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5 Mistakes to Avoid in the Flipped Classroom

Apr 29, 2019

Flipping the classroom is no small adventure.  In fact, many teachers don't take the first steps to flip their classroom out fear of putting in some of the work just to realize they've bitten off more than they can chew.  And then they've done all that work for nothing.

I wish I had known a few key pieces of information before I made any attempt to flip my classroom.  My first attempt in my second year of teaching was a minimal one for the same reason most teachers can't or don't want to take on the full flip.  I was in the middle of the school year, I wanted to flip as a retroactive solution to issues I had in the classroom that year, and I chose a quick, small flip out of necessity - I didn't have time to do any more than take small steps.  In doing so, I fell into a few pitfalls that could have easily been avoided.

The few tips I give here are ones that I think any teacher considering to flip their classroom should keep in mind.  Again, this journey is not for the faint at heart.  You are going to put in some work - not necessarily more work than you would normally do, but probably rather different kinds of work.  So you want to be sure you're starting out on the right foot. To do so, try to avoid these mistakes that I may or may not have made in my early years of flipping ;).

 Mistake #1

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Here's the thing - learning is learning is learning is learning.  I'm going to make a few people angry here but I'm going to say it anyway - "learning styles" are a total myth.  Google it.  That's not to say that people don't have preferences in how they learn, but the human brain takes in new information the same way no matter how the information is presented.  And, if you can add some meaning to the new info, like linking it to something that brain already has in it (experiences, memories, etc.), the new information will stick better.  These are the facts people, don't shoot the messenger.

The fact that learning is learning applies to the flipped classroom, but it also doesn't.  Ok, I'm not making much sense here.  Let me explain.  Yes, learning is the same process in the traditional classroom as it is in the flipped one.  But, like I said, it also isn't.  Learning is a skill - one that NO ONE is born with.  Most children are taught how to learn just by being in the school system their entire childhood - or at least that system is more influential than the few explicit attempts of teachers here and there throughout their school career that work in learning and study skills along the way.  You probably remember very few times being explicitly taught the skill of learning - that's because in most cases, it just happens without instruction.

In the flipped classroom, we can not assume that our students know how to take notes and learn from us, especially if we are taking all this time to make great videos that they all can access anytime anywhere no matter the struggles or limits students may be facing in any given school year. If we're going to take all this time to make these fantastic videos, we don't want them to land on deaf ears - even if those deaf ears appear to be listening.

The very top reason why flipped classrooms fail is because students are not prepared for it, or should I say, because teachers have not prepared their students for it.  Now this is a bit of a double edged sword because, like we've covered already, flipped learning at its core is really no different than learning in the traditional classroom. However, it puts more onus on the student and because of that, the formerly disguised holes in learning that have always been there, are now more obvious.

So what do I do?

We must take class time before we implement the flipped lesson/unit/classroom to teach our students the basic skills of taking notes from a video.  The skill is a rather basic one, but it's so important that you must take class time and explicitly teach it.  Here are some specific skills you'll want to teach (and make sure to stay with me until the end to get a great freebie that applies to this mistake)...

  1. If you are writing, the video should be paused.  Ask your students if they've ever wanted to raise their hand when they're teacher was lecturing or giving instructions to tell them to slow the heck down?  Just wait a minute while my brain takes a hot sec to process this before you move on with all the super-achiever students in the room!  They can't say that right.  Well, now they can!  And it's all with the pause button.
  2. Look AND Listen.  If all students needed to do was write down what is on the slide in your video, then there would be no point in you creating the video where you are also imparting knowledge via, ya know, talking about it!!  I encourage my students to pause the video EVERY time it switches to a new slide, get the information down that they see, then they can play and listen to what I have to say, writing anything they hear that is of particular importance (or that I emphasize).
  3. Use the notes.  The notes your students take in your classroom need to be necessary to whatever it is they then do in the classroom.  They need to see this explicit connection so it's as if their notes are a living, breathing document they can add to, take from and build upon.  Teach them this process in the classroom - they should always have their notes accessible. And this leads me to mistake number 2... what will we do in the class now that we are flipping?

Mistake #2 

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The number 2 reason that teachers decide not to flip their classrooms is because of the fear around not having enough to do in the classroom now that it isn't mostly filled by lecture or direct instruction.  I have to admit that was a big sticking point for me - what in the world was I going to fill class time with?  

First, you should totally check out my last post where I explained the necessary mindset shift around this sticking point.  It's absolutely necessary!

Second, you probably already know what you could do.  Think back to times in recent school years when you've randomly found a great article to read, activity to do, or project to try out, but when you went to the calendar to see if you could make it work you were limited by the fact that you had to deliver the content (lecture), and that would take up so much time that there really wasn't enough to do this new thing you've found.  Well, guess what!!!  Now you can.

So what do I do?

This is a mistake you can start preemptively fixing NOW.  Here are the three basic steps I recommend...

  1. Establish a spot for all your ideas/resources to go for each unit, chapter, or standard - whatever the organization of your course might be.  That place will simply be a landing ground for anything and everything you find as you find it.  So it should be easily accessible on the go.  What I have done in the past is added ideas to my notes app on my phone as I see them if I'm not right next to my computer, then I add links and jot down some notes in a spreadsheet once I'm back to my computer where I have one tab per unit.  Then when it came time to flip and plan for class time, I had a compiled list of possibilities.
  2. Look to what you have.  Look back in all your resources and files.  What do you already have that could work, maybe with a little tweaking?  Put that in your spot of ideas so that come flipping time you don't have to spend time wondering, "O wait, where's that one thing about that one idea that would be great to do in class???"  Instead, you've got it at your fingertips and go can just go with it.
  3. Know places to find ideas.  You probably already know these places as well, but I'll mention a few spots I have looked for inspiration and never been let down before.  When I have wanted to fill some class time or revamp what I've traditionally done, I have found inspiration from Instagram.  It is a FANTASTIC community of teachers that I highly recommend you become a part of.  You don't even have to post.  Just make an account and follow some teachers you recognize with and relate to (try searching hashtags like #teachersofinstagram, or #iteach___ and insert your grade level). 

    Another place is specific Facebook groups.  If there is a subject and grade level, then there is a specific Facebook group that fits that niche.  Start searching - see what groups your teacher friends might belong to.  Start out by just perusing and reading posts here and there.  Once you feel comfortable, search the files of that group and maybe even participate in some posts by commenting, answering questions, or even asking a question of your own.

    Lastly, is Teachers Pay Teachers.  You have to pay for most resources on this site, but if it saves me time and energy from creating from scratch then it is SO worth the cash!!  And because I'm paying for the resources, they are of more quality and more likely to be ready to print and go rather than needing any tweaking.  Look around, explore, see what you find and remember to always link it back in your spot of ideas.

Mistake #3

Speaking of class time and how you'll fill it.  You don't want to only think about what you'll do, you'll want to think about the how... specifically the procedures of your classroom.  Which leads us to mistake #3.

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Do not underestimate the power of procedures, and spend some quality time brainstorming and reflecting on what most important procedures you will implement in your flipped classroom.  Even the big kids will benefit from routine procedures.  Your creative brain can probably come up with way more effective procedures than mine, but I'll share with you some that you should consider.  This list is not an exhaustive one, nor is it all that novel (most of them have been around ten times longer than I have been in the field of education, but I hope to add some considerations within each idea with an added flipped classroom twist) but hopefully serves as one that will launch your creative and brainstorming juices.

  1. Bell Ringers - or welcome work, whatever you call it.  Well, DUH! Mandy - of course I have a procedure for what students do when they walk in my room.... YES!  Of course you do.  I am not trying to insult your teaching genius here.  However, I do want to throw in that bell ringers are even more important in the flipped classroom and you can totally spend more time with them depending on what purpose you build them to have.  Spend the time, go deeper, get that value for class time spent.
  2. A Procedure for notes - Establish a procedure for students as to what they do with their notes having completed a set.  Meaning, for instance, if they take notes at home, the next day when they are due, what do students do with them upon walking in to the classroom? 

    Please hear me when I say this, do NOT collect them!!!  There's two reasons for this... 1) Who in the world has time to grade every single set of notes each one of your students takes???  You think you do, but you don't - don't do it.  Maybe the first one or two sets just so you can see if students are implementing the strategies you've explicitly taught in class, but after that, don't do it.  There are more effective ways of checking note-taking skills, and collecting them just isn't one of them.

    2) That means students have taken their notes for you.  You want students to implement the note-taking skills you've taught and to watch and take videos from the notes for them, and for their learning.  Some of you are laughing - and you should be because, seriously... not all students "take notes for them."  Some students barely take notes at all and it's just regurgitation.  I hear you.  You still don't collect them - there has to be natural consequences.  Natural consequences that you preach and allow to happen.  Like, brace yourselves, failing a test.  Letting mom and dad know.  Not being able to participate in an interesting or fun class activity because they don't understand the material having not done the notes.  Find what works for your classroom.

    In my classroom, I stamped notes and class activities.  They would work on their bell work as I would walk the room checking notes for completion and skimmed quality.  If they passed my skim test, they got a stamp in the top right hand corner.  Each stamp equalled a point in their binder check grade.  Only one point.  Not enough for any one set of notes to have too large of an impact on their grade (which I hoped mirrored their mastery level more than anything), but enough for them to know that I would be looking at EVERY set of notes - there's a lot to say for emotional natural consequences.  Don't shame them, but if they value what you think because of the relationships you've built, they'll feel your disappointment, but also know that you still believe in their ability to get it done.
  3. A Procedure for questions - Much like the procedure for notes, have an explicitly taught procedure for how and when to ask questions.  Students will not be able to just raise their hand and ask you a question as you are lecturing to them.  But, you can put a process in place that is almost exactly the same idea so that students can get those questions out and asked in a way that enhances their learning.  

    There's also students who don't have questions, which means they don't know how or don't feel comfortable enough to truly encode and process the information and therefore haven't thought about it enough to ask questions.  This is another aspect of question asking that you'll need to teach.  It won't be pretty at first, but if you start mandating that they ask questions, they'll come up with something, albeit poor questions, but questions nonetheless that will build up into better questions that elicit true learning.

    *Idea* - what if you had a spot for students to collect all their questions digitally, whether individually or for the class, throughout the year.  Then after the big test or as an end of year project, they explore some of the questions they've asked?  Another idea... use Wordle.  Have students put all their questions for a set of notes into a wordle as part of their homework and then have that visual to show students the next day or as review for a test.
  4. A Procedure for reflection on performance - the last procedure I'll recommend so that this post isn't too long, is one about student reflection.  Because you'll have more class time, there is no longer a reason to not build a process around students reflecting on their test scores.  Research after research has shown this process of being reflective in any journey of growth and learning is super beneficial.  Create procedures for both goal setting and performance reflection.  Help students to become aware of their effort and work ethic, also working smarter not harder, and how that has impacted their performance in your class - as well as what that means for their future.

Mistake #4 

Speaking of reflection, it's important for teachers who are flipping to do that as well.  And your reflection is much more effective if you include someone else in the process.  So that leads us to our next mistake to avoid...

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Almost ten years ago when I flipped my classroom over one summer I had an expert in flipping available via a book, but that was about it.  Flipping was not common in my area, nor in my building.  So I essentially was going it alone.  I was thankful for a few other teachers in the building who also were in the process of flipping for the first time, but there wasn't anyone who had done it before.  It worked out fine, but in education every move you make is a little more high stakes because it's not profit on the line like with a business move you make, it's students' growth and scores.  You want to be building, renewing, growing as the year progresses - not just when scores are back and you can learn from your mistakes retroactively.

Because of this, I recommend you find a community of flippers.  That sounds so funny.  But I mean it.  Social media opens up a whole new world for teacher communities like never before, and when you're making such a huge decision for your classroom such as to flip it, you want support.  You want a group of people you can bounce ideas off of, question yourself and others comfortably within, and, best of all, learn from in the process of flipping.

If that group can be in person, all the better.  But there is probably a small possibility that is available for you.  So here's what I recommend...

  1. Talk to your colleagues about flipping.  Some of them may never have heard of it and would be all in to make it happen.  You instantly get a flipping buddy.
  2. Check out my Facebook Page where I talk about all kinds of flipping best practices and give examples that you might find helpful.
  3. Take a class.  There are tons of professional development opportunities on the flipped classroom.  However, I've found that most of them are rather philosophical or pedagogical in nature, which provides a solid foundation, but I've found the need for practical training to help teachers make - it - happen as more valuable.  Stay tuned because I'm going to be launching something soon that will be right up your alley - be sure to grab the freebie below so you don't miss the announcement.

Mistake #5

My last recommendation seems a bit backwards, but stick with me on this one until the end.

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This one is a bit of a catch 22, and I'll explain why in a bit.  Let me start with this - flipping is NOT mutually exclusive to direct instruction in the classroom.  What I mean is that just because you give instruction in a video for most standards or concepts does not mean that all standards and concepts are best suited to be delivered that way.  Some are better for direct, face-to-face instruction.  And that is totally fine.  Don't make the mistake of thinking that once you flip, you can NEVER flip - false.  Use your best judgement and knowledge of your students.

Now, the catch is this.  You will have spent a ton of time building fantastic videos for your students.  You do not want to get into the habit of reteaching what is in your videos simply because your students didn't understand the material from the videos.  I'm not saying don't teach them.  I'm saying don't delegitimize your videos by reteaching in the classroom for most or all topics when the real solution is focusing on their note-taking skills.  Of course, meet the needs of your students, but do so in a way that guides them to what is there... the videos.  In most cases, students CAN learn from the videos, they just need to be reminded of the note-taking skills and strategies that allow them to do that best.  Focus there first with individual or small groups of students, rather than immediately throwing out the idea that they can't get it from the notes.

A great way you can help students along in this flipped-note-taking process is with something I've made just for you and your new flipped classroom.  It's something that I hope brings some focus for your students around the note-taking skills in a flipped classroom.  Go ahead and grab that freebie by clicking the image below.

The flipping journey is not an easy one, but it is SO doable, with such great benefits for both you and your students.  It's even more doable if we can learn from each other, and I hope that this post has been a resource you can add to your list of experiences to learn from.

Until next time...

P.S. If you really want to up your game in starting your flipped classroom, making sure you are starting on the right foot, don't miss the workbook I made to take you through starting your flipping journey.  Get that workbook here.

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