Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”

As the internet revolution continues to build and increasingly influence everything under the sun, so too it is going to have a massive impact on teaching and learning in K-12 schools.  Educators who don’t anticipate this change and work to ride the wave will be subsumed by it, I fear.

Quality instructional delivery for grades 5-12– lecturing, skill training, and modeling–  is especially vulnerable in our schools.  Increasingly on-line delivery is not just equal but superior, and often enormously less expensive, than what happens in our buildings.

To deliver true value in this environment demands we invert the norm, and one of the best developing models for this is called, I have learned recently, “reverse instruction.”  I believe I first heard the concept described at length at the NAIS Annual Conference last winter, when, if I recall correctly, a co-author of Disrupting Class, the excellent innovative educator Michael B. Horn, spoke about it.

I first learned of the term, reverse instruction,  right here at Connected Principals, in a comment John Sowash provided on my blog post about Khan Academy.  (I appreciate John’s teaching me greatly, and I am so happy the way Connected Principals is providing me so much learning!)   John then went on, after his comment on my post, to write a very fine piece on Reverse instruction on his own blog.

If kids can get the lectures, can get the content delivery and skill modeling as well (or often better) by computer lecture than in person, why do we have use precious class-time for this purpose?  Why do we, in the status quo,  replicate in person in our classrooms what is easily available elsewhere, the content delivery/skill modeling, and then have kids apply their learning to difficult problems at home, without us there to help?

Increasingly,  education’s value-add is and will be in the coaching and troubleshooting when students are applying their learning, and in challenging students to apply their thinking to hands-on learning by doing and teaming:  so let’s have them do these things in class, not sit and listen.   We know that collaboration is a critical skill set which can’t be developed easily either on-line or at home alone– let’s have students learn it with us in our classrooms.   Let every classroom be a collaborative problem solving laboratory or studio.

Dan Pink has recently also “discovered” this technique, and written about in a (not excellent) article in the Daily Telegraph: Flip Thinking.    Pink is writing about the exciting innovation in this teaching style by the excellent ed/tech blogger, Karl Fisch.

instead of lecturing about polynomials and exponents during class time – and then giving his young charges 30 problems to work on at home – Fisch has flipped the sequence. He’s recorded his lectures on video and uploaded them to YouTube for his 28 students to watch at home. Then, in class, he works with students as they solve problems and experiment with the concepts.  Lectures at night, “homework” during the day. Call it the Fisch Flip.

“When you do a standard lecture in class, and then the students go home to do the problems, some of them are lost. They spend a whole lot of time being frustrated and, even worse, doing it wrong,” Fisch told me.

“The idea behind the videos was to flip it. The students can watch it outside of class, pause it, replay it, view it several times, even mute me if they want,” says Fisch, who emphasises that he didn’t come up with the idea, nor is he the only teacher in the country giving it a try. “That allows us to work on what we used to do as homework when I’m they’re to help students and they’re there to help each other.”

When he puts it like that, you want to slap your forehead at the idea’s inexorable logic. You wonder why more schools aren’t doing it this way.

As Pink and Fisch point out, Fisch is not the originator of this concept, and others deserve important credit.    If you are interested, be sure to read the comments at the bottom of the article.

Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams, in Colorado, have worked hard to develop many of these techniques; the following is a set of their resources on-line.

Our Webpage:
Article About us:
Video about us (news station):
Self Made Video for our Students:

John Sowash’s piece, referenced above, has a “lessons learned” discussion is worth its weight in gold as teachers begin to experiment with this technique.  I will just quote a couple of them, but read the whole post:

  • Hold students accountable to the lectures. I did a credit/no credit lecture notes check at the beginning of each class period to ensure that students were actually viewing the lectures. Another idea (which I haven’t tried yet) is including a secret word or number somewhere in the lecture and asking students to write it down in class the following day. They only way to find out what the number/word is, is to watch/listen to the lecture.
  • Use Google Docs! If you’re like me, you are always updating, tweaking, and improving your lectures and presentations. Making sure that the most updated copy is available for students can become a nightmare. If you use Google Docs to share all of your presentations and handouts, when you make a change, all of the public copies are automatically updated throughout the web. What a time saver!
  • Now that you’ve freed up class time, you need to use it productively. This can be a challenge. You’ve spent all of your time and energy developing your lectures and now you don’t have the time/energy to develop new, innovative, interactive classroom activities. This is where I need to improve. It takes a while!

Adam Taylor is another teacher working on this practice of reverse learning, and has a nice post about his adventures with it: The Revolution of Reverse Learning.

So when students walked into my biology and honors biology class last week I told them they would be watching the lecture at home online. “So I have to be bored at home” one said. “Yep” I responded, “but it is only for 15 min.”

This process allows students to get a basic understanding of a concept, come to class, and use the information with hands-on activities, and projects.

At my own school, some of our fine teachers are venturing forth.   Our Chemistry teacher has posted all his lectures as podcasts to his website, and he is having his students begin to shift to taking his lesson delivery that way, freeing up more time for experimentation.  One of our math teachers is experimenting with this in both calculus and pre-calc.   I intend to write up more about their experiments, experiences, and lessons learned in the months to come.

Take the plunge, do the flip, and reposition learning in your school in a way that will continue to offer real value as the on-line learning revolution unfolds.

71 comments for “Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”

  1. November 8, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Unlike the post by another blogger, your post was very well researched. = ) Thanks for the recommendation. For those who use twitter, follow #revlearn for an ongoing conversation about reverse instruction.

    • December 3, 2010 at 12:52 pm

      At the college level reverse teaching received a lot of attention last year with a chronicle of higher ed article about a Dean at SMU who calls it “Teaching Naked”. I use this method for college-level physics (from intro through advanced courses) and I find all kinds of benefits. One of the main ones is the occasional tangential question. It used to be that when a student asked a question slightly off topic my first reaction would be to look at the clock (to determine if there was time to answer). Now I just answer, pursuing the passion of the students, because I know I’ve already covered the content.

      Thanks for the great post!

    • December 3, 2010 at 2:06 pm

      Of course it also makes sense to have students read a book at home and then have the students discuss it in class, but increasingly teachers are facing the problem of students not wanting to “learn” outside of class and being incapable of reading any substantial amount of literature. I think that there is an extra motivational force that is required for students to initiate a learning task outside the class in the evening. I suspect that if a student has been introduced to a concept already, they have an easier time “completing” it or putting the finishing touches on it. I even find this myself. It takes a great deal of concentration for me to learn a new piece for the classical guitar, but I can easily pick up the guitar and practice pieces to which I have already been introduced.
      The strength of the social medium presented by a class situation, is that a student experiences social pressures to perform in the class – there is the fear of not doing what others are doing, the authority of the teacher – and there is the stimulating and satisfying prospect of direct and immediate interaction.
      I think that the premise behind so many of these articles that argue for having students learn concepts at home and have them apply and discuss them in class, is that classes consist of one-way lectures. I would be horrified to think that that is all that is being offered in the schools of our nation.
      I think the real problem faced by the world of education is the one set out in the recent NY Times article on multi-tasking students. I find that the home-life of students is a far cry from the image of a scholar’s cell, where the mind contemplates the text. In a student’s life there is no haven where the student can focus entirely on one thing. I still remember how difficult that was for me as a student at university pre-internet. On one occasion I took over a whole seminar room to myself so I could pace back and forth and write notes on the blackboard as ideas came to me. Where will today’s students find that kind of thinking space?

      • December 3, 2010 at 2:27 pm

        To add another note: we just got a book contract with ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) to write a book on the flipped classroom. We will be sharing some excerpts on my blog:

      • December 4, 2010 at 3:00 am

        Thanks for your thoughtful comments, David.

        Responding to your third paragraph first, I believe that those of who advocate for “reverse instruction” or the flipped classroom believe that there still is a lot of lecturing that happens in high school classrooms, and I know I have observed this first-hand. In Fall 2008 I spent 21 days visiting 21 high schools, each for the entire school day, shadowing students, and I saw a lot of lecturing classrooms. Tony Wagner’s book, Global Achievement Gap, also documents his observations of lecturing at the majority of high schools he visited.

        Now returning to your first paragraph, I do think you are right that at present, many lecturing teachers assign textbook reading to do at home before coming into class, but students often don’t do that reading. I’d suggest, thought, that reverse instruction has two perhaps small but still significant differences. First, students have little motivation to read a textbook chapter, the content of which will then, the next day in class, be repeated by a lecturing teacher. Second, video vodcasting is inherently more engaging to a digital and visually stimulated generation than a textbook chapter, and often can be rendered far more succinctly: most khan academy lectures which cover a textbook “lesson” do so in only 5-10 minutes.

        It may be too that students can have a different accountability for their home-work if when they come to class, instead of sitting and note-taking to a lecture, they are put on the spot to apply their learning under the close attention of a teacher.


        • Alan
          January 23, 2011 at 3:11 am

          When you say that you visited the “lecturing” classrooms, the lectures were entirely one-way with no interaction from students? In a direct sense, students interacting with a classroom lecturer shows an active application of learning. Conversely, if you have, let’s say, 25 students in your classroom who are doing some follow-up activity or extension of home-learning, can we really say they are under “close attention” of the teacher?

        • Tap
          October 6, 2012 at 8:59 am

          Sounds like a great idea. What would be a good way to implement this for students that don’t have internet access?

  2. March 16, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Check out our new blog post: The State of the Flipped Class:

  3. March 31, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    I just want to say I am very new to blogs and honestly savored you’re web-site. Almost certainly I’m going to bookmark your blog . You amazingly come with terrific well written articles. Thanks a bunch for sharing with us your web page.

  4. April 24, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I love the logic behind this. As a Language Arts teacher, I have been trying this for years under the guise of “read the novel, we’ll discuss it in class.” Over the past 14 years that has become increasingly less successful and I have shifted my technique a good deal. I love the idea of incorporating technology and feel your Flipped Classroom gives purpose to providing our students with laptops (or, as they become more affordable and capable of word-processing, iPads!).

    My suggestion for David (above) and others as to what to do if the student doesn’t do the homework is rather simple- that student misses out on the hands-on application of the lecture. Instead of immediately becoming involved in the discussion and activity, the student who did not, or perhaps could not, watch the online lectures spends activity time watching them in class, then moves into the activity once the homework is complete. I often suggest to my students that they use the public library when they have homework but no computer.

    Again, I love this idea. I love the fact you have explained HOW to do it rather than just what ought to be done. I am excited to see the reoccurring idea of 10-15 minute mini-lectures which I first discovered when reading Nancy Atwell. I am now going back to follow some of your links and to post a link this for my friends and colleagues to read.

  5. Pingback: J Simens
  6. mat
    September 28, 2012 at 9:58 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *