All Articles Education “Flipped classrooms”: You keep using that word ...

“Flipped classrooms”: You keep using that word …

4 min read


… but I do not think it means what you think it means. One of my favorite lines from “The Princess Bride.” If you’re not familiar with the movie, this clip should help.

We can’t help but talk about flipped learning (flipped classrooms, inverted classrooms, reversed classrooms), and that’s not totally our fault. Schools are looking for ways to increase their use of technology, increase student achievement and focus on student skills. Businesses and reform groups are looking for buzzwords and hot topics to include in their headlines so people click their links. Ultimately, flipped classrooms have become embedded in the edusphere.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always mean what you think it means. Because so many different people are talking about flipped learning in so many different ways, there are mixed signals, poor definitions, and even worse, rationales for why you should or shouldn’t flip your classes.

Without getting into a debate over the name, let’s talk philosophy.

Flipped learning requires intentional content. Teachers are forced to really evaluate what content they need to teach and what things students should explore on their own. Let’s face it, direct instruction (lecture) can be an effective teaching tool. We can’t be afraid to admit that our students need someone to teach them a particular skill or concept. All flipped learning suggests is that we offload that instruction to a video. That way, when (or if) a student needs that instruction, they can get it whenever and wherever they are ready for that to happen (and yes, that includes using videos in class).

Flipped learning shifts the learning culture in schools. If teachers are being more cognizant of the content they choose to deliver, the learning culture has to undergo a major shift. Rather than the teacher being the main (only?) source of information, students need to be empowered to find content on their own. That means collaboration, student’s interest, and inquiry take the driver’s seat, not the teacher’s lesson plans. The learning becomes flexible, and rabbit trails are encouraged. All the while, the teacher is helping students to make connections and ultimately build their own understanding and proficiency within the class.

Flipped learning demands a flexible environment. Tying back into the learning culture, if content is available, we have to be OK with students choosing when and where they learn. A flexible environment (both literally and philosophically) will allow students to do just that. Physical spaces in schools need to be adaptive, allowing for group work, independent study, performance, evaluation — the list goes on. Our expectation of student learning timelines also need to be flexible. Is our hour of class time really ours to dictate with content always available? If a shifting learning culture is the mindset, the flexible environments are the manifestation of the changes.

Flipped learning requires professional educators. As I was cleaning out a filing cabinet I inherited, I came across a piece of paper that said, “The single most important person in any classroom is the teacher, and we have come to realize that a master teacher is a consummate professional.” Now, this could be interpreted (incorrectly) as saying, “The teacher knows all, and is expected to bestow that knowledge to his or her students effectively.” Today, it means that the teacher knows how to meet the needs of his or her class in an effective way. In order to do that, we have to keep our chops fresh. Find ways to connect to other teachers to improve your craft. Take criticism from peers and students alike so that we provide the best education we can. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you’ve got it all figured out.

Flipped learning does not have a how-to list associated with it. But, I can assure you, any well-run flipped environment will have all four of these components shining through the cheap talk. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the Flipped Learning Network for resources and other educators looking to connect and change the way we think about education.

Brian E. Bennett is a former teacher and flipped-learning pioneer. He works to empower teachers and their students in their use of technology in learning. You can follow him on Twitter  @bennettscience and read more about flipped learning on his blog, Educator, Learner.