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5 Obstacles of the Flipped Classroom and How to Overcome Them

May 20, 2019

"I don't learn this way," a student said in the second week or so of the new school year.  At that point students had taken notes from about two videos in our first unit of the course, and this was her (as it was for most students) first flipped classroom experience.

"I just don't learn this way, you know, from a video," she repeated. 

In an attempt to be patient and empathetic I tried reiterate what I was hearing her say, and then to be honest with her in a respectful manner.  So I said, "I hear you saying that taking notes from a video is new for you, and that you're used to taking notes from a teacher standing at the front of the room, is that right?  Well, let me ask you this... when you want to learn something new that you see someone do on social media, for instance you LOVE someone's new look and how she put on eyeliner.  What do you do to learn how to do it the exact same way?"

"I look it up on Youtube. [long pause]  O, I get it."

She understood in that moment that in this day and age, information is available to ANYONE with an internet connection - all you have to do is look.  We don't need a teacher telling us facts or what to learn.  We can just look it up.

In that moment she saw both the value of being able to "just look it up," "it" being the important information we are learning in this class, and the value of being able to do so whenever she wanted and take as long as she needed.

This student was not the only one to express hesitancy, and in some cases even frustration over the fact that our social studies course was going to be entirely flipped.  But I knew this resistance would be there; I was ready for it.

And I want you to be ready for it as well.

So let's dive right in...

5 Obstacles of the Flipped Classroom and How to Overcome Them 

Foreseeing confusion, challenges, and obstacles is what we do as teachers; we foresee all of these and try to combat them as they hit, rather than after. Otherwise we'd be drowning in additional problems.

The case should be the same with any procedural or structural change in your classroom, particularly in the flipped classroom.  But if you've never flipped before you don't or can't truly know some of the obstacles you'll be facing.  And that's where I come in.  I want to use my ten years of experience in flipping to help you avoid some of these obstacles proactively so that your flipped classroom can thrive from the start.

The Students

So what's the number one obstacle to the flipped classroom - of course, your students.  Wow, that sounds awful, but seriously, if they were robots our job wouldn’t be what it is, but it would be a whole lot simpler. But there’s no sense day dreaming there.  Having impact in students lives, baggage and all, is what we live for as teachers.  But that doesn't make them any less of an obstacle to having that impact.

Your students COULD potentially be obstacles in a few ways, and I try to discuss each of them here- limited access, not doing homework, and straight up resistance.  But the first two, really, are their own obstacles so I give them their own subheading and everything further down.

Now, it's kind of a mind block to think of our students as obstacles, so let's remove that right now, and just talk about how our students have specific needs, and in order for our flipped classroom to work, we've got to be proactive in meeting those needs.  Of course we do... that's what we do best.  So, please, join me.

Resisting flipping altogether (rare but totally possible) - this is the "But I don't learn this way" resistance I tell about in the story that leads off this post.  Or it's when students complete the notes but do so with little effort or processing, which then translates to poor performance on tests and kids then wonder "Why am I doing so bad on tests???"

You should most definitely prepare for this by first committing to yourself that you are not going to just throw in the towel.  I've done that before and I totally regret it.  Don't just give up after a month of flipping - that's giving in to students who, most of them, are just resisting something new, and if you are persistent, most if not all of them will come around to see the value in flipped lessons.

So first, you've got to commit.  Second, you've got to be persistent not just in assigning video notes, but in providing support to students to help them take quality notes.  This is what will help them see the value in the notes and then be more likely to do them without resistance and of the quality they should be.  A good way to combat this is by teaching them how to take the notes in the first place which I discuss in my mistakes post under mistake #1 here.

The Parents

Students won't be the only people who become obstacles in your flipped classroom - their parents might too.  Luckily, this is also one where I've been-there-done-that, so I hope what I have to share is helpful for you.

Get out in front of this potential obstacle with parent buy-in.  P.S. I explain in depth this idea of Parent buy-in in my new online course, Flipped Classroom Formula (be sure to get the starter kit and be in for that course launch that's happening RIGHT NOW) - to learn more and to make sure you don't miss the big announcement, get your Ultimate Flipped Classroom Starter Kit here

Parent buy-in starts at the beginning of the year, right along with teaching students how to take notes. By sending home information right at the start of the year that shows the basics and possibilities of the flipped classroom, parents will see the benefits.  They'll need and want to know how their child will be impacted in their daily lives (what they need to do at home and what they'll need in order to do that), but also how it benefits their child... emphasize these benefits!

Then, keep the avenues of communication open, including communicating with parents when a student is not doing their notes.  Streamline that process so that it's not too much of a burden to you to make it worth it's time and effort.

Homework

it’s outside of your classroom and therefore less in your control of being accomplished and that is a bigger deal in the Flipped Classroom. In the traditional classroom if the student didn’t do their homework which was probably independent practice of the standard, it definitely impacted their performance but at minimum they were still introduced to the topic in class the day before- you can pray that something stuck.

But in the Flipped classroom the homework is more imperative, having a greater impact when they don't do it.  Therefore, homework in the flipped classroom is a must - it can not be optional, and, my friends, simply assigning it a grade or point value makes that homework optional.

There WILL be students who don't do the homework.  You have to have a process in place for the students who don't do take the notes if you're assigning them as homework, and that process has to make the homework as "mandatory" in a way that doesn't allow them to not do it.

I am ALL ABOUT being proactive with any potential problem.  The best way to head these obstacles off is by making structural decisions about your class before school even starts.  One structural decision that some of you will need to make is having students watch the videos in your class.

SAY WHAAAAT?  Then what's the point of flipping??... I'm so glad you asked.  Most folks would call that blended learning - whatever you want to call it, you're still making a video of yourself "lecturing" your students, but that then frees up YOU in the classroom to have conversations with individual students, prep the activity they are doing after watching the videos, or, I don't know, answer an email, call home for a student or two, etc.  The point is, there's still HUGE impact in flipping where students watch the video in class.

A different structural decision is coming up with the process students follow when they don't watch the video you assigned to be done at home - and this is where you set up the whole "homework is not optional in my class" thing.  I recommend having a station or "center" - a designated area in your classroom - where a student goes when they haven't watched the video on time so they can do just that... watch the video!  The idea behind this being that you've got (most days, maybe not everyday, but most days nonetheless) a great activity or lesson planned that they can't really participate in anyway because they've missed the videos.  After a student has to sit in another spot and watch the video once or twice, MOST students will recognize, "Man, that was neat and I missed it. I should just do the notes."  If they don't have that internal conversation with themselves, there are bigger issues going on that just not doing homework.  That's where you approach the scenario individually, meaning you approach the student chatting with them about what's going on and how best to get their buy in for watching the notes on time.

Here's something else to consider though, there's got to be an immediate reprimand (I don't like that word used here, but it's what I've got for now... It's May) for both not having the notes on time, AND not doing the in-class activity on time.  It's a double whammy...

Enter, my binder system.  Now, you don't have to do this binder system, but it's worth hearing about so you see how missing one set of videos is a "double whammy" as I describe above.  This is another one that I teach extensively in my online course (there's an upcoming webinar to learn more about this and other "Behind-the-Scenes Insights" to the flipped classroom - get signed up here).  Essentially, students have one three-ring binder just for our class with organized tabs and all, where they keep their materials.  As they walk in each day, I check each and every one of their notes, stamping them in the top right corner if they meet my expectations as clearly laid out in a rubric and in a start-of-the-year lesson.

If students don't do a set of notes on time, they a) don't get their stamp on the notes, b) have to go over and do the notes on their own anyway, and c) either do the in-class activity on their own or don't get the stamp for that either.  Each stamp being worth a point in their binder check at the end of the unit.  The missing points really start to pile up.  Plus a phone call home never hurt.  

Your Classroom

The whole homework thing can totally be proactively addressed with solid systems in place.  However, one that's a bit more physical and visible is your classroom, that is, the rows of desks and other furniture you have in your room and how it can really hamper the success of your flipped classroom.

In the traditional classroom, who's doing most if not all of the talking (at least one that's dominated by lecture... I'm not saying all traditional classroom are dominated by lecture, but if you're here, it's because you're sick of lecture with mediocre results)????  YOU ARE!  In the flipped classroom, if you're still the only or the main one doing all the talking, you aren't doing it right, and you're going to be even more exhausted because of all the work you've put in upfront just to continue with the workload and pace you had before flipping... that is NOT WHY WE FLIP.  So, make sure to do some reflecting on that aspect.

Ok, back to the point.  In the flipped classroom, the main voices that should be heard are that of your students.  And if they are sitting in such a fashion that has them staring at the back of another kid's head without much flexibility to move and chat, then your room setup is not conducive to the classroom environment you want.

"Ok, I get that Mandy, but not everyone can go to their principal and just buy whatever tables/chairs/fancy desks they want."  You're totally right - keep that organized skepticism coming... it means you're paying attention to life :)

Here's the thing, you don't have to have all the fancy things - tables, wheely chairs, etc.  The basics that I recommend are: 1) A center of some sort where students go to take their notes when they don't have them on time (note- don't make this on the comfy chair in your room, because then it's a reward), and 2) group the desks you already have into tables.  Get some old tennis balls from the PE teacher in your building (or get some from the used sporting goods store), take a box cutter to them to make slits and put them on the legs so they are easy to move around.

There are tons of cute things you can do (thank you Pinterest) to mark the teams of tables by number or name, or just simply tape X's on the floor.  All in all though, rows really aren't great in the flipped classroom.

Access 

I saved the biggest obstacle for last.  Phew, this is a big one.  It is one that I feel passionate about because as soon as we as educators (especially public educators) rely to heavily on devices and the internet, we are excluding students who don't have access from having equal education opportunities as the next student who does have access.  I recognize that very large problem straight out, and do not underplay it's impact.

I don't believe, though, that limited access for a population of students kills or depletes the value of the flipped classroom.  The big takeaway I want you to glean from this post, especially if you teach students who have less than optimal access to devices or wifi is that it can still be done.  BUT, and this is a big BUT (ha, you like that?  I like big But's because it means we are thinking, brainstorming, and planning which is all great for the kids), you WILL NOT be successful with implementing your flipped classroom if you don't address this PROACTIVELY.

You'll need to spend some time here leveling the playing field for your students.  What I mean by that is that it will take some work on your part upfront to gain access in some way for your students.  This doesn't mean making a $100k project on DonorsChoose.org, but it does mean bringing in people to help you NOW - think administrators, colleagues who have done it before, your education foundation, your PTO, whoever you can think of that might have connections that will help you get devices in your room.  This may mean making a DonorsChoose.org project for some devices (but it doesn't have to be for $100,000).

If that's all so entirely stressful for you, I get it.  Let's take a step back.  Your students have access somewhere.  It could be just in their room, it could be in your media center or library.  But they've got it.  So help those individual students (because I'm betting most of your students have access, and you're thinking of just a few who don't) plan and work out when they are going to watch your videos.  It could mean coming in to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays 20 minutes early to watch the videos in your room - that can be something that you and the individual student set up in the first couple weeks of school.  Now you're already making a connection with that kid and they see your classroom as somewhere to meet their needs.

Phew - I'm feeling like this post is rather negative because we're thinking about all the ways all this work we are putting in to flip our classrooms could fail.  Ugh.

NOPE!

Check that... it's what I like to call Flipped Classroom Forward Thinking.  You are simply thinking into the future about how things could go wrong, how individual students could get tripped up by this big decision you're making to flip your classroom.  And that my friend does not make you negative, it's what makes you a good teacher.

Alright, so I want to hear from you.  I want you to post in the comments below what you think your biggest obstacle will be to the flipped classroom.  I will also be posting on social all about this blog post - please comment there, what is your biggest obstacle in flipping your classroom going to be?

Until next time,

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