This is an updated version of an article that appeared on June 9, 2015.
Chances are, you've heard of the flipped classroom. In fact, you could be tired of hearing about it by now or dismiss it as a fad. "What's the big deal?" you might ask. After all, pre-teaching has been around since the 1990s, and video and its related formats have been used in the classroom since the 1950s.
Is all the hype warranted? Is flipped learning really making a difference in the lives of real students in real schools?
Because we are some of the pioneers of the flipped classroom movement, you might think we would shout a resounding "Yes!" to these questions. But in fact, we believe that the flipped classroom is not the answer. Instead, flipped learning is a gateway that leads toward some of the most powerful — but often the most difficult to implement — learning and teaching strategies out there.
What flipped learning is — and isn't
The common description of a flipped classroom is having students watch instructional videos at home and do the typical homework — worksheets, problem sets, back-of-chapter exercises — in class. We refer to this model as "Flipped Class 101." Moving direct instruction out of the group learning space and into the individual learning space is a great place to begin your journey, but it is not the destination itself.
The danger of settling in at Flipped Class 101 is that it doesn't fundamentally change anything. A lecture, whether it takes place in person or on video, is still a lecture. Boring lectures are bad, but boring lectures on video can be even worse. And if all you do is worksheets in class, then nothing has changed.
Flipped learning is not about making videos. It's about maximizing class time for deeper student engagement.
Educators have only a fixed amount of time with students and need to use it effectively. If whole-group direct instruction is not the best use of face-to-face class time, what is?
Each educator will answer this question in his or her own way. Flipped learning will look very different in an elementary language arts classroom, for instance, than it would in a high school woodworking or math class. The possibilities are endless.
But there are some common characteristics of all successful flipped classrooms.
Too often educational reformers and curriculum specialists put the bulk of their efforts into fixing the curriculum or helping students prepare for tests. However, research has shown that students who have positive relationships with their teachers do better on standardized tests and have higher grades. So what if we used some of the time we now spend on preparing students for standardized tests to connect meaningfully with them instead?
We believe that good teaching is built on solid relationships. We should spend more time and resources training teachers how to relate to each student and how to be mentors and coaches instead of just content experts who have studied all of the latest learning strategies.
Many of us can trace our interest in becoming educators to an individual teacher who made a significant impact on our lives. Relationships matter. They can even influence the long-term career choices of students. We need to rethink education in the context of seeing each learner as an individual who needs specific nurturing and guidance. Thus the adage: "I don't care what you know until I know that you care."
When we first flipped our class, we provided only one way for students to learn our content — from our videos. But one day we had a student who asked us if it was OK if he just read the book and skipped the videos. We quickly realized we needed to provide more than one way for students to access content.
In an ideal flipped learning environment, students have choices about how they learn. Some students access the content by watching videos, others read the textbook and others use interactive simulations to learn content.
According to the ISTE Standards for Teachers 2c and 2d, educators need to start personalizing learning activities to students' diverse learning styles, working strategies and abilities, and they need to give students a variety of formative and summative assessments. Not only do students need more than one way to access or learn content, but they also need multiple ways to demonstrate that they have mastered it.
To that end, we took flipped learning a step further and began to allow students to choose how they would be assessed. Instead of allowing them only to take our standard exam, we let students do projects and design video games to demonstrate mastery of specific content. This resulted in differentiation for every student, and personalized learning and assessments that met the needs of each child.
For students to deeply understand content, they need to care about it. That means we need to create an atmosphere where they can thoroughly explore the areas they are curious about.
Before we flipped our classroom, we spent the majority of our in-class time helping students remember and understand activities. Little time was left for application, analysis, evaluation and creation. But once we began flipping, we were able to use class time to help students go deeper with the content as well as higher up the levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. By shifting lower cognitive tasks from the group to the individual, flipped learning gives educators the opportunity to find ways to engage students and allow them the flexibility to explore things they find interesting.
A growing subculture of flipped learning teachers are using extra time in class for their students to explore their passions. This has become an adaptation of the "genius hour." Teachers devote 10-20 percent of their class time to letting kids discover their passions. Students are still held accountable for what they learn, but the content they are learning during this time is up to them.
The level of freedom you give them can vary. For example, if you are using the genius hour approach in a sixth grade social studies class, you may require your students to focus on some historical or cultural question but leave the door open for them to work on something interesting to them, such as making a documentary film, learning to prepare foods from a different culture or exploring the art of another country.
States and districts are looking for ways to deepen student learning with tools and approaches — including flipped learning. In addition, college-and-career readiness standards, such as the Common Core, require students to not only remember and understand content, but also to apply it, analyze it and work with it in unique situations.
Since flipped learning puts an emphasis on maximizing class time, many have decided to take learning further by exploring project-based learning (PBL). PBL engages students by allowing them to solve real-world problems. This engagement and immersion helps them get to deeper understanding.
As John Larmer describes in his article "Debunking Five Myths about Project-Based Learning," one of the main concerns that prevents teachers from adopting PBL is the fear that they will have to sacrifice content. However, many teachers who combine flipped learning with PBL find that using video as an instructional resource lets them maintain the delivery of content while creating time to engage students in hands-on projects. Some teachers have even abandoned the content delivery as a pre-teaching tool and use video only within the context of each project to intervene with instruction as students need it.