The Elephant in the Flipped Classroom

Can we discuss the elephant in the room? You know, the one about flipped classrooms? As I see some teachers drooling over the concept, I can’t help but think to myself that this idea isn’t all that novel.

A few years ago a new teaching revolution took off – the power of flipping the classroom. The basic idea behind a flipped class room is that instead of listening to a boring teacher’s lesson at school, they would instead do it at home by watching a video. The next day, students put to use what they watched and learned in the lecture. Maybe they would solve math problems all hour, perhaps just focus on the science experiment, maybe it was to brainstorm about solutions to real-world problems. Whatever the activity, flipping the classroom was designed to save class time for application and creation, instead of absorbing information.

Flipping the classroom seemed ground-breaking, Earth-shattering, unprecedented. But not to me. Somehow, I just never quite understood it. I know that revolutionary changes can be a good thing, trust me, I was the first one to raise my hand to be an iPad volunteer, but I also know that there is a reason why some things seem to stick.

In a traditional setting students come to class, listen to a lecture/do an activity, go home and read the content so that they can prepare for the next class period. If it is math or science, they might be going home to work on some problems and practice application.

But wait a minute, in a flipped classroom don’t students basically do the same darn thing? Students listen to a lecture at home (receive content) and come to class prepared to listen to a lecture (that hopefully ties together the content that they just read) or to do an activity. Am I missing something?

I am trying to investigate why the flipped classroom is such a revolutionary idea, and here is what I came up with so far:

The Textbook as Villain

First of all, flipping the classroom seems to vilify the textbook. Perhaps teachers are getting sick of their textbook that they turn their backs on it; maybe it is a bad product that they are forced to use, or perhaps they even feel bad to assign so much reading out of it. I do agree that educators should avoid busy work for their students and trim down to the essentials, but what’s so bad about a textbook filled with information? It’s already on the internet you say? I can understand that, but then it is the job of the teacher to curate sources for content so that the kids can read it. Or maybe you don’t want them to read at all? In that case, I think we are asking for too little. It isn’t a terrible request that students practice reading while at home while also picking up some content along the way. But I agree, it’s our job to find the good stuff, wherever it might come from.

I Can do it Better

Maybe a teacher believes that they can do it better, that condensing core information is most easily done within their classroom lectures and that when students read the book, they are only doubling up on the information, wasting valuable application time. When a teacher flips their classroom, teacher curated lessons are posted in hopes that students will absorb the information during out of school hours, but what happens if they don’t? How can we ensure that every kid has wifi? We know how kids are reluctant to do their homework in the first place, what makes us think that they will want to watch a 15 minute video clip of my lecture when their attention span seems limited to watching Vine clips that are a mere 6 seconds long? What’s that you say? What makes me think that they will read the textbook and take notes? A long time ago, I answered this problem with the homework note-check. Every day the kids walk in, I give them 5-10 questions that address the text that they read the night before, we grade them while reviewing the reading, and of course they are rewarded by being allowed to use their notes. Granted, there are always a few kids who just won’t do it, but I have proof that the vast majority of them do as a result. Quite frankly, I can’t stand seeing myself on video or hearing my own voice anyway, why subject them to double of me?

Good for Absent/ Slow Learners

Again, having the lectures available for students who miss school is a great idea, but is it so much different than having them get the class notes from someone else? It’s not like they are engaging in the conversation with a video lecture. In the case where students need to slow your lecture down and perhaps rewind your lecture, I actually can agree that this might be the best reason for a flipped classroom. But then again, I want kids to interact with my lecture and ask questions, I don’t want to limit that discussion to a few minutes at the start of the hour where I ask students if there were any questions. >crickets<.

Flipping the classroom with a Textbook

So, I am proposing something novel here, somewhat paradoxical in nature, flipping the classroom with…a textbook. GASP!!!


Wait a minute, didn’t we just do that? Aren’t we just back at square 1? Not exactly. For years I struggled with texts that had a fraction of the information that I needed which forced me to supplement all the left-out information in my lecture. It took away time that I otherwise would use for application, research, and creation when in class. The textbook that I am currently working on is a culmination of every idea that I need so that the kids can go home and absorb content, come back to class and do open-note reading checks, and then apply what they learned with the remainder of time.

I guess in the end, I realized that a flipped classroom seems to eliminate a textbook, one that was only there for a resource if needed. But I don’t want to do that. I want my kids to read the book, it’s good for them, and doggonit, instead of listening to me talk, they can read what I wrote instead.


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