University English: the blog for ESL students

May 31, 2017

“Flipped” Classrooms

Filed under: Grad School — richardlstansfield @ 9:37 pm

So what is a flipped classroom? Take the quiz below to find out!

A flipped classroom is a classroom in which …

a. there are no mass-produced textbooks. Students use outside sources and collaborate to make the textbooks themselves.
b. the students’ desks are arranged in groups to facilitate collaborative work. The teacher’s desk is in the center of the room.
c. the students watch videos or listen to podcasts at home. At school, they explore and apply what was learned at home. Afterwards, at home, reflective exercises are done.
d. students take five-minute breaks every twenty-five minutes, during which they do cartwheels. This increases blood flow to the brain.

While considering your answer, you might want to read the story of Adrian and Eva.


Adrian attends Mead E. Ochre High School. In his history class, he is learning about the War of 1812 (a.k.a. The Time We Sent The Yankees Packing). In class, he listens to his teacher lecture, and at home, he does homework, answering questions like: “Who were the belligerents?” Next class, the teacher gives the answers to the homework questions, and then lectures again.


Eva is also a high school student, though she attends Justin Credible High. Like Adrian, she is also learning about the Great Patriotic Resistance. At home, she watches a fifteen-minute video describing what happened from before the beginning of the war to 1814. She takes notes on a handout that her teacher had given during the previous class. At the beginning of next class, she has to show her completed handout as an “entrance ticket” to her seat. She sits in a group of four desks. (There are several groups of four desks in the classroom.) She and the other three students work together to do the following tasks: “Write down six causes of the war, and rank them in order of importance (1 = most important, 6 = least important). Write down your reasons for your rankings.” In the last part of the class, one member of each group reports their group’s rankings, and reasons why, to the rest of the class. At home, Eva logs on to the class’ discussion board. There, she writes down one question on something she still didn’t understand, and answers one of her classmate’s questions. Then she watches the lecture for her next history class.

As you might have guessed by now, a “flipped classroom” is one in which students watch or listen to a lecture at home, rather than at school. At school, they do activities in which they explore and apply what they learned.

A Traditional Classroom

A “Flipped” Classroom

This is new, right?
Actually, only if the at-home materials are videos or podcasts. For over a hundred years, law school students have had to read case studies at home, and in class they would discuss them. Law professors would call on random students to answer questions, and if they couldn’t answer them, they would look foolish. Literature classes, too, have been “flipped” for a long time. Students read literature at home and discuss it in class. Many university classes have likewise been flipped for a while. In fact, the class that we are all taking now could be considered to be flipped; we do our readings and then post our reflections, takeaways, work, and discussion input online.

Below is a video that gives a quick overview of “flipped classrooms.”

You might have noticed that there is a third component to the flipped classroom, reflection, that is often neglected in discussions about flipped classrooms. Examples of reflection exercises include:

– reflective discussion board
Eva, above, participates in one (as do we!).

– photovoice, in which a student posts a picture and text that explains how the picture relates to the lesson
For example, a student learned about Newton’s First Law of Motion. He posted a picture of his son, and described how his son (a body) would run around the room (in motion) and continue to do so (stays in motion) until he puts out some candy (acted upon by an outside force).

– exam questions
Students suggest questions for the final exam. The instructor might even choose some of them for the actual final.


* You might recall Bloom’s taxonomy, a pyramid with lower-order objectives at the bottom, and higher-order objectives at the top. If you look at the picture below, you can see an illustration of the fact that, in a traditional classroom, lower-order objectives are attempted in class, and higher ones at home. In a flipped classroom, lower-order objectives are attempted at home and higher ones in class. Since the higher-order objectives are presumed to be both more difficult and more important, it is desirable that they be attempted under the guidance of the teacher.

* Students can pause, rewind, fast-forward, or re-watch the videos if they are having difficulty understanding. This can be particularly useful for students who don’t speak English as a first language.

* Students who don’t like the subject, topic, or material might enjoy the social aspects of the work done in a flipped classroom.

* Peer-teaching
Weaker students can be helped by stronger students. (This may not always be the case. See “Disadvantages” for more details.)

* Individualized Attention
As students work together, the teacher can walk around the classroom and give help to those students who ask for it or clearly need it.

* Because the videos should be short, the process of making them can make teachers reflect upon the most important points that they want to make, and the best ways to teach them.

* Students engage in collaborative learning. Remember what Dirksen wrote on pages 146 and 147, in which the main difference between the high-performing Asian students and the low-performing minority students was the fact that the Asian students studied together.


* Students who do not have easy access to digital devices and/or the Internet might be at a disadvantage.

* Students are required to go online, where there are many distractions. In fact, websites are designed to be as addictive as possible. Go to the following links for more details:

* One cannot ask a video questions. If understanding the second half of the video requires understanding the first half, what happens if the student doesn’t understand the first half?

* What if the person designing the video is not the same person who is teaching in the classroom? There might be a slight disconnect between the video and what the instructor would really like to teach.

* Some students will ride their classmates’ coattails. Anyone who has ever had students work on group projects has probably had students come to you to complain that Student X isn’t pulling their weight.

* Some subjects are more conducive to being flipped than others. For example, how does one go about teaching literature in a flipped classroom? First of all, many are, in a sense, flipped already. (Students are supposed to do readings at home.) Secondly, would a fifteen-minute podcast or audiobook excerpt be enough to cover the same amount of reading?

* Teachers have to find the time to record, edit, and upload their videos.

* What if teachers are not tech-savvy?

* What if the administration is not supportive?

* If one simply records poor lectures, posts them online, and flips the classroom, there is unlikely to be much improvement.

Effect upon Grades

Teachers have little choice but to “teach to the middle” which inevitably leads to, say, 10% of students being utterly bored and, say, 20% of students being completely lost.
Flipping a classroom offers an opportunity to “expand the middle,” so that fewer students are getting low marks. Take a look below at a chart that one professor made from the results from two classes, one traditional and one flipped.

If you look carefully, however, you will notice a catch. While there are more B’s, and fewer C’s and F’s, there are also fewer A’s. It seems that even though many students benefit from flipping a classroom, a minority of “A” students become “B” students. If true, then this means that some excellent students don’t fulfill their potential in flipped classrooms.

How to have your classroom “flip” and not “flop”

Below is a list of guidelines for avoiding the common pitfalls that can lead to the failure of a flipped classroom.

* Teach the students how to watch, by doing the following:
a. Watch a few videos with your class.
b. Go over what you want them to do and what you expect of them.

* Keep the videos short.
Videos should be 1 to 1.5 minutes per grade level.
e.g. 4th grade –> 4 to 6 minutes
e.g. 10th grade –> 10 to 15 minutes

* Be prepared for students who can’t watch the videos
Here are some issues and solutions, which unfortunately will require support (administrative, resources, etc.).

– Students have no Internet at home?
Put the lessons onto USB flash drives or DVDs.

– Students have no digital devices at home?
Students can access digital devices at the school’s library, computer room, media lab, or classrooms (if they’re equipped). They could also borrow digital devices from the school.

– Student have no time at home?
They can watch the lessons at lunch, recess, before class, or between classes.

* Hold students accountable.

You can do this by having them …
a. take notes (e.g. definitions, examples, very short summaries, etc.).
b. write questions about the material.
c. answer a question sheet that you handed out to them.
d. embed videos onto a website, above questions for students to print out and answer.
All of the above could be used as “entrance tickets” to your classroom.

* If some students don’t watch the video, do NOT play the video in class.

If you do, you will:
a. essentially be punishing those students who did what they were supposed to, by making them watch the video again.
b. ensuring that, in the future, more students will not watch the video at home.
c. turn your “flipped classroom” into a standard classroom, just one with a video introduction.

So what should you do with those students who didn’t watch the video? They will have to watch it while you do your planned activities with those students who did. If your classroom is equipped with computers, they can watch it, at the back of the room. If your classroom is not equipped, then you will have to send them to another room (e.g. media center) that has the needed digital devices. This will require administrative support. (Good luck with that.)

* Videos will take longer to make than expected.
You might think: “I’ll just set up a camera and do my regular lecture.” However, one should take into account the time that will be needed for editing, uploading, etc.

* Disagreements lead to discussion.

When it’s time to discuss answers, ask students to find someone who got a different answer. Otherwise, their interactions will sound something like this:
Jack: What did you get for Question 3?
Jill: “B.” What did you get?
Jack: “B.” So what did you do last night?

* Expect push-back from your students.
Learning can be hard work, even if it’s fun. Sitting through a lecture is easy, especially these days in which students can just surf social networks on their cell-phones.
Another thing to consider is the fact that since lectures are such a traditional way of teaching, many students expect it. Some university students will question why they are paying high tuition fees to watch a lecture online and then come to class to do warm-fuzzy-feelings activities with their classmates.
As one person put it, “Lectures are a security blanket for students. And instructors.”

* Sell your “product.”
It might be a good idea to tell students that they will be engaging in practices that are known to be more effective in learning and retention. This can lessen the “push-back.”
Many students study with ineffective methods, unaware that they are ineffective. Below, on the left, are the effectiveness (as measured by test scores) of various study methods: study, repeated study, concept mapping, and retrieval practice. On the right are students’ perceived effectiveness of those same methods. Notice the disparity.

* Be Selective
If there is a topic that you are pretty sure that your students will have difficulty with, you might want to stick to a traditional classroom.

* Ease into It
You can start slowly by flipping just one lesson, chapter, topic, class, or day of the week (e.g. “Flipped Fridays”).

The False Dichotomy

Advocates of flipped classrooms often describe modern, non-flipped classrooms in ways that are appropriate for traditional classrooms, but may not describe many modern classrooms. For example, in my ESL (English as Second Language) lessons, I have used practice, discussions, problem-solving, group projects, presentations, and other methods. For example, go to the link below to see group projects that my students worked on in class and later presented to their classmates.

Further Exploration (Optional)

Here are some videos that you could watch for a deeper understanding of flipped classrooms.

* a teacher presents video recordings of his tradition and flipped classrooms which allow you to see what they look like (desk arrangement, what the teacher and students are doing, etc.)

* this is an actual video that high-school physics students would watch

* this video describes where to find high-quality pre-made videos and how to make your own

* a long (76 minute) presentation that is full of ideas

* another long (50 minute) presentation that discusses misconceptions about flipped classrooms


Here is a list of resources for instructors who might want to have flipped classrooms.

Online Discussion Boards

Online Simulations

Online Polling

Digital Stickynotes/Corkboard

Pre-made Videos

Make-Your-Own Videos
– Screencast-o-matic

Bank of Practice Questions on Many Disciplines
– learningpod

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