“How do you determine what can be flipped?”
I just returned from the Lilly South Conference on College and University Teaching where I attended several sessions dedicated to the flipped classroom in higher education. During that same week, I also facilitated a webinar on “The Flipped Approach to a Learner-Centered Class” for college and university faculty. In both of these settings, participants asked this question, and it prompted me to think a little more about when and where flipped strategies are best integrated into the learning environment.
Before I go any further, I need to clarify how I define the flipped classroom. My philosophy centers on the idea that the flipped classroom doesn’t just mean students watch a video of a lecture outside of class and then do homework during class. For me, the FLIP is when you “Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process”. It’s when you design a learning environment where students are engaged in activities that allow them achieve the learning outcomes. Sometimes this includes technology, but technology is not a requirement for effective flipped strategies.
Certainly, some topics lend themselves more easily to flipped strategies than others, but I believe every lesson plan has the opportunity for at least one “flippable moment.” This is the moment when you stop talking at your learners and “flip” the work to them instead. This is the moment when you allow them to struggle, ask questions, solve problems and do the “heavy lifting” required to learn the material.
Since content is available everywhere these days, and it is often free, we have to remember to teach our students how to uncover and discover information for themselves. Search engines, online textbooks, online lectures, MOOCs, etc. have given all of us access to endless amounts of content. Students can look up the content on their own and find the answer to a question within a matter of seconds. What they can’t always do on their own is analyze, synthesize, and experience the process of engaging in higher levels of critical thinking. This is when they need to do the messy work of learning, evaluating, and critiquing. This is when they need your structure and guidance, but not your answers. They have to make meaning for themselves. This is a “flippable moment.”
So, back to the original question: How do you determine what can be flipped? There are probably many ways, but in today’s blog post, I would like to highlight four locations in your lesson where flipped strategies might be needed:
Location #1: Look for confusion.
Ask yourself, “What’s the most difficult or challenging part of this lesson?” “Where do I anticipate students’ having problems or encountering difficulty?” These are places in your lesson that would benefit from flipped strategies. Re-think how you present this section of your lesson and design an activity for students to engage in. Maybe they need a video to watch and re-watch several times before and after class to reinforce the main points. Maybe they need a group activity to discuss the material with their peers. Maybe they need more time to practice and test their skills. If this is a lesson you’ve taught before, then you probably know where confusion is likely to occur. If you’ve never taught this lesson before, consider adding a classroom assessment technique to the middle or end of your lesson. This will allow both you and your students to determine where additional work is needed to achieve the learning outcomes.
Location #2: Look for the fundamentals.
Ask yourself, “What’s the most fundamental, most essential, and most critical part of today’s lesson?” “What MUST students know before they can move forward?” You may find this part of the lesson is actually a fundamental piece of information in your discipline. Some may argue fundamental knowledge isn’t what needs to be flipped, but if this is one of the key skills your students need to develop before moving on, then the challenge is to design multiple learning opportunities, a variety of activities, and numerous opportunities to practice and test the knowledge to ensure mastery. You can help students reinforce their knowledge so they clearly know what they must achieve before they can move on to the next lesson, grade level, or course.
Location #3: Look at your extra credit question.
Ask yourself, “What makes this an “extra” credit question?” “How could I turn this extra credit question into an activity or project for all of the students?” Extra credit questions are often interesting and challenging. They are designed to test the “next level” of thinking by moving students beyond memorization or comprehension. They are designed to test the higher level thinking skills, and they can provide the perfect opportunity to inspire you to flip your lesson. An extra credit question might inspire your students to analyze, synthesize and create alternative models or hypotheses. Students who think they know the answer will go for it just to show you how much they know (and to get a few bonus points, of course). That’s the moment when your students are motivated and curious. Motivation and curiosity are cornerstones for learning, and you can leverage that energy by using the extra credit question as a place to flip your lesson.
Location #4: Look for boredom.
Ask yourself, “Are the students bored?” “Am I bored?” Boredom will kill a learning environment. If your students are bored, then they are not even going to try to be engaged. If you are bored, then you are probably just going through the motions and trying to cover the content until the class ends. When you come to a point in your lesson or course when boredom strikes, it’s time to flip your approach. Design a task for your students to DO. Instead of continuing to talk at them or lecture to them, take an actively passive approach and step to the side. Put them in pairs or groups. Pose a challenge. Allow them to design or evaluate something. Give them the space to struggle, practice and imagine “what if?” so they are challenged and inspired. That’s the power of the flip.
When you sit down to plan your lesson, always begin by asking yourself, “What should students DO to achieve the learning outcomes for this lesson?” That’s the place you should start. As the instructor, you can’t “unlearn” the material you already know, and you can’t go back in time and feel what it’s like not to know the material anymore. To learn what you know now, you had to do the “heavy lifting” yourself. You had to analyze, reflect, and evaluate. You had to make meaning for yourself. It’s your students’ turn now. Flip it to them.
Photo credit: Help by Kosta Kostov