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How to Properly Flip Your Classroom

Elizabeth Hermoso
August 2, 2020

Elizabeth is a certified middle school teacher and Paraeducator. She has taught online for the past three years with a flipped classroom model.

Educators are constantly bombarded with the newest buzzword and trendy pedagogy. As head-spinning as this can sometimes feel, there are actually a few universal truths to Education that we all know — techniques as old as time. (Or in today’s case, approximately 2,400 years.)

Flipping your classroom is one of these examples. Shockingly enough, the concept is not entirely new. Like everything we teachers do, it’s a stolen-and-revamped lesson plan. This one just happens to predate Pinterest. It’s a variation on the Socratic Seminar.

Although I am not the first one to realize this, I imagine most teacher’s faces look something like this when realizing that we just keep reinventing the wheel.

“New” and trendy, and primed for the new influx of technology into education, the concept of “flipping the classroom” is here to stay with this era of remote learning. It fell out of favor with the recent (well-intentioned) push to get away from homework, because unfortunately this method includes a fair amount of it. But now, it’s looking like almost all of school work will be… at home. Supervised, synchronous, or not, education now = homework for the foreseeable future. Whether you like it or not, your classroom is about to be flipped. You will have to figure out how to effectively use the synchronous lesson time you will have, because as we all know… remote synchronous lessons are TOUGH. More on that later.

So, what should a Flipped Classroom look like?

There is, of course, a technique to this. Luckily, there’s also a lot of room for differentiation, personality, wiggle-room… whatever synonym you prefer.

Step 1: Pre-Class Homework

Students should be coming to the live/synchronous class with some idea of what you will be discussing already. This will save precious minutes out of everyone’s day. It would be even better if they came prepared with questions and discussion points, but let’s not be greedy now.

You can assign the pre-work in a variety of formats. Your pre-literate littles would most likely benefit from a video or even a still image. Your older students will appreciate this on occasion too. It’s easy to assume that middle and high school kids should be reading tons of informative text and articles, but there is some value in letting their critical thinking and imaginations run before a lesson. At the very least it is more interesting and engaging. (You can also think of other interesting breaks from text, such as increasingly-popular podcasts).

The assignment should definitely include some higher-level thinking prompts designed to access their prior knowledge. Let them come into your class feeling like they are prepared and will have something to contribute to the discussion.

If they do the assignment, of course.

Are they going to do it?

*Gasp!* Students sometimes don’t do assignments!

Oh well. Time to move on with life. If you stick to this format, most students ? will eventually figure out that doing the pre-work is helpful to them and will begin doing it more often than not. Every student will have “one of those days”, and we all know the ones that will pretend the assignment never existed. Guess what? These are tiny undeveloped humans. (And adults are just as bad anyway). Which is why I actually recommend this pre-work being an ungraded thing. If they do it, cool. If not, oh well.

(This is without even getting into the inequities our students and families are dealing with on top of the cluster that is remote learning and working, even working from home. Which is a whole novel in and of itself.)

Step 2: Formative Assessment

Some of your students won’t do the pre-work. Others will do it and struggle. Others will form misconceptions that you will have to address. And others will have questions they can’t wait to ask. (Ok, probably not. I’m just trying to make you feel better). Either way, you should assess what they’re walking in with in order to scaffold their learning or you might just be wasting everyone’s time.

What we all wish our students will look like during our lessons. They don’t.

You’ve already done this in your class. Drill work, “Question of the Day”, journaling, whatever you called it, it was a preassessment in some form. You need to do this for a flipped classroom model too. There are a variety of online tools for this, including the gamified “Kahoot” but good-old questioning will do too. The best online tools will include some kind of polling or questioning feature to help you gauge your audience.

Step 3: Lesson Time

Here is where we all shine because that’s what teachers do. I know that your issue right now is how best to make your classroom look like it always has. (It won’t, but I understand the drive). You need a tool that lets you do what you love. That’s why we’re here after all. Maybe your district is awesome and you have some freedom for what tools you get to use. Or maybe you’re stuck with Zoom and/or Google Meet. Synchronous lessons have their good and bad points (again, another novel in itself). Hopefully whatever tool you are using can work for synchronous lessons and asynchronous learning too, because who wants to do anything twice if they don’t have to. The best thing to do is figure out how to make the best use of everyone’s time. We’ve all been stuck in the Zoom Call That Never Ends and the meeting-that-could-have-been-an-email. Don’t do this to your students!

There are as many methods to run this live lesson as there are teachers, but if you need some ideas to get you started, here’s a few:

The Socratic Method: I mentioned this earlier, but the Flipped Classroom model is really just primed for Socrates 2.0. Students are exposed to the material, and you spend your live time with them unpacking the topic by asking high-level questions for them to answer. This is not a test. It is not a debate. This is just teaching at it’s finest: making the students do the work, think critically, and form their own (correct) understanding of the material without being spoonfed. The teacher is the guide.

I Do, We Do, You Do: This is just what it says. You demonstrate how to solve a problem or whatever your subject matter is. You do another example together, scaffolding it so that they do more of the work this time and you do less. (Repeat if necessary, backing off each time). Ultimately the goal is that they are doing the work independently and you are cheering them on.

Direct Instruction: *Gasp!* Yes I said it. Sometimes, depending on your class and the individual humans that comprise it, you will have to simply explain something. Maybe it’s new, or complex, or of a sensitive nature, or you have to be very careful about misconceptions on the topic. This should not be the only thing you ever do, but it has its place. Pro-tip: Your Direct Instruction piece can also be assigned as your pre-work.

Yes, recorded direct instruction can be the asynchronous pre-assignment piece. I know, it’s amazing.

There are more, but you don’t need me for that. You’ve got this. Guess what? Your students will appreciate if you try different formats and mix it up. (You will too). You can even do multiple strategies in one class, if you’re a pro.

How to craft better lessons online — The Right Tool for the Job.

There are the tools we are stuck with and the tools we love. Hopefully, your live-class software can record your lesson so that it can be used synchronously and asynchronously without creating more work on your part. Personally, I favor asynchronous models because it fits into more lives more easily, but live/synchronous education has its place too. Either way, the more engaging you can make it, the better. Annotation, drawing all over the screen, the ability to use different media (especially visual) for your needs, there are all the hallmarks of a good online learning tool. The ability to record your voice with or without the camera is great too, because maybe the baby kept you up all night, or sometimes it’s just sweatpants day here in lockdown. Every teacher will have favorite tools, but there are some great ones out there, such as Screencastify (hint: some of your laptops can do similar recording tricks too, FYI), Flipped (flipped.app), Seesaw, and more.

Step 4: Assessment

You need to know if the students were A) listening and B) learning. We sometimes forget that you can do this more times than at the end of the lesson (or afterward) when it is too late to fix anything. Again, the best online tools will let you do something like pause the lesson recording so the students can answer a poll or question. (I know flipped.app does this, but there are others too). Some will even make it so that the student can not continue until they answer — or answer correctly! Yes, you will have the students that just try every answer until it works. Guess what- you tricked them into learning. They might actually remember which “secret password” worked. Go ahead and call it the secret password and maybe you can trick them into enjoying your lesson too. *insert evil laughter here*.

You will learn whether you know it or not MUAHAHA!

Step 5: Student Output

This is an important one but easily glossed over or forgotten. This is not just answering a boring multiple choice question. At this point in the game the students have (hopefully) understood the material and you just have to give them the time and opportunity to process it and store it in their brain. There’s a secret to this, and it’s creativity. You are probably aware of the Multiple Intelligences, and the fact is that students will digest the material differently.

Let them record a video (or just their voice) pretending to be a newscaster. Let them draw a picture or use another favored art medium. Let them create a word search, crossword, or other game. Let them write a fictional short story. It doesn’t have to be a huge time consuming project (imagine doing it at the end of an in-class lesson back in the good old days), but if it is the end of a unit maybe you choose this as an assessment and make it a little bigger. Let them have fun. yes, even older kids. It’s good for the soul. Again, you’ll trick them into learning. And if you’re lucky, they’ll fight you less on other “boring” assignments if they know something fun will come up later. You’re welcome.

I know that there is not always the time to implement what we know our lessons should be. On top of our normal human issues of work and family, we have bosses and state politicians that have no clue about education breathing down our necks. (Don’t get me started!) I get it. There is this lofty ideal of the wonderful teacher we are in our head and then there’s what really happens in the trenches. It’s important to keep that North Star in mind and all forward motion counts. Also, maybe we can use the opportunity that is the complete rewrite of all of education to our advantage, and have those conversations with our departments about what our units should look like now and what we can truly ask of our students at home.

I see you, teachers. You’ve got this.

I want to hear your successes. What are some tips and tricks that have worked for you while Virtual Teaching? What are some of your goals (besides survival) for this year? What are you interested in trying?

And just remember: Teaching is a superpower. ❤️

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