So, you’re thinking of flipping your ELA class? The flipped classroom is an intriguing concept for many people, but it’s not for everyone. I’ve been flipping my high school freshman English classes for the last four years. In this post, I’m outlining some advice I’d like to share for anyone who is interested in trying out this relatively new approach to teaching and learning in the twenty-first century.
Let me first start by telling you why I began flipping my classes. One day, a couple of administrators in my building approached my co-teacher and I and asked us if we would be interested in piloting the flipped classroom experience with our co-taught kids because of the apathy that was so pervasive to the group. Where can it go but up, really? they asked. My co-teacher and I have always been pretty receptive to trying new things, so we accepted the challenge. That was where our learning experiences began. While our journey has not been without trial and error, each setback and obstacle has led us to a place of greater understanding regarding the flipped classroom model.
Here’s some food for thought if you are considering flipping your ELA class:
Identify your purpose.
Why are you thinking about flipping your class? Sometimes the flipped classroom gets a “bad rap” because people assume that teachers are being lazy…not wanting to teach. These people don’t really understand the work that a well-run flipped classroom takes to pull off. If your goal is to increase your students’ grades, don’t hold your breath. I actually completed my action research project for one of my master’s degrees about the effect of the flipped classroom on achievement and engagement. Did engagement go up? DEFINITELY!!! Did achievement improve? Not necessarily. No quantitative data can back that theory up. If your purpose in flipping your class is to make instructional time more meaningful, active, and student-centered, then the flipped classroom is an excellent option.
Don’t dive in head first without a floatie.
Okay, so maybe that’s a weird analogy, but I think it works. When my co-teacher and I began our flipping frenzy, the superintendent at the time told us it was an “all or nothing” deal. Honestly, he was a good boss, but he wasn’t a fan of technology. Maybe you can relate. Anyway, we approached the flipped classroom experience in a way I would NOT recommend. We began the year flipping every single lesson. It was insane. We. Were. Drowning. The strategic approach would be to flip a lesson here or there…and observe the data. Survey students, survey parents, consider qualitative data – student participation and engagement during class, consider quantitative data – quiz or test scores and homework completion rates, and compare that data to non-flipped units.
This suggestion might be reminiscent of an overprotective parent, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re considering the flipped classroom approach (and you’re the only or one of the only people in your school trying this model), get permission from your administrator and the board of education. My co-teacher and I had to seek approval from the superintendent (even though it was an administrator who asked us to try the flipped classroom), outlining our reasons for wanting to try the approach, the current body of research regarding it, and assessment strategies to track students’ progress as the year went on. He also asked us to present our findings to the board of education. When your evaluation is on the line, getting administrators on your side is paramount. Plus, if any issues were to arise, you could be confident they have your back.
Do some research and observations.
Before committing to the flipped classroom, do some research regarding various options for implementing it. There’s no single right way. Finding your groove is definitely a process of trial and error, but you can get a good idea or at least some solid inspiration for where you might want to start by researching and doing observations. My co-teacher and I visited a neighboring high school the spring before we started our flipped model. The woman we observed was, in a way, both the expert and the pioneer in our geographical area. I really appreciated some of the things I learned from her (ex. – collaborative work, iPad stations, white boards that stick on the desk tops, assessment ideas), but other things (like the fact that she kept her gradebook open for the entire year so students could work at their own pace through units) just weren’t going to work for me.
Keep parents informed from Day 1.
The flipped classroom is not exactly common knowledge…and 95% of the parents you run into are not going to be familiar with it unless you educate them. Parents can be amazing advocates for teachers if they are informed. At the beginning of the school year, my co-teacher and I send home a letter explaining the flipped classroom model and why we are using it, and we also include a link to a video detailing the same information. Let me just tell you (and I digress), making videos is not easy for most people. My co-teacher and I are relatively well-versed with technology, but the parent introduction video we made was RIDICULOUS. It’s a good example of how you thought what you made was golden, but you rewatch it a few years later and wonder what in God’s name you were thinking. I considered including the link here, but I just can’t do it. You guys…it was so embarrassingly bad, which brings me to my next point.)
Consider the nature of the video-creation beast.
Very few people in this world have the capability to make professional videos. Are you one of those individuals? If you are, then the flipped classroom very well might be right up your avenue! If not, are you okay with putting amateur videos online for educational purposes? It’s important to understand the learning curve that comes with making videos. Ideally, you need professional software, which can be expensive…then there’s lighting, quality sound devices, editing, and other factors to take into consideration. I used Camtasia Studio to create my classroom videos. From brainstorming to publication, I would spend several hours constructing each video. I’d have to create the storyboard or the PowerPoint or other visual aid, plan what I was going to say, record myself saying it, edit the video, create corresponding notes and an assessment, and then publish it. I would still call them amateur. Do you have the time to devote to this endeavor? Is it something you would enjoy?
Creating your own videos is preferable (most of the time).
What about the possibilities of using existing videos instead of creating your own? This road is a dangerous one. I strongly believe in the power of the classroom teacher. I don’t see any issue with supplementing the flipped classroom with videos from external sources, just like any teacher in a traditional classroom would do. However, as the educator assigned to a particular group of students, you know them best. You can tailor your videos to their needs and readiness levels and curriculum requirements. As someone who has done an extensive amount of research on various topics related to English Language Arts, I can tell you that in certain areas, there are severe limitations of quality and appropriate videos. The best approach is to create your own videos, but if you happen to find one that covers the information better than you could do yourself, use it (in moderation)! By assigning all direct instruction to an outside source, you are undermining your credibility as a knowledgeable expert in the field. Plus, you might be surprised to find that your students would rather watch an amateur clip of their own classroom teacher than a professional clip of a stranger. It’s true.
Survey students and parents.
It’s a good idea to start with a survey to get ideas regarding students’ and parents’ opinions for their perceptions of what education should look like, for their learning styles, for their attitudes regarding the use of technology for homework, and for their access to technology. That last one is huge. Many of my students didn’t have reliable access to the internet on a regular basis. Rather than throwing in the towel, we came up with some creative interventions which allowed any student who was interested (so as not to single anyone out) to watch the videos during our flex period, before school, during study hall, or after school. Parents were kept informed regarding these options.
Decide which lessons are most effective when flipped.
After I flipped my classroom the first year, my co-teacher and I took some time to reflect on which lessons were most effective flipped. Certain ELA content areas lend themselves better to flipping than others. What we discovered was that grammar, vocabulary, and writing (mainly citation skills) lessons seemed to be the most beneficial. The goal is to flip any lectures that are completely teacher-directed. I lecture for several days straight during my mythology unit, but my students are always engaged (because they have prior knowledge and usually enjoy mythology); as a result, our lectures typically turn into discussions. Bonus! It just didn’t make sense to flip those lessons. Think about which lectures are driven mainly by you, and flip those to allow for a more student-centered, active learning class period.
Consider your access to technology.
The flipped classroom really is more effective with one-to-one capabilities. When I began my flipped classroom journey, students didn’t have access to any technology unless I reserved a computer lab. I found myself saying, “remember this part of the video,” and “it was after the part where….” Other times, I’d just end up quoting the video over and over, tirelessly. My students would be looking at their notes, but had they been able to rewatch portions of the video as they worked collaboratively in class, the experience would have been more powerful. That really is the purpose of the flipped classroom…students being able to rewatch a lecture whenever they need a refresher.
Keep the videos short.
Through my action research project, I found that creating videos that ranged from five to fifteen minutes was the perfect time range for my students. Any shorter, and you risk cutting important content. Any longer, and students will be “skimming” the video instead of actually “reading” it. The idea of keeping the videos short sounds simple enough, but it’s actually a challenge. Most teachers could lecture on a topic for an entire class period. In making a video of this information, you would either need to spread that lecture out among multiple videos, or be very selective and only include the most important details.
Use engaging elements.
As with regular teaching, your students will get more out of your videos if you make them engaging. Use analogies, act things out, demonstrate a skill, chunk your video time with different approaches to the topic. Think about scaffolding and differentiation with video creation in the same way you might plan for those elements in typical classroom instruction.
Teach students how to “read” a video.
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I began flipping my class was to assume students would know how to watch an instructional video. They are surrounded by technology, video games, and television, so the thought never crossed my mind that I should teach them how to watch one of my videos. How can you do this? Show the first couple videos in class. As you are showing the video, explain to students what they should be doing (reading the questions on their guided notes, focusing on the content on the screen and the words being spoken, etcetera.) Pause the video to model thinking, reading strategies, and note-taking. Students might say they “watched” the video when in reality, they had the television on, they were texting, and their younger siblings were running around the house naked, screaming. What seems like common knowledge to us needs to be spelled out and modeled for many of our students.
Use different kinds of notes and assessments.
Students will try to cheat their way around the video and note system. I’m not blaming them….most people probably would try to find a way to be more efficient if the process was exactly the same every time. For this reason, if it’s important to you that students watch the entire video, add some variety both to your notes and to your assessments. For example, if you just ask students to complete guided notes and you are using a PPT for the main visual in your video, expect that students will skim through the video to fill in the blanks, and they may or may not listen to a single word you say. What are some alternate ideas? Don’t write the answers to the notes on the video itself. Have students write down their understanding of concepts that you are actually talking about. Assign an analysis or personal response to the video. Ask students to participate in an online discussion thread regarding the content of the video. Have an oral or written entrance quiz when students come to class. Tell students to listen closely for a secret word or phrase. Those are just a few options to illustrate how teachers can add variety and keep students on their toes.
Expect pushback from students.
Honestly, many students would prefer the traditional model over the flipped one. I spent a lot of time probing students and thinking about this issue. Here’s what I discovered: Students preferred the traditional model because it took MUCH less effort for them to sit passively in class, listen to a lecture, and then complete a worksheet for homework than it did for them to actively watch and analyze a video, demonstrate understanding of the concept, and work actively in class to practice that skill. As more and more teachers begin moving toward the student-centered teaching model (flipped or otherwise), this battle will not be as pervasive. For now, expect pushback, but stand firm in your resolve if you believe the flipped classroom really is more beneficial for your students’ learning experience.
Have a back-up plan for technology issues.
Whenever teachers assign homework that requires technology (not just for flipped classroom purposes!), there always seems to be a handful of students who don’t watch the video because of some unforeseen event or issue. It’s not our place to judge whether or not students are lying about these things, so here are a few ideas that I came up with to circumvent the problem.
- Give students more than one day to watch the video, and urge them not to procrastinate until the last night.
- Allow students to watch the video during their study hall, flex period (if you have one), or before or after school.
- Call home and talk to parents/guardians about the issue if a student makes a habit of skipping the videos.
- Be flexible. One night, the power went out in half of the city where I teach. Students really didn’t’ have access to the Internet, so I rescheduled the video to be due the following day.
Finally, accept that not every student will watch the video. It’s not that much different than traditional homework issues. Some students will do the homework; others won’t. As I mentioned before, the benefit of the flipped classroom is not necessarily to increase grades (although it’s an awesome bonus if it does work that way for you!). Instead, the goal is to increase engagement during class time. If my students don’t watch the videos, that’s what they do during class time, but they don’t earn the participation points for the day.
Know how to use the freed-up instructional time.
It’s one thing to say you want a student-centered learning environment, but it’s another to implement one on a daily basis. It’s important to design and plan for effective, meaningful class activities, discussions, and collaboration that will allow students to interact with the video content in a scaffolded and differentiated way. Jig-saws, small group discussions guided by teacher-created questions, station activities, interactive Smart-Board exercises, and project-based learning are just a few examples of how you can structure your class periods.
As if it’s not obvious, the flipped classroom is a lot of work. Especially at the outset, you will find yourself investing much more time creating and designing lessons than with a traditional model. Still, if you’re passionate about making it work, if it aligns with your teaching style, and if you have your students’ best interests in mind, it will be a success.
Have you flipped your classroom in the past? Share your tips and tricks in the comments. What can we learn from you? Do you have questions about the flipped classroom model? Ask those in the comments, as well! Chances are, someone else shares your question, too.