Five Best Practices for the Flipped Classroom | Edutopia
Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Ok, I'll be honest. I get very nervous when I hear education reformists and politicians tout how "incredible" the flipped-classroom model, or how it will "solve" many of the problems of education. It doesn't solve anything. It is a great first step in reframing the role of the teacher in the classroom.

It fosters the "guide on the side" mentality and role, rather than that of the "sage of the stage." It helps move a classroom culture towards student construction of knowledge rather than the teacher having to tell the knowledge to students. Even Salman Khan says that the teacher is now "liberated to communicate with [their students]."

It also creates the opportunity for differentiated roles to meet the needs of students through a variety of instructional activities. But again, just because I "free" someone, doesn't mean that he/she will know what to do next, nor how to do it effectively. This is where the work must occur as the conversation of the flipped classroom moves forward and becomes more mainstream in public and private education. We must first focus on creating the engagement and then look at structures, like the flipped classroom, that can support. So educators, here are some things to think about and consider if you are thinking about or already using the flipped-classroom model.

1) Need to Know

How are you creating a need to know the content that is recorded? Just because I record something, or use a recorded material, does not mean that my students will want to watch, nor see the relevance in watching it. I mean, it is still a lecture. Also, this "need to know" is not "because it is on the test," or "because it will help you when you graduate." While that may be a reality, these reasons do not engage the students who are already struggling to find meaning and relevance in school. If the flipped classroom is truly to become innovative, then it must be paired with transparent and/or embedded reason to know the content.

2) Engaging Models

One of the best way to create the "need to know" is to use a pedagogical model that demands this. Whether project-based learning (PBL), game-based learning (GBL), Understanding by Design (UbD), or authentic literacy, find an effective model to institute in your classroom. Become a master of those models first, and then use the flipped classroom to support the learning. Example: Master design, assessment, and management of PBL; and then look at how you can use the flipped classroom to support the process. Perhaps it is a great way to differentiate instruction, or support students who need another lesson in a different mode. Perhaps students present you with a "need to know," and you answer with a recorded piece to support them. This will help you master your role as "guide on the side."

3) Technology

What technology do you have to support the flipped classroom? What technology gaps exist that might hinder it? Since the flipped classroom is about recorded video, then obviously students would need the technology to do this. There are many things to consider here. Will you demand that all students watch the video, or is it a way to differentiate and allow choice? Will you allow or rely on mobile learning for students to watch it? Again, these are just some of the questions to consider in terms of technology. Lack of technology doesn't necessarily close the door to the flipped-classroom model, but it might require some intentional planning and differentiation.

4) Reflection

Every time you have students watch a video, just like you would with any instructional activity, you must build in reflective activities to have students think about what they learned, how it will help them, its relevance, and more. If reflection is not a regular part of your classroom culture, then implementing the flipped classroom will not be as effective. Students need metacognition to connect content to objectives, whether that is progress in a GBL unit, or work towards an authentic product in at PBL project.

5) Time and Place

Do you have structures to support this? When and where will the learning occur? I believe it unfair to demand that students watch the video outside of the class time for various reasons. If you have a blended learning environment, that of course provides a natural time and place to watch the videos, but it will be difficult to ensure all students watch a video as homework. In addition, do not make epic videos that last hours. Keep the learning within the videos manageable for students. This will help you formatively assess to ensure learning, and it will feel doable to students.

I know I may have "upset the apple cart" for those who love the flipped classroom. My intent is not to say that the flipped classroom is bad. Rather, it is only a start. The focus should be on teacher practice, then tools and structures. The flipped classroom is one way to help move teachers toward better teaching but does not ensure it. Like the ideas above, focus on ways to improve your instruction before choosing to use the "flipped classroom."

Comments (36)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

EvelynD's picture
Technology/Mathematics Teacher from a small town in Connecticut

I teach at a district that has LOTS of technology and has implemented many of the current trends in education. We no longer have grades, each student gets 29! scores per trimester just in math! We implemented scientific-based intervention, data collection, formative assessments, etc. My problem is - when do I record those videos? Between scoring homework, assessments, projects, collecting data for progress toward standards, planning interventions, filling out paperwork, modifying and accommodating the needs of various students...

I feel pressed for time. And I KNOW how to use technology - not all teachers do. Creating an interactive game on Smartboards takes on average 6 hours. Is it just me? When do you fit creating video podcasts for your students?

EvelynD's picture
Technology/Mathematics Teacher from a small town in Connecticut

(sorry for the mistakes i'll make in writing, I'm french (Canadian))

For me, the keyword is differentiation...NOT TRUE that you will get all your students to listen to your vids...

NOT TRUE that you will cure eveybody and everything...

The flipped classroom should be a TOOL among others...

Merci! :))"

I absolutely agree - there are no "one fits all" solutions. All those people who make a lot of money claiming to have the "miracle cure" have not been in classrooms in a long time.

Matthew Kitchens's picture
Matthew Kitchens
Seventh-grade reading/ELA teacher from Ennis, Texas

You've raised some excellent points. Before flipping a classroom, an educator would be wise to give the process careful consideration. Otherwise, disaster will follow. There are educators who are flipping classes and experiencing measurable success. Here is one:

For those curious about flipping classes, the safe social-learning platform My Big Campus ( is worth a look. There, virtual-education specialist Libby Lawrie (@Libster) hosts "Flipped Classrooms," where educators from around the country discuss best practices. My Big Campus membership is free, and Lawrie's group is located under "Topics."

Richard Cottingham's picture

What makes "Guide on the Side" inherently superior to "Sage on the Stage"? My experience (42 years in public schools 14 of which were as an elementary principal)tells me that there are very effective teachers who are the center of their classrooms and there are others who are equally effective as facilitators making exciting activities the vehicle by which students discover knowledge.

A poor lecturer is not likely to be an effective facilitator while a good one has no need to engage in activity based teaching. A good lecturer is called a storyteller.

I can recall observing a 5th grade teacher who lectured her class on the Native Americans of the Northwest. I was enthralled. She asked questions about trout migration, totem poles, living in the northern climate. Her students were no longer in that classroom. They were living in the Northwest, hunting, gathering and fishing. The students would have lost much had they just made papier-mache totem poles or construction paper longhouses.

Teachers are most effective when they find what they do best and are then allowed to do it.

John Huber's picture

Originally, people who wanted to learn about things went to school because that's where the information was. Books, theories, people who knew stuff etc. This worked pretty well. It worked so well in fact that we decided to make it compulsory. And that also worked for a while but it began to fail when people who didn't want to be in school were forced to be there. Since then, 90% of our energy has been spent on them. Maybe it's time to give these people an alternative. Learn what they want when and where they want and come to school if you actually want help.

Physical exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge, acquired by compulsion, takes no hold on the mind. Plato

Richard Cottingham's picture

Your idea that people should be given an alternative so they can learn what they want when and where they want will find many supporters and much support. I do not disagree with it strongly but I think it is an oversimplification of what can really occur.

During my career I saw the growth of a tendency to explain unsuccessful instruction as a result of special needs of learners. Somehow the idea became that teaching should be tailored to the needs of the student. What was wrong with this was that the line between legitimate needs of the learners and the desires of the learners became so fuzzy that eductors lost sight of the distinction. If students did not like what a teacher did, perhaps because it called upon the student to work hard when he/she did not want to work hard, then it became the responsibility of the teacher to teach in a manner that the learner would like.

My position is that no matter the style of the teacher all students can learn, barring physical, mental, or emotional handicaps. The key factor is not whether the student wants to learn. The key factor is how well does the teacher do his/her job. Can the teacher engage the student? Can the teacher provide explanations, questions, activities and responses to the learners' efforts that turn the students on and are memorable events for them.

Can the teacher explain how a bill becomes a law in a way the makes sense and is relevant to the students? Does the teacher explain the parts of a plant cell in a way that is exciting or funny, or mysterious? Is the teacher maintaining a level of tension that makes learning imporant but not intimidating and not frustrating? Is the teacher adept at bulding an interest in using correct grammar on the students' prior knowledge in some other subject like astronomy?

When the teachers have the ability, the support, the time, and the authorization to do these things students will learn even if they would rather be somewhere else.

Jean Dore's picture
Jean Dore
Highschool teacher in the province of Quebec (french)


I teach french in a small town near Montreal.

The key words here, are differentiation and metacognition

Flipping your class will NOT solve all your problems...Techno is a TOOL among others...

TimL's picture
Post-secondary educational developer

Truly appreciate the one line, "We must first focus on creating the engagement and then look at structures, like the flipped classroom, that can support." Very much aligns with a 2005 article by Smith, Sheppard, Johnson and Johnson: "Pedagogies of engagement: Classroom-based practices." See

Andrew, you said, " Since the flipped classroom is about recorded video..." I would argue that this assumes the flipped classroom is about recorded video ONLY whereas other approaches to a flipped classroom exist. For example, see Team-Based Learning (

Bob Amses's picture

I love the idea of the flipped classroom, and in a perfect world we would have unlimited content for differentiated and individualized learning for every student. But in the meantime, I really think that it is important to explore all options. I attended a planning meeting last week in which we were tasked to determine long-term technology implementation goals. But one of the things we realized is that it is important to pursue interim technologies because they lead us to places that we don't even know exist yet. As we continue to build our skills, we gain the advantage of learning new schemes and gaining a foothold on that elusive next step. I feel like new developments are coming too quickly to just "wait for the right one." Take risks, reap the rewards.

Tom Stanley's picture
Tom Stanley
School Based Technology Specialist / Fairfax County Public Schools

You are so off base. The model you described worked in the era where schools were social sorting tools to separate the college bound from the factory worker.

I love learning and was an excellent student. We had a teacher in my children's high school who was brilliant and a wonderful lecturer. I could listen to him for hours. The majority of the students in the class were bored out of their minds. This is not their fault. The idea that students should change the way they learn so they could be successful in that class is non-sense. What is real world about setting to a man talking on and on about a subject for an hour and a half.

I was a government teacher in a previous position. You teach how a bill becomes a law by role play, inquiry, etc. One of our current classes does this by the students participating in a virtual congress. They have had bills passed in a simulation that has national participation. Learning does not get much better than that.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.