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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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“Fliperentiated” Instruction: How to Create the Customizable Classroom

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In a rapidly changing learning landscape, educators of all stripes still coalesce around two steady beliefs:

  1. Students perform best under conditions that activate their preferred learning style.
  2. There is no greater predictor of success than a fantastic teacher.

Effective teaching has long put the unique interests of the learner up front, allowing teachers to meet the needs of more students more of the time. Now, advocates of differentiated instruction have found a true partner in the form of flipped learning, the pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space.

Call it "fliperentiated" instruction.

What Happens

Differentiated instruction is noted for, among other features, flexible groupings, scaffolded content, diverse instruction, and student choice. It challenges teachers to be more responsive to each student's readiness, learning style, and prior knowledge. A differentiated classroom resembles a chamber orchestra, with different students playing different notes at different times, as their teacher conducts their learning simultaneously.

The stubborn part about differentiation, of course, is trying to synchronize the learning of an entire class in which not every student learns or does the same thing at the same time. Here is where flipped learning can provide a lifeline. By moving some of the entry-level learning goals outside of the classroom -- largely (but not exclusively) through self-paced, scored video instruction -- teachers can mobilize their students in "right size" learning activities immediately upon arrival. These live classroom activities (ranging from small groups to partnerships to direct instruction) draw upon and build out the content studied in the individual learning space (perhaps the night before at home). In effect, students first explore their learning on a single, self-guided path, but then navigate, with others, a map of interlocking trails to discover their ultimate destination.

Getting Started

Effective fliperentiated instruction requires careful and intentional planning on the part of teachers. Creating or curating dynamic video content is the most visible but least critical step in the planning process. Teachers can ensure strong learning environments and outcomes by first tackling these essential action steps:

1. Begin with the end in mind.

Championed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in Understanding by Design as the model for backward design, this planning outlook is a must-do before teachers begin to fliperentiate. A UBD punch list might include:

  • Devising essential questions for the unit
  • Identifying the enduring understandings that students will ultimately reach
  • Segmenting learning targets into "online" and "live" instructional domains
  • Planning high-quality assessments that measure learning along a continuum of knowledge and skills
  • Anticipating the needs of mixed-ability learners
  • Developing rich, content-specific activities around these needs
  • Planning meaningful ways for students to demonstrate their understandings.

2. Know the score.

Find a platform that lets students respond to questions in real time as they watch the instructional videos. (eduCanon and Microsoft's Office Mix also let teachers access score reports -- for free.) The data trail will confirm that students actually tuned in before coming to class and will help teachers assign students to the right activity hub (based on readiness) when instruction resumes.

3. Reframe your role.

The teacher’s role in a fliperentiated classroom becomes even more important -- just less visible. Having already delivered the basics before class, teachers can devote their skills and expertise to nobler pursuits, such as facilitating a small-group discussion, providing direct support to an uncertain student, or conducting an activity with a high-performing team. All of this can occur while the rest of the class is engaged in student-centered, differentiated alternatives, which teachers can plan ahead of time. This puts the needs of the learner front and center, with a stronger emphasis on observing, questioning, and analyzing student learning. In a fliperentiated classroom, the farther the teacher moves from the center, the closer the student moves toward it.

Outcomes and Benefits

The payoff from fliperentiated instruction is significant. Teachers will recapture instructional time that can be used to deepen learning. Student engagement will likely rise due to more personalized contact with information. And a richer culture of collaboration will emerge among students who learn to work together. If differentiation is the engine, flipped learning is the grease. Used synchronously, they can power a learning experience that gets students moving faster and farther than ever before.

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erica's picture

I appreciate the information and guidance. I read in a related post that students can be eased into the flipped classroom through a single lesson; could this evolve from a single classroom or doses this only work if the entire school has already jumped on board. Also, is there a particular subject/lesson that is easier to use as a first introduction to students? Lastly, what are some expected problems/issues the first run through?

DawnB's picture

I came across your blog as I was searching for more information on blended learning and the flipped model. I am seeking ways to provide professional development for staff that is more meaningful and timely. I have been using Schoology as a Learning Management System and have created a couple of optional PD classes for teachers. I have been pleased with the participation and want to continue learning how to provide effective learning for staff. I appreciate the way you have been innovative in your combination of differentiation and the flipped model. My definition of the flipped model was very narrow and this blog has helped me see how I can really make staff learning meaningful by differentiating. If anyone has recommendations or thoughts on how she or he has used a flipped model to provide PD for staff, I would appreciate the ideas.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I tend to use something similar in that I set up "challenges" (problems to solve) during our PD time and make the resources available electronically in advance to those who'd like to explore. I try to make lots of different kinds of resources available, using Pinterest or Diigo to curate the content into easy-to-manage chunks and types. When we actually get together for the face-to-face time, I make sure to have some good old fashioned paper for teachers to work with because some folks just like to have paper in their hands when it comes to reading and thinking. I also try to provide a lot of room where products are concerned, allowing for different modalities and ways of synthesizing, and allow groups to form based either on shared products, shared resource preferences, or shared interest in different aspects of the process (all depending upon different factors that come up in planning). I get good results and people leave my PD days happy, as a rule, with lots of good modeling for what I'd like to see happen in their classrooms. Hope this helps!

Linda Lamour's picture

Our school is moving to a blended learning next year. When I first began researching blending learning I thought I would use station rotation. However, after reading and investigating further, I feel I am leaning towards a flipped model. I envision that this model will allow for greater student contact time to allow for correcting misconceptions, and encouraging dialogues.

Joe J.'s picture

Like Linda above stated, we are researching various blended learning models. I appreciate what you have to say regarding differentiation with a flipped model. I am intrigued by some of the ideas, but mostly like the engagement and student-driven parts of this model. I need to read more to find out how to pull it off, but your article provides a good overview--thanks for sharing it!

Kaitlyn H's picture

I love the term "fliperentiated!" This is the first time I have heard this term and I think it perfectly captures what I would like to do in my classroom in a blended setting. I have been using a station-rotation model with hopes to incorporate a flipped model into our blended work. The flipped model has always intrigued me with regards to blended learning, however I was hesitant to fully dive into this model for fear that some of my students wouldn't be able to access my flipped content prior to class. I think students can and will find a way to access the content especially if there is an accountability tied to the next day's learning.
I really connected with your quote, "In a fliperentiated classroom, the farther the teacher moves from the center, the closer the student moves toward it." This is the ultimate goal of learning and teaching...putting the student and his/her needs front and center!
Thanks for a thought provoking post!

Suzanne Batdorf's picture
Suzanne Batdorf
7th grade Math/SS Bonaire, GA

This is just the article I've been looking for. Just today I was asking a student teacher if she had been exposed to a quiz app that allows students to submit work and get immediate feedback, like Socrative, but doesn't require me to have the quiz "open". I want advanced students to be able to work ahead. Really want to investigate the Microsoft Mix option.

Would love any feedback anyone has.

Jacob C. Bunch, MNpS's picture

Mr. Hirsch,

Do you agree that principles and practices of, "Fliperentiated" Instruction" as you term it, could effectively introduce high-order, sustainable change (and an expressly lessened reliance on) what I refer to as, 'retrofit education' for students with exceptional learning needs? As someone directly affected by physical and learning disabilities -- and as a novice educator, this topic is of interest to me. Considering the 'flipped classroom' in the context of the guideposts of universal design for learning I have a tendency to believe that differentiated instruction in this context has the potential to meliorate aspects of physical and intellectual access barrier(s) commonly combated by students with exceptional learning needs in traditional learning environments. Further, the emphasis on reactive accommodation of inaccessible courses will likely be lessened as the culture of K-12 education becomes more aware and sensitive to the educational value of UDL. For students with disabilities this means a lessened dependency on academic accommodation in a notable way. UDL by nature proactively considers human variations in physical and intellectual access at the outset. Such considerations allow for increased anonymity of learning differences (irrespective of origin) because inherent to the course design is a tolerance--a tolerance for diversity that allows a student to achieve educational equity, devoid of the academic marginalization that is often associated with course retrofitting. As n beginning educator (and eventual administrator of Special Education) and continuing graduate student, in an effort to learn, I invite your comments.

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