for years (or in my case, decades). 2. I create a Google Doc and share it with the kids. I instruct them to post a question, referencing the exact time in the video when they didn't understand it. I answer their question in the google doc and then use one of their questions and your answers on a quiz. 3. I don't allow them to watch the video in my class, reasoning doing so enables their negative behavior. I have those who didn't watch and take notes at home participate in the class activity and fail, or read a boring text. 4. I do make before school, lunch and after school video access available for those who complain about home connectivity issues.

Rory Donaldson's picture

Want to really "flip" your classroom? Here's what I do, I always give the answer first. Also, ask any question you'd like, but it must be written down and passed to me. Personally, I believe there are many "stoopid" questions. They shouldn't be allowed to take everyone off task.

Thanks, Rory

echo-y's picture
High School IB English Teacher

My biggest hurdle is my own fear of actually creating lectures or lessons on screen. I've tried with a few writing lessons, but have given up after spending two hours on a 10-minute clip and deciding that it wasn't good enough. The flipped classroom makes sense to me in science classes or math classes, though I do constantly wonder if that's just my excuse for not creating one for the English classroom. I am constantly inspired by this concept, however, and haven't given up on it yet - barely getting started. Therefore, articles like this, Jon, is really great for me to come across; thanks for sharing, and I agree: we should all "teach kids how to learn".

Tom's picture
8th Grade Science Houston, Texas

Hello Echo,

May I recommend the book flipping 2.0. It has really great examples of flipping LA classes from teachers who are doing it. I am a math and science guy but I found it very interesting to read what the LA teachers are doing. They felt much like you that there were plenty of math and science examples but not many LA examples so they just jumped in and decided to do it themselves. I think you would enjoy the read.

About the videos, I understand. I have what I consider to be a terrible recording voice. I literally hate hearing myself speak. I refuse to let admin record my classes with me in the shot. I just hate it! So I know what you are talking about. I have done some things to overcome the "terrible voice" issue but my advise is to remember that it isn't about the videos. It is about how you spend the extra time with the kids. The videos may not be the best but I bet they are better than you think they are. Just focus on getting them done and move on. You can always redo them later on.

Good luck!

echo-y's picture
High School IB English Teacher

Thanks so much, Tom - I'll definitely check out Flipping 2.0!

Mrs. Brookins's picture
Mrs. Brookins
4th grade math teacher in FL

Hi Echo-y I feel your pain. I have no clue how to flip for LA. I've made several math videos for 4th grade, but am clueless as to how to flip a LA lesson. I might check out the Flipping 2.0 as well! It took a while for me to just throw the recording 'to the wind', because I didn't like the way I sounded, either. I'd always get nervous and have a coughing fit. Good to know that this isn't just me. Thanks for sharing!

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