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What Is the Flipped Classroom?

Mar 17, 2020

A Student’s Story

She walks into class and other students look twice because she’s actually there, for the first time in weeks.  They give her curious looks, and try not to be rude, but she can’t help but notice how her presence throws off the balance of the room.  

She’s glad to be back, though, and she’s so thankful for the warm greeting her teacher gives her.  It helps her through the fact that the last month has been pretty touch and go for her with all kinds of doctor’s appointments and various medical issues.  It wasn’t her fault she was absent - sometimes life takes higher priority than even school.

She’s glad to be back, but being back means she’s got some major catch up to do.  Just after one day back at school she feels this immense pressure and weight on her chest  that eventually exacerbates her existing medical condition, compounding its effects both physically and in her education.

It’s just exhausting.

A Teacher’s Story

She is sustaining the pace of being able to plan her lessons and implement them for all 170 of her high school students, even given various IEP meetings, accommodations to make, and absent students here and there.  But in addition to all this, she has a chronically ill student that needs, essentially, everything she’s been doing in class packaged up and able to be delivered at home.

 It’s not the same.  Even with all the additional planning she does for this student, the experience with the content for this student is sub par (and not to mention exhausting for the teacher to maintain).

 The student returns and the teacher feels a sense of relief that she’s back, but then quickly sees the overwhelm her student is experiencing from being absent and getting so behind in the content.

 It’s just exhausting.

A Classroom’s Story

Thirty students sitting at their desks, anticipating the lesson their teacher has prepared.  A teacher who is ready, but feels the pressure of all their potential learning weighing on her shoulders.  It feels as though it all depends on her and her level of performance that day in class.

And, boy does she perform.  She is enthusiastic. She moves - a lot - all around the room.  She’s got discussion questions, videos to demonstrate concepts, and even different activities to try and hammer home these important concepts so students can master the standards.

At the end of the day, after she has been performing on stage for six class periods, she falls into her chair utterly exhausted - physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally spent.

Alas, it’s her plan bell, and she must get ready to do the same exact thing tomorrow.  Wow them. Engage them. Get them to invest a bit so that they understand the material and master the standards.  This classroom sure is student centered… centered only on what she can do for them.

It’s just exhausting.

What if we flipped the script?

A Student’s Flipped Script

A student walks into the classroom for the first time in about a month.  She’s been living with some medical issues and handling all the doctor’s appointments and other stresses that come along with it.

She reunites with her table with ease because she’s able to talk about the content they’ve been learning about as if she’s been there the whole time.  A classmate even mentions, “It’s like you weren’t even gone, but we have missed you.” She has seen the face and heard the voice of her teacher almost everyday - granted it was through a video, but that face and voice has been a constant for her through a difficult time, and there that happy face is today in the classroom ready and waiting for her return.

The naturally stressful time of returning to school after a long absence is tolerable in this class due to the teacher’s hard work in flipping it.  The workload is manageable and she sees she can be successful in this class even with her medical concerns that normally set her back.

This is manageable.

A Teacher’s Flipped Script

Likewise, her teacher was prepared for this unexpected, lengthy absence without having to do all that much extra prep work.  The flipped classroom just had to be packaged up a bit and presented to the student so that it was manageably accessible during her absence.  The content was there, all delivered by her teacher, and the inclass experience would be ready and waiting for her when she returned.

The teacher simply had to do periodic check ins, and was able to focus on the health of her student as the priority rather than the growing pile of standards the student would have to catch up on.

This is manageable.

A Classroom’s Flipped Script

A classroom of thirty students is buzzing with discussion… the good kind that’s focused on the task its teacher has put in front of them given the material they were accountable to obtain in reasonable and manageable ways.

They are not waiting for their teacher - they have the materials, and the gumption, to venture out and explore this material on their own, taking ownership and pride in their learning without continued prompting from their teacher.

The weight of the students’ learning is shared on the shoulders of the teacher and students alike, in a collaborative team setting where the students feel supported, yet challenged, and the teacher senses her value as these kids’ guide, not their beholder-of-all-knowledge.

This is not just manageable, it’s sustaining. It's accessible.  

And that is exactly my point here.  Amid all the craziness of this week with schools closing and social distancing due to the corona virus, making your classroom accessible changes everything, not just amid chaos, but in the normal every day workings of your classroom.

The Flipped Classroom is the Accessible Classroom

The flipped classroom is more than just a technique.  It is by no means a silver bullet - not at all, and I will NEVER argue that it is.  But, the stories I describe above were obtainable for me and countless other teachers because of the flipped classroom.

So what in the world is the flipped classroom?

Very technically speaking, it’s when what is traditionally done in class (lecture, notes, tasks that are at the bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy) are now done at home, and what is traditionally done at home (practice, project work, etc., tasks that are higher up Bloom’s taxonomy) are now done in the classroom where they have their teacher present and available (as well as their peers) for the harder events and tasks of learning.

With that being said, this does NOT mean you HAVE to assign your notes or lectures to be done at home.  I have said it before and will say it again… no two flipped classrooms will or should look the same.

It’s all about doing what’s best for your students and for you.  

Yes, that’s right, what’s best for you.  Don’t feel guilty for considering yourself when you decide what to do in your classroom - you’re the one running the ship, so your well-being and peak performance is just as important to plan for as anything else.  Leave that teacher guilt at the door - it ain’t welcome here.

I bet you’re still wondering, though, “Ok, but what IS it?  What does it look like?”

It’s when you have a video, one that I advocate that you make (and I’ll be sharing why that’s my stance in another future post), that you assign to students to watch.  When they watch it depends on the structure of your flipped classroom.

Let’s say you have students watch the video of your presentation, slides, notes, what-have-you, at home.  This way, they come to class with your lecture notes already done. They’ve gotten the content from YOU, and now you get to use class time to dive deeper into that content without worrying about the devil of diminishing TIME!

Have you ever had an activity that you knew would be so great to do with your students, you just knew they would get it from this lesson or activity, but you just didn’t have the time to implement it???

Cue the flipped classroom.

You now have time to do more than just DELIVER THE CONTENT.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go to college for four plus years and dream about my classroom and how amazing it would be, just to get a job where I stand up and deliver content and lecture all day.

Nope, that is not what this teacher dreamed of for her classroom.  And I would bet, even if you did dream of that, now you’re thinking “What was I thinking???” and are wanting to expand your repertoire a bit.

 Put a little more onus on the students while having an engaging and thriving classroom.

Even in this lengthy post that is designed to answer the question, what is the flipped classroom, the answer can’t be encompassed in one explanation or one blog post.  That’s why we’ll be going on a little adventure here at Teach On A Mission.  

Over the coming weeks - 12 to be exact - we’ll be exploring the ins and outs of the flipped classroom and how to make your within-four-walls classroom more accessible to your students.  What is it? Why would I do it? What’s it look like? How can I make it work? How does it change my classroom/students/career?  Where do I get started? And how can I make the work and the change less stressful?? 

Phew, that last one is a big one, and I’m so excited to dive into the answer, and all of these topics with you. 

Here’s the thing though, many teachers don’t know if flipping is right for them or if it’s worth the work.  And those are SUPER important points to make sure you are clear on before you even get started.  You don’t want to decide to flip your classroom, get half way in to making that change and then realize it’s not for you or your unique classroom. 

So that’s why I’ve made this valuable, step-by-step kit to help you get clear on IF the flipped classroom is right for you and to help you answer the question, what is the flipped classroom.

Click the image below and go grab that starter kit.

Until next time,


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