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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

A New Approach to Teaching? The Flipped Classroom

By Peter DeWitt — August 15, 2012 5 min read
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The old image of a teacher is one where they keep their lesson plan books at the end of the school year and do not take the time and effort to change their lessons year after year.”

Have you ever woken up and just wanted to do something different? As an educator, do you long to do one thing new in your instructional practice with students? The old image of a teacher is one where they keep their lesson plan books at the end of the school year and do not take the time and effort to change their lessons year after year. Or, they walk to their filing cabinet and grab the lesson for the day as their students sit in rows waiting for instruction. That image is changing rapidly because some teachers are flipping the way they teach old subjects.

As a teacher, I always threw out my lesson plan book after the school year ended because I wanted to do things differently every year. That is very unlike the way I approach my personal life because I am a creature of habit. As we get older and spend more time in education, that feeling of doing the same thing over and over again happens often but we have less of an excuse these days not to grow because of the 24/7 connections that we make around us. Twenty minutes a day on Twitter or discussions with your PLN can help you break out of even the toughest of ruts. We need to challenge ourselves to think differently even if it scares us.

The Windsor Knot
I’m not a fan of wearing ties. As a principal, I know I should like to wrap one of those festive garments around my neck but I don’t. In an effort to mix it up and trick myself into thinking I like ties, I go to YouTube and search for ways to tie different types of knots. Windsor knots always sounded classy, so I figured I would give one of those a shot. In two minutes, I learned how to tie a Windsor knot by watching the following video. The Windsor Knot

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like to wear ties but it helped me stop wearing the same knot day after day after day. It broke me out of my “Groundhog Day” type mornings and inspired me to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new. I know that makes me sound like a real risk taker, but I try to do one thing per day that breaks me out of a routine.

Many of us get used to our routine and it makes us feel better when we follow the same pattern on a daily basis. We take the same route to work, eat the same small breakfast, and do the same workout day after day. Unfortunately, that monotony can make us feel very stale, and as educators it can really make for a boring classroom learning environment and our students suffer the consequences.

Being a visual learner, watching the YouTube video a couple of years ago was a gateway into watching other informational videos that helped me through my day. If I can’t figure something out on my cell phone or iPad, I do a Google search to find a video that will help me solve the problem. If I know it’s an issue I may have again in the future, I save the video so I can review how to solve it when the problem arises again.

Mixing it Up
“I’m a bit wary/skeptical about this whole “Flipped Classroom” idea and how it works in practice.” Larry Ferlazzo

Over the past year there has been a great deal of conversation around the flipped classroom model. As I read more and more blogs, I became increasingly interested in the concept but couldn’t get past whether it was a new fad or a tried and true approach to educating students. After a great deal of reading, I came to realize that how well it works and the integrity of the model, all depends on how educators use it in their classrooms.

In Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (ASCD), by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, the flipped classroom approach is not just about students watching their teacher on video (Think of my tie watching video as ½ the method!). The students watch the lecture in the comfort of their home and then delve deeper into the lecture the following day through a lab, a follow up activity or some other classroom conversation.

In typical teaching practices, students listen to a lecture at school and then do the follow up activity alone at home where a teacher cannot help them if they have difficulties. The flipped approach changes it around so students can watch the lecture alone and then go to class where the teacher is there to help.

If educators videotape themselves lecturing and then offer it to students, there are a variety of things that can happen. Many students may review it over and over again at their pace and really learn something valuable. In addition, students may be more engaged because they understand their teachers are incorporating the use of technology to help students learn.

However, if the taped lesson isn’t very engaging, students may find it painful to watch. If someone is going to do a flipped lesson, they should make sure they have fun with it. A bad lecture in person is bad enough. Having one taped that a student has to watch over and over again could be a waste of time. Educators shouldn’t do it just to say they did it. They should try the flipped approach because they really want to find a way to engage their students.

Battling the Cynic
The cynic in me wants to say that the Flipped Classroom model is really nothing new. I consider myself a connected educator and have long tried to use technology in both my instruction as a teacher and adjunct as well as a principal. There are many of us that no longer look at technology as a tool to use but as a natural part of our day. It’s like an extension of our arm...and many times our brain.

The Flipped model is supposed to allow teachers the opportunity to provide a more individualized learning model for their students. Students can watch the lesson at home and ask questions and have better conversations in class. Whatever teachers decide, they need to realize that the first time they try the model will not be perfect and they should keep experimenting with it so that how they use the model evolves.

All in all it is about offering a student-centered approach to learning. However, one of the other benefits is that it may also provide the opportunity for teachers to break out of the rut of teaching the same lessons day after day and year after year. It will force them to step outside their comfort zone, and all students can benefit from that.

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If you have some great flipped lessons, feel free to share them below.

Larry Ferlazzo does an outstanding job of finding the best resources for teachers and administrators. Click here to see his best Flipped Model Blogs.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.