A Question About Flipped Classrooms

I have a question about the flipped classroom. The most common narrative I hear is:

I used to lecture in class, and give students practice for homework. Now, I videotape the lecture and students watch it at home. Then, they come in and we do homework in class, where students can work together and I can support students who need it.

My question is — from glimpses I’ve seen into flipped classrooms, the videos are typically 10 minutes or less. In a 45 minute class, even with a warm-up and other administrative things to start class, if you only need 10 minutes for explicit instruction, that seems to allow a ton of time for students to do math in class.

If it’s just 10 minutes, there seems to be more value in giving explicit instruction in person. Teachers can give that instruction responsively, adapting it to what students know and don’t know, or breaking it into bits and pieces interspersed with student practice or motivated by intellectual need in the moment. I’m also a huge skeptic of the value of homework, in particular in supporting students who need the most help.

I do see the value in creating videos as resources for kids to return to as needed, and for supporting students who miss time in class. And that added time to get kids doing math in class absolutely has value — I don’t mean to be flippant about what can get done in an extra ten minutes. But I don’t see the marginal gains of a flipped classroom to be the disruptive, game-changing pedagogy I see it framed as in the media.

I’m not writing to attack flipped classrooms. I know some really thoughtful teachers who do it extraordinarily well. But I don’t like the narrative around flipped classrooms in the broader ed world. It seems to position two opposing perspectives on math classrooms. Either teachers spend class every day lecturing to bored kids and sending them away with homework they don’t understand and struggle through each night, or students are watching the lecture at home and engaging in dynamic, collaborative problem solving in class. Those aren’t the only two options, and I prefer to live in a middle ground that I find works for my students, in my context.

9 thoughts on “A Question About Flipped Classrooms

  1. Björn Beling

    Good question. If the options you mention really were the only ones, flipping would make perfect sense. I tried flipping some units last year and found the extra time in class quite valuable. I started each lesson with a quick comprehension check using plickers.com. Most videos were about 8-12 mins, but if you count the time students actually spend with them (going back and forth, answering interactive questions on edpuzzle, …), the total time of student-video “interaction” (if you want to call it that) is much longer. Also, the video doesn’t have to be watched at home and can also be made available in class for those who need it. Either way, most students appreciated having the video as a resource to come back to for exam preparation and the like. And I do see the downsides of explicit instruction in front of a class of 30 students who have very different needs regarding the amount and the nature of explicit instruction.

    What made me stop flipping was the fact that we lose the important element of continuity. I don’t like explicit instruction without having developed the question first. Some argue that videos can also be used to develop the question but I’d rather have a conversational notice & wonder session in class. This, however, means there’s just too much time between students becoming curious and watching the video.

    In general, I try to keep explicit instruction to a minimum and prefer “feeding” it to groups when needed. But if the need exceeds the feeding time, things become difficult…

    What does your middle ground look like?

    1. dkane47 Post author

      Thanks for your perspective. Useful to note that the time students spent with your videos was a bit longer. Reflects both the fundamental challenge and value of flipped classrooms — getting kids to engage authentically with the content via video while they’re at home. I also really like the formative assessment built into the video watching process.

      My middle ground is always changing, but a “typical” class usually has me giving explicit instruction a few times, either straight up, based on some motivating question, or summarizing and consolidating from a task and subsequent discussion. There are several tasks each class, and often at least a bit of explicit instruction in response to that task.

  2. Shecky R

    Maybe I’m wrong here, but I was under the impression that teachers did not make their own videos so often as simply assigning videos already available online (there are LOTS of options, besides just Khan Academy, for almost any subject, and often of professional quality), and the videos could well be more than 10-15 mins., depending on topic? Am I mistaken about this?

    1. Crystal Kirch

      Hi Shecky,
      While every teacher does do things differently, it is generally best practice in the flipped classroom community to have the teacher create their own videos. There are several reasons for this, including the teacher-student relationship that is enhanced by having the teacher the one explaining the material (and you get a lot fewer complaints from parents of “you’re not teaching my child!”), as well as time – it is generally quicker for a teacher to make their own video in their own words, covering exactly what they want, in the way they want it presented, then it is for them to hunt all over the internet (because you are right, there are a lot of sites to choose from) and find something the fits their needs exactly.
      Just my 2 cents from my experience 🙂

      1. dkane47 Post author

        That’s what I’ve heard from teachers as well. I’ve toyed with Khan Academy videos and found them mind-numbingly boring. Not sure how much better I could do, but I would want to do it myself if I were to implement a flipped classroom, for exactly the teacher-student relationship reason Crystal mentioned.

  3. Crystal Kirch

    You ask a great question. Where I think the miscommunication in that statement lies is that the 10ish minutes is mainly just the content delivery portion of the lesson. There are a lot of other pieces involved in a “45 minute” lesson, such as questioning, guided practice, collaboration, etc that are not a part of the video lesson, thus allowing the video students watch at home to be much shorter. In addition, I saved a lot of time from “normal” interruptions to the lesson – announcements, passes from the office, questions that could best be answered individually or in small groups but were asked during the whole class lesson, etc.

    I found that by removing that piece of my instruction from class, I was actually able to have my students collaborate and “talk” mathematically more (since I was hardly ever talking whole-group anymore) as well as challenge all of my students more appropriately by posing questions that would challenge / stimulate their thinking from where they were currently at, instead of trying to generalize and move the “whole herd” together at the same pace. My “higher” students I was able to push even further, so they couldn’t just settle for mediocrity, my “middle” students had that little bit extra processing time they needed in order to thrive, and my “lower” students were able to receive the scaffolds they needed.

    I always refer to two quotes when training teachers on flipping:
    1. “What’s the best use of your face to face time with your students?” (coined by Jon Bergmann / Aaron Sams). Go and do that… for me, I wanted more collaboration, hands-on activities, student creation, inquiry / exploration / discovery, etc than I currently had. The only way to make more time for that was to remove some of the “lower order” teaching out of the class time. What do you want to spend more time in class doing? Is there anything, even if it’s just a tiny thing, that you can remove from the group learning space that would give you more time to do what you want?

    2. “A flipped classroom is not successful because of video tutorials, but because of the design of the teacher” (Brian Bennett). Just having students watch videos and then do “homework” in class really does not lend itself to a successful flipped classroom. Is that where a lot of teachers start? Yes. But, in my opinion, if they stay there, they are missing out on a lot of what flipping can afford them. The way a teacher designs the lesson, including what comes BEFORE the video (questioning, probing, inquiry, discovery, exploration, etc), what happens DURING the video (how do you know students will get out of it what you want if you aren’t there while they are watching it, and AFTER the video (how will you leverage the time students have to work together in class to make it the best use of time and challenge them beyond rote practice & memorization) is what will make or break a flipped classroom.

    Your quote at the end – “I prefer to live in a middle ground that I find works for my students, in my context.” is right on par with my philosophy – teachers need to find what works best for them – their teaching style, their classroom context, their students, etc. There are so many great strategies out there that can enhance student learning. For me, I found that flipping was the best way to go and allowed me to transform my classroom and greatly improve my students’ learning. I challenge you to explore flipping some more (shameless plug for my book bit.ly/FWKirchBook that will give a lot more insight than this comment can) and I look forward to continuing the conversation!

    1. dkane47 Post author

      Thanks, Crystal. I will add your book to my list. I hadn’t thought as much about the potential for differentiation. I’m doing something similar in terms of getting kids doing math collaboratively for the majority of the class, but I see the value in letting go of the reins almost completely, where I’m constantly bringing everyone together for discussion or more instruction. And those minutes definitely have value, with a pass from the office mattering a lot less in a flipped context.

      I really like those quotes — they get at some ideas I want to do better in my own classroom. Will keep thinking about this. One question I have — it strikes me that some topics, lessons or units may be better suited to flipping. I’m curious the extent to which flipping could be effective used on a case-by-case basis, or if the cultural changes and norms necessary mean that, whatever the daily pedagogy looks like, the shift to a video-based content delivery system should be a wholesale one.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      1. Crystal Kirch

        ” One question I have — it strikes me that some topics, lessons or units may be better suited to flipping. I’m curious the extent to which flipping could be effective used on a case-by-case basis, or if the cultural changes and norms necessary mean that, whatever the daily pedagogy looks like, the shift to a video-based content delivery system should be a wholesale one.”

        Hi Dylan,
        I get this question a lot. Flipping does not have to be an all-or-nothing thing. You should use video intentionally to make the best use of your class time, which means there will be some lessons that are best taught live. You don’t have to have a video for every concept, for every night, etc to be “flipping” your class. I know a lot of teachers that would have 2 videos a week, and that alone freed up more time for them to do what they wanted with their class time.
        One thing you do have to consider though, as you mentioned, is the “cultural changes and norms”. Just like anything in your classroom, there is training that must occur – How do you watch a video for education and not entertainment? What are the expectations for students while they are watching the video? What are the expectations for students during class time after a video lesson? All things that require routine and practice, so if you do have them watch video lessons consistently, that training does come along more quickly. With that being said though, it could simply be a part of your class routine that you train students on: “Sometimes there are lessons in class, and these are the expectations under those circumstances” and “Sometimes we will have lessons on video, and these are the expectations for that”. So, even though it’s not every night, or even 2-3x a week, there is some consistency to it (once or twice a unit) that helps them to build routines and helps you to establish your expectations. It’s also valuable to make sure students know ahead of time what lessons will be video-based so they can plan ahead to watch them and can see your purposes in your instructional choices over the course of a unit. Does that make sense?

        1. dkane47 Post author

          Definitely. I vastly prefer your perspective — thinking about what makes a tool effective and when it is effective — to Sal Khan blabbing on talk shows about how amazing flipped classrooms are because kids can pause and rewind when they’re confused, and teachers don’t give boring lectures anymore etc etc.


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