Flipped Classroom: Facilitating, not lecturing

When I first began teaching 18 years ago, someone advised me to get used to feeling like a broken record. I didn’t fully understand what that meant when she said it, but I realized pretty quickly what she was referring to.

Teaching the same mini lesson, vocabulary words, formulas and examples, five times a day, PLUS re-explaining it to students who don’t understand AND students who come in late to class. It got pretty annoying pretty quickly.

Plus, I felt like it took up so much time! Sometimes I would explain, re-explain, and clarify right until the bell rang! This wasn’t effective. I mean some kids were able to understand the first time and get through all the work, but some barely got started because they needed a little extra explanation. There had to be a better way.

I first dabbled with videos for a summer school course. Students were all on different pages and needed different topics re-taught so I figured we could use the videos in class to customize the lessons to each student. I found a great app with a virtual whiteboard that recorded my voice and recorded about 20 videos for that summer program; some on solving equations, some on systems of equations, others on quadratics. I assigned only what each student needed based on a pre-assessment. Students would watch the video then complete the work that went with that video. It worked quite well.

Flipping classrooms puts the teacher into the role of facilitator, and gives students more time and support to learn and practice.

That summer school experience made me think about how I might use videos in class year round. It had been so effective in summer school, could I expand that idea to all my classes all year long? I started doing some research and I discovered that what I was thinking of was called a “flipped classroom” and other people had apparently done it before. I purchased a few books and spent the rest of the summer researching how flipped classrooms work. Once September rolled around I was ready.

First I needed to ask my Principal if this methodology was ok with her. She had no idea what it was. Nobody I spoke to in my district knew what a flipped classroom was. But thankfully my Principal was open to try anything and trusted that I would only do what was best for our students. We had to get on the same page about what class looked like…there would be no more “mini-lesson” and she wouldn’t be able to evaluate me standing at the board or hear me lecture. She asked if she could watch my videos before she came to observe me, so I shared my video files and she was happy with that.

I re-wrote my syllabus and spent the first few weeks training my students on how this would work. My students had never heard of a flipped classroom either, but they liked the idea and quickly got with the program. They loved the fact that they would never have a packet of problems to complete for homework. They thought it was easy to watch a video for homework and take notes in their interactive notebooks. And that is the whole idea, really. Why send kids home with higher order work on Webb’s DOK wheel or Blooms Taxonomy? Instead, flipped classes ask kids to do work that doesn’t require teacher support at home, and then all of the scaffolded practices sets are done in class where teachers and classmates can support. Plus, students could pause the video to take notes or rewind sections until they understood.

And so that is how we proceeded. I “flipped” my lesson and homework (hence the name “flipped classroom”). This meant my students went home and watched a short video that was my mini-lesson for the next day. They would take notes, copy examples, vocabulary and formulas, and come to class with those notes and any clarifying questions.

I no longer stood at the board and lectured. There was a quick do now for 2 minutes, set-up of what we were doing for the day and that’s it. After that, I was a facilitator. I’d circulate and direct activities, differentiate work and scaffold that work. There was plenty of time to help kids who were stuck, and everyone was working on leveled work that was appropriate for them. Advanced learners moved on to new topics, and students who needed remediation could get it. Kids loved that they had nearly the entire period to practice and receive support when they didn’t understand. Class flew by! At least 95% of it is was spent with kids actively working on math, not staring out the window while a teacher tries in vain to disseminate information.

I’ve used this model with middle schoolers and high school students with the same success. I have taught 7th and 8th grade math, Algebra and Geometry using this method, and all my classes performed exceedingly well, especially when it came to state assessments. I guess all that extra class time spent practicing math with support of peers and teachers really paid off. My evaluations got even better. In fact, administrators were so excited by the flipped classroom, they brought other teachers and administrators into my room to learn about how it worked.

This time of year, so many teachers are thinking about practices to implement in the upcoming school year. Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series of blog posts about implementing Flipped Classrooms. Sign up for my blog so you’ll never miss a post! (It’s free!)

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