5 Tips for Flipped Learning

Charles Willis | 12.4.2014

Charles Willis is a Social Studies teacher at Revere High School in Revere, MA. 

The past year has been filled with experimentation, long nights of lesson planning, and changing the way I thought about my curriculum to have classes filled with the voices of my students.  As part of an iPad pilot program at Revere High School, every 9th grade student received an iPad in September of 2012. By November, my colleagues and I realized that our students were bursting to take on more ownership for their learning in the classroom, so we looked for ways to transform our teaching, to leverage the newly implemented iPads and put more of the learning in the hands of our students.

Flipped learning met our criteria perfectly: the approach purposefully limits teacher time standing and delivering content, it makes use of our iPads, and puts students and their learning at the center of the classroom experience.  Flipped learning opened up our 80-minute periods for more debates, discussions, analyzing primary sources and creating individual or group projects.  The first change we had to make was to identify the right content for students to learn via video.  Then we had to plan class time carefully to purposefully deepen student understanding.

If you have been thinking about flipping your classroom, I recommend taking these steps:

1. Practice with students.

Even though students are sometimes described as “digital natives,” many need practice on how to watch educational videos. Note-taking strategies, such as Watching, Summarizing and Questioning, help a great deal: students benefit from the structure that a simple strategy or process provides. Taking class time at the beginning of the year to practice strategies will enable students to do so independently at home.

2. Keep videos less than 10 minutes in length.

Address the most relevant background knowledge in an interesting way. John Medina uses the 10-minute rule to help teachers think about how long they should lecture, because attention starts to wane after 10 minutes—and that’s if the presentation is really interesting. A good, engaging 3-minute video is more valuable than a comprehensive (but kind of boring) 15-minute video.

3. Review in class.

If you assume that students will just “get it” because you assigned a video or a reading, you are mistaken. Flipping your class doesn’t mean that you never review, lecture, or provide direct instruction—it just means you do less of those things. Taking 10-15 minutes to help students re-engage with the content is a valuable practice. One easy way to do this is to ask students to write their summary statements on strips of paper and tape them to walls; then have student walk around the class with sticky notes to post questions about the statements.

4. Use class time for activities higher on Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Flipping is primarily about how you use class time, not about watching videos. For example, instead of using class time in Physical Education to demonstrate volleyball serves, you can assign this video and then immediately get students engaged in practice. In ELA, a teacher can provide this video for students to see examples of how to appropriately use apostrophes, and then have kids identify correct and incorrect uses as an entry activity. Instead of asking students to listen to information in Health class about the prevalence and effect of sugar, students can watch this video and discuss in whether or not the school should sell students sugary snacks. Again, the important lesson here is that we have freed up 15-20 minutes of class time in each of these examples for more in-depth work.

5. Flipping shouldn’t be all videos.

Use other resources: websites, graphs, texts, podcasts, photographs, and other sources for students to explore at home with structures for engagement. Then delve deeper in class. The Library of Congress has an amazing array of resources for teachers in Social Studies and ELA. A math or economics teacher could use this incredible infographic about where tax dollars go to spark discussion in class. An ELA teacher could ask students to listen to Langston Hughes reading his poetry to prompt debate about the difference between hearing a poem and reading it.

Over the past year my classroom has transformed.  There have been bumps in the road as students adjusted to new expectations and I had to rise to the challenge of designing more meaningful classroom activities. Even so, as my first semester class ends and I reflect back on the changes I’ve made, I can say that the students are truly the center of my classroom.  Everyday I’m asking the students to go deeper with their understanding and achieve at a higher level.  I will continue to refine my practice, with the key being: how can I put more ownership in my students’ hands?

Have you tried flipped learning? What key practices would you recommend?

Featured image was created by Thelmadatter and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

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