George Lucas Educational Foundation
Blended Learning

Classroom Management and the Flipped Class

June 20, 2014
Photo credit: Thinkstock

Editor's Note:This post was co-authored by Aaron Sams, CEO of Sams Learning Designs, LLC and founding member of the Flipped Learning Network.

Let's face it. We teachers spend far too much time and energy trying to keep students quiet so that they can listen to us. We have taken countless courses and workshops on classroom management in our careers, and it seems that the underpinning goal of classroom management is for teachers to keep kids quiet so that they can learn. Is there a better way to think about classroom management?

What if the goal of class was for the students to actively engage in the content and participate in tangible ways in the learning process? Our experience before we flipped our class was that we spent the majority of class time at the front of the room. Students sat in nice neat rows as we taught them stuff. Our view of teaching had us in the front of the room "teaching."

Noise Is Good

As we pioneered the flipped class, we got away from the front of the room and got a whole different perspective on what classroom management could look like. Instead of us being the sage on the stage, we were in and among our students, working with them, helping them, and guiding them to deeper learning.

As we did this, the dynamics of the classroom dramatically changed. Instead of having to keep students quiet, we were spending time interacting with them individually and in small groups. Amazingly, most of our classroom management issues just vaporized. Our goal wasn't to keep students quiet, but rather to have them engaged in the learning process. The class became noisier -- and it was good. The amount of energy we'd been expending to keep kids quiet hadn't been used for getting students to take responsibility for their own learning.

But, as with any change, we found some new challenges. We found that the key to classroom management in a flipped class was how we spent our time and with whom. Additionally, we realized that we needed some tried and true strategies to compliment our classroom management toolbox.

4 New Management Issues

Who Gets My Time?

Since the teacher is not delivering direct instruction each day, they are spending their time interacting with, challenging, and directing individuals or groups. But the teacher needs to determine with whom they will spend the bulk of their time. We were able to talk to every student in every class every day, but it wasn't always an equal amount of time. One of the most important decisions you make, especially in a flipped classroom, is who gets the bulk of your time. Do you assist the struggling students? Do you challenge the advanced students? In hindsight, we made many mistakes in this area, but as time went on, we realized just how important it was to work not just with the students who asked, but to make sure the "right" students got the help they needed.

Redirecting Off-Task Kids Becomes More Important

The flipped class gives time back to students, but some students don't know how to handle the freedom well. Some took the freedom as a license to do whatever they wanted, which often was not a very productive use of their time. This, of course, is not acceptable. Thus, in a flipped classroom, the teacher still needs to monitor off-task behavior, but it looks different than in a traditional classroom.

The key here is to know where your students are in the content. If they are falling behind, it's often because they are not using the freedom very well. Situations like this were dealt with through the appropriate intervention techniques that we'd always used in our classrooms. For some, we called home and visited with their parents. For others we didn't allow them to work with students who constantly got them off task. And in some cases, we made sure they were the first ones we visited with each day so that they would start on a good note and not get distracted.

Freedom for Some and Control for Others

Some students can handle the freedom that is part of a flipped classroom, and some students struggle with choice. For those who needed more structure, we provided that, while at the same time allowing for more freedom for those that used class time wisely.

The Question Changed

Before we flipped our classroom, the question we often got from parents during parent-teacher conferences was: "How is my son or daughter behaving in your class?" After we flipped, we struggled to answer this question because behavior became a non-issue. Instead, the question we wanted to hear from them was: "Is my son or daughter learning in your class?" In fact, we steered the conversation to be about student learning instead of behavior.

New Rules of Engagement

One reason we believe that the flipped classroom has fewer management issues than a traditional classroom is that students are more engaged. They are not sitting and listening to their teacher, and the teacher isn't trying to keep them quiet. Instead, the classroom is filled with activity, engagement, inquiry, and learning.

What do you think? If you've flipped your class, have you seen a difference in classroom management? And if so, what are the new management struggles you faced as you moved to the flipped model?

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  • Classroom Management
  • Differentiated Instruction
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  • Teaching Strategies

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