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4 Questions about the flipped classroom teachers must answer

The flipped classroom is one of our favorite topics on this blog, because it is a simple concept with big results. “Flipped”, here does not mean crazy or way-out (although some would argue it is), it literally means inverting the traditional classroom model.

Where once class-time was spent with the teacher at the front giving instruction, the flipped classroom has students receiving instruction at home via digital channels. Class-time is then spent doing “homework” - completing assignments, researching or on group projects. In this scenario the teacher has two roles: one is to create and manage the digital channels of learning the students use at home, and the other is to facilitate class-time activities in the classroom.

The challenge most teachers find practically and psychologically the most insurmountable is the first. It requires a giant leap into digital online tools that many do not feel well-prepared for. Despite there being a smorgasbord of tools, platforms and apps designed specifically to house, manage and direct online educational content, the process of initiating a flipped classroom model remains, for many, an enigma not worth trying.

4 questions about the flipped classroom teachers must answer

This blog will not, as many others have, try to ease those first tentative steps into creating online content; today we address teachers that are already conducting flipped classrooms, and who are looking to consolidate, improve and sharpen those models.

So let's explore a few practical strategies in order to answer some of the most important questions that a flipped classroom teacher must address.

How do I organize content and materials?

The temptation, when it comes to converting your long-time and much practiced classroom lessons into online modules, is to simply convert each class (by a temporal definition) into online lessons. This is not an illogical or ineffective technique and is perhaps the easiest when it comes to first making the transition.

Many teachers like to take this step by using online videos, recorded via YouTube’s facility combined with narrated PowerPoint presentations. Once teachers feel more comfortable with the scenario, they begin discovering other online resources that add dimension, and often depth to these lessons.

However, flipping your classroom is an opportunity to really look, on a granular level, at the information and instructional design of your lessons. This is an opportunity to get out all the kinks you have suspected are there and to organize the content in a more logical, enjoyable and engaging manner.

I wrote a comprehensive few blogs on instructional design that will be a good starting point. Preparation is key: engage your students and fellow teachers, and delve into the not uninteresting science of how instruction is best transferred and retained – start here for a quick 101.

How do I hold students accountable?

For as long there has been teaching, there has been the challenge of encouraging, demanding and ultimately policing student accountability. It’s no secret that many students seek to coast through their courses with the bare minimum of effort.

In the “traditional” classroom the challenge is how to get students to do their homework, particularly assignments like reading, which don’t come with a direct consequence if not completed. The flipped classroom, for all its wonderful benefits, is unfortunately no different. It is effective because students and teachers have a higher level of engagement during class, but requires students to complete the lesson/instruction portion at home, and are prepared to engage.

How can you make sure your students arrive at class ready to work? Some techniques or guidelines include (sourced here):

  • Be specific in your instruction. It is not sufficient to say “watch the video, or read the text”; concentrate on accurately defining the required learning outcome. Describe what students are expected to comprehend, and what they will be required to do in class based on their home-based reading or research.
  • Sides. During their home study, challenge your students to pick a side. For instance, if the background reading involved two opposing characters, on arrival in class guide your students to pick one or other side of the class (for example, where the characters name is up on the wall). Start class with a debate about the characters’ differences, holding students to their initial stance and mining for insight will quickly make obvious who has and has not completed the reading.
  • Tickets. Create small tasks that become tickets into class-time. For instance, instruct students to bring three questions to class that have emerged during the reading. They must hand in these written questions – perhaps using time stamps or page numbers as reference – when they enter class.

How do I ensure sufficient learning during home study?

Using home-time to instruct via digital channels such as narrated PowerPoints and videos, or via reading assignments, is intended to lay the foundation for a student’s understanding. They should be then prepared to practice and discuss what they have learned during class.

There is of course the risk that students are not self-evaluating on their own, and could be missing basic points of the lesson despite applying the requisite amount of time. One technique to try and bridge this gap is mini gateways.

During the home-study/reading sessions, students need to complete one or two non-graded multiple choice questions before they can move onto the next portion of the home study. This will, to a degree, create a virtual presence of the teacher, and will funnel students failing to grasp a basic principle back to a previous slide or section of the online lesson.

How do I design student-centered class activities?

Having resolved to no longer stand and lecture, many teachers worry (and at times panic) about “what to do” in the flipped classroom. A common misconception of the flipped classroom is that in-class activity is simply completing worksheets or group discussions.

It’s extremely liberating to realize that the classroom is now your student's oyster (to torture the metaphor) and that you are free to design student-centered activities in any way you feel will advance their learning, engagement and practice of your topic. There are a myriad of stimulating online sources in this regard.

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Role play – taking a controversial topic and asking groups or individuals within a group to adopt one or other stance. Discussing the point of view as a group or as a class afterwards.
  • Learning stations – set up various points in class where students engage in either individual practice, discussion, assessment or creation. Students rotate through the stations during the class period. You can use online assessments to establish which students will begin at which station, based on their comprehension and feedback online.
  • Mind maps – groups collaborate on drawing up a mind map of the concept learned at home. Together they design and delineate the various aspects. Near the end of the session mind maps are compared with other groups’, as well as with the one designed by the instructor.

Final thoughts

Advancing your flipped classroom techniques requires vigilance and a willingness to continuously elicit feedback from your students and advice from your peers. It is, after all, a deeply interactive teaching process, and refining that process is also an opportunity for discussion and engagement.

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