Flipping the Classroom

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2020 was definitely a year like no other in recent history and for many of us we are still facing lockdowns and other stresses as a result. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape of many facets of our lives and in particular, education has been an area that changed significantly in such a short period of time. Remote teaching and learning became the norm across many schools around the world and teachers needed to change their approach to their classrooms and many are still needing to resort to this method of teaching during periods of short lockdowns.

The flipped classroom method is one pedagogical approach that teachers may explore and is certainly one that they should consider to continue to use with their students in order to buy back some of that valuable face to face time while still engaging with digital technologies when things return to ‘normal’.

The flipped classroom model of learning

The flipped classroom is one pedagogical approach that can be employed by educators in order to help their students to cover the content that they needed to while learning remotely. Usually the flipped classroom involves students learning content independently before coming to class to conduct higher order activities with the support of their teacher.

During periods of remote learning, teachers are using the same kind of techniques with their students by sharing resources with them to explore asynchronously before coming to a synchronous learning environment via video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet.

In this particular scenario, students independently complete work that is assigned by their teacher. This can take the form of a lecture style video where the teacher explains a concept, a prescribed reading or an activity such as an Education Perfect lesson. These activities should be quite scaffolded and allow the students to navigate their way through the content confidently, while having opportunities to assess their understanding through questions.

It is important for teachers to understand that the flipped model is not just about the delivery of videos for students, but it is also about how to best use your in-class time with students.

In order to guide teachers towards this outcome, there are four pillars to the flipped model. These are:

  • Flexible learning environments – by rearranging the physical and digital learning spaces, teachers are able to provide students with choice of when and where they access the information they need. There are now a huge range of tools that teachers can incorporate into their flipped classroom in order to create and distribute the content to students and then create unique activities within the class space once the students are face to face.
  • Learning culture – there is a shift from the traditional teacher-centered scenario to a more student-centered approach. This was one that was developed while students were learning from home. Students were required to become more independent in their learning, using the resources and technology that was available to them to interact with their subject content without the teacher always guiding them from the front of the classroom.
  • Intentional content – by evaluating the content that needs to be delivered, teachers are able to determine what can be taught outside the walls of the classroom ensuring that class time is maximised to allow students to explore other active learning strategies. There are some things that can translate well into the technology space and some that cannot, so it is important for the teacher to be able to identify those things that they can flip their classroom with vs the content that they still need to approach in a more ‘traditional’ way.
  • Professional educators – the flipped classroom approach requires teachers and other educators to be reflective and collaborative in their practice. Flipping the classroom can be a tough journey to navigate on your own, but there are plenty of resources available to support you and there are many teachers online who are more than willing to form professional learning networks with those exploring the flipped classroom.

(Hamdan, McKnight, McKnight & Arfstrom, 2013)

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As an educator, the increasing demands placed on teachers to try to meet the curriculum outcomes in ever decreasing amounts of time have been witnessed first-hand. It has been found that the flipped classroom is an excellent strategy that educators can employ to help them to overcome this issue. Simply teaching facts and delivering content is no longer plausible with content overload becoming a problem that all educators face. Within classes, there are many ways in which educators can allocate time, whether it be lecturing or active-learning exercises, but it is all bound by the amount of time available.

The flipped classroom model has been created as a pathway for teachers to move toward powerful learning and teaching strategies by leveraging the technology available to deliver lessons. With the introduction of the flipped classroom model, teaching focuses on moving the content that fits into the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy out of the classroom and reserving class time for the higher order levels of creating, analysing and evaluating.

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Benefits of flipped learning

The asynchronous nature of the work that students are required to complete means that they are able to do this at a time that suits them and if needed, they are able to spread the activity over an extended period of time. This was particularly important during complete lockdowns when multiple children and their parents may have been trying to divide time spent on devices between them as they did not have enough for each person to exclusively work on at any time.

Asynchronous learning, such as the flipped classroom, also allows students to take the time they may need to be able to feel confident with the work. Students are able to revisit the content as many times as needed and take their time, potentially searching for further information or definitions of terms that they may need clarification with.

Some of the other benefits of implementing the flipped learning approach can include:

  • It adapts to the learning diversity of the classroom: each approach allows students to move at their own pace with the teacher being able to spend more time with those students who require more assistance. Also, students who are confident and comfortable with the content are able to explore the learning material in a deeper way and begin to extend themselves.
  • Classrooms become more active spaces: because students are engaging in a wider range of activities, classrooms no longer become the passive space where students sit and listen to a teacher lecturing for an extended period of time. Students are able to engage in group tasks, discussions and project work that involves the students needing to be a more active participant in their learning.
  • Reducing costs for schools: through the use of technology, schools can reduce other costs such as photocopying and textbook supplies. Teachers can also harness technology to provide students with experiences that they may not otherwise have had access to such as advanced simulations and virtual excursions.

Enabling tools for flipped learning

Some may question how synchronous lessons can take place in a remote learning situation that require the students to work on applying the content they’ve learnt in the asynchronous task with higher order activities. Some of the tools mentioned above allow for educators to explore a number of different approaches to synchronous classes.

In particular, Zoom provides an option allowing students to be placed into ‘breakout rooms’ where they can complete group activities, share ideas and dive deeper into the content together. Collaboration tools like Padlet allow students to share their thoughts and have them critiqued by their peers while the applications that come as part of the Google Suite allow students to work together on a whole range of activities, allowing them to create, research and share their knowledge.

Flipped is the new normal

As many classrooms have returned to ‘normal’ and students are present for face to face sessions, it’s important that teachers take advantage of the skills that both they and their students developed through their remote learning experience.

Incorporating the flipped classroom into a face to face model of teaching and learning will allow students to engage more collaboratively, while providing teachers with the opportunity to truly support each individual within the classroom.

While the theory of the flipped classroom is sound and easy to understand, it was only when I put the model into practice that I could truly appreciate its benefits.

When I was teaching, like with many pedagogical innovations, the benefits I discovered could only be appreciated once I put the model into practice. I urge you to consider how you can test-and-learn with a flipped classroom approach, either through the use of technology, or non-digital teaching materials. It will take some time before both you and your students are used to the approach, so stick with it for an appropriate amount to validate its benefits.

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