I generally like the idea of turning things upside-down if only to see what happens as a result. I suppose I learned the merits of flipping first-hand, having once taken the wacky (and effective) advice to stand on my head to overcome insomnia– yes, by a yoga teacher, and yes, it worked. I mean, whoever had the idea of flipping tomato plants to get those crazy hanging vines was a genius in my book. And who among us hasn’t considered turning some modern works of art topsy-turvy to see if a new perspective might make help us make better sense of them? So, if flipping the classroom turns education on its head, we should welcome the opportunity to see the things we take for granted from a new perspective.
Flip #1: When and where should learning happen?
At its core, flipping the classroom forces us to question the who-what-where-when-and-why of what we do. If you are teaching reading skills, say, to a group of young learners, does it make better sense to have them actively read ahead and take notes independently at home or to share a collective reading experience in the classroom that allows the students to bond over Charlotte’s Web or have a debate about the ending to The Giver? Should students independently learn new vocabulary as homework for a quiz the next day, or should students work together to make sense of the meanings of words they encounter in context? When do I need to guide my students’ experience as readers about current events and when can they use their own online learning networks to parse the meaning of a new and complex concept? Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves, what does flipping direct instruction allow us to do with the time we have to learn together?
Flip #2: Why are we lecturing anyway?
Too many teachers have confessed to me that they lecture because that’s what they think teaching is, or they lecture because the students won’t read assigned textbook selections and they have to deliver the content somehow (ironically, transferring one boring method of delivery into another). Yet, when I ask the same teachers to name the times they have encountered powerful, glued-to-your-seat kinds of lectures, they usually name one or two charismatic teachers from college or high school. One or two, that’s all.
So, why do we feel compelled to do something that we know we do – let’s admit it – rather badly? Why don’t we treat lectures as the mesmerizing and enlightening performances they once were? I’m thinking here of Mark Twain’s enormous success on the lecture circuit, Virginia Woolf’s beautifully crafted digressions in A Room of One’s Own, Randy Pausch’s incredibly moving “Last Lecture.” If TED has taught us anything, it has reminded us of what lectures should be in the 21st century – pithy, engaging and insightful, with carefully chosen images or props, and delivered in 20 minutes or less. So we are forced to re-consider what form the lecture should take in the flipped classroom.
Flip #3: How can we partner with parents?
Let’s face it. Most of us in education really just expect parents to be study hall monitors for their kids. We get cranky when parents get too involved in their children’s learning, and we ask if the kids are really doing the work themselves. At the same time, we also are quick to get our backs up if parents start asking too many questions that put us on the defensive about our teaching.
If flipping cracks open the schedule and allows us to expand our learning in terms of time and space into what was formerly considered family time, it also forces us to rethink who we can partner with as teachers. If parents can partner in facilitating their children’s learning, what can we do to make the most of this potential collaboration? How can we coach parents to better support their children’s growth in conjunction with our flipped instruction?
Flip #4: Why not be more transparent?
I have a recurring anxiety dream about teaching in which I find myself standing at a podium before a group of students I’ve never seen before and who expect me to instruct them in the ins and outs of something I have absolutely no knowledge of – sailing in one dream, electrical engineering in another. In the really scary versions of this dream, I also discover in a gut-wrenching panic some minutes into my instruction that I have neglected to put on any clothes for the occasion. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that what this dream really means is that I’m terrified that others will figure out that I know nothing about the subject I’m supposed to be an expert on – in other words, that I am a total fraud.
Flipping the classroom forces us to reckon with this kind of completely naked exposure of our teaching selves. When we create videos of direct instruction for delivery online, do we think about who is watching along with our students? Will parents, administrators, or colleagues judge us if they see us for who we really are? If our teaching is accessible outside the walls of our classrooms, what happens when others see how we select and arrange course content, create assessments, and provide feedback? What can we gain from the accountability such transparent teaching and learning engenders as a result of the flipped classroom? We will become better teachers, that’s what.
Flipping instruction is more than just creating videos a la Khan Academy and posting them on a school website. Flipping the classroom changes the nature of our relationships with students and with others, such as parents, who might contribute to the learning process. Flipping the classroom means we have broken the time and space barriers of school. Flipping the classroom asks us to go to the heart of what we do and become the best teachers we can be – and to be unafraid of who sees what we do. Who knows, we might all learn something in the process.