3 keys to a flipped classroom

"Flipped Classrooms?"

If you are planning to use the ‘flipped classroom’,

then you might want to think about a few key ideas.


Here, on Connected Principals, Jonathan Martin has written a couple posts on the Flipped Classroom. In his first one, Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”, he says:

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.

And in his second post, Advancing the Flip: Developments in Reverse Instruction, he says:

Flip your instruction so that students watch and listen to your lectures… for homework, and then use your precious class-time for what previously, often, was done in homework: tackling difficult problems, working in groups, researching, collaborating, crafting and creating. Classrooms become laboratories or studios, and yet content delivery is preserved.

Further down in this post, he quotes a few educators, a couple of whom say things very relevant to my post… both in support of my points below…

Leanne Kuluski: She says the kids tell her they love it; one of her pieces of advice is to embed into them funny parts, with jokes and silly accents and things which surprise and amuse her students.

And also contrary to my points below…

Dr. Scott Morris advises other teachers considering this approach to not sweat the details. ”The key is to not get too bent out of shape about production quality; just bang it out. It is more important to get it out there and online than that it be perfect.”


The flip side of flipping

First and foremost, this is just ONE teaching strategy. It’s a good one. It isn’t the only one. I don’t know any teachers that are both one trick ponies and also good teachers. Add this trick to your repertoire, don’t make it your repertoire. Secondly, consider how these points, and related questions, can help improve your flipped classroom.

I’m not saying ‘don’t use a flipped classroom’, I’m just saying, ‘be thoughtful about how you use it!’

3 keys to a flipped classroom

1. Homework

One of the biggest challenges I faced as a teacher was getting all my students to do their homework. If you expect that students are getting the lesson at home, but some students don’t do their homework and watch your ‘flipped’ lesson at home, well then what is your strategy for getting them up to speed?

The reality is that not all students complete their homework. Not all students understand a one-way lesson where they can’t raise their hands and ask questions. Not all students will find this approach engaging. Not all students will see this single strategy as meeting their learning needs.

How do you engage the students that struggle with the flipped classroom approach? How do you meaningfully meet these students’ needs?

2. Lesson Quality

There are two aspects I’ll examine here:

a) Depth vs Breadth

No student is going to accept a barrage of 1 hour long lessons that they have to view at home on a regular basis. How much do you give them to watch online, at home? How deep do you go? How do you balance what students need to know and how much you put in your videos and screen-casts?

Also, how much does your flipped classroom either teach/promote higher order thinking skills or provide the scaffolding for higher order thinking skills in your class after students have viewed the lesson at home? This point relates to the other aspect of lesson quality below.

b) How vs Why

Are students just being given direct instruction on how to follow an algorithm or are they learning why that algorithm works? Here is a small example to illustrate my point: I can give students the ‘rules’ for multiplying positive and negative integers, but teaching them ‘why’ is critical for their understanding of the mathematical concept.

Are you using the flipped classroom to teach both the how and the why? Which is better to be delivered at home, rather than in class? Which do you give the students first, (and is this true for all students or all concepts)?

3. Production Quality

Dr. Scott Morris advises, ”The key is to not get too bent out of shape about production quality; just bang it out. It is more important to get it out there and online than that it be perfect.”

I think that if you are going to produce 1,2 or even 5 of these kinds of lessons in a 13 week course, then Dr. Morris’ advice might be valuable. However, if this is something you are going to do week after week, if it is something that delivers a critical amount of the syllabus, then production quality becomes vitally important.

I also think it’s great that Leanne Kuluski gives advice to, “…embed… funny parts, with jokes and silly accents and things which surprise and amuse her students.”

I’m not saying we have to be entertaining but I am saying that we need to be engaging. Let’s face it, if a lesson in class isn’t engaging, you might still be able to hold a student’s attention by way of them being in your classroom. Producing a boring, uninteresting or bland lesson that you expect a student to watch at home, with a few hundred more distractions than a typical classroom… well, that seems pretty counterproductive to me.

We expect students to produce great work for us, we should do the same for them.

– – – – –

"Doulbe Standard ~ by WhatEdSaid on ToonDoo"


Previously, I’ve said three really simple concepts about teaching today: Teaching is different, harder and more rewarding!

A well executed flipped classroom is an excellent example of these three points! Providing a flipped classroom and getting the lesson delivery out of the way so that class time can be used to collaborate, and practice concepts, and problem solve, is actually a great teaching strategy to use. I think we just need to be careful not to overuse it. We need to consider that this approach may not work ideally for all learners and with all concepts. We need to think about depth vs breadth, and also go beyond teaching the algorithm void of analysis in our flipped classroom videos and screen-casts. We need to make our lessons engaging and present them in ways that capture our students’ interest and attention.

We need to be thoughtful about our use of a flipped classroom.

(Cross-posted on David Truss :: Pair-a-dimes for Your Thoughts)

52 comments for “3 keys to a flipped classroom

  1. April 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Hello David:

    Love the post– and appreciate the thoughtful response to my writing. Such an honor.

    I agree with just about everything you say: let’s be thoughtful about how we advance toward the flip, let’s consider the larger issue of the role, the responsibility, and the motivation for homework, and let’s use flipping to better balance breadth over depth, rather than extend breadth.

    About Dr. Morris’ point: I have two agreements and one quibble.

    I agree absolutely we should hold teachers and students to similar standards and expectations- -and I love the WhatEdsaid cartoon. Exactly on point.

    I agree that there is a really important place for high production quality in student work, and hence in teacher work. I have written about this often, and I find particular inspiration and education about this importance in Ron Berger’s outstanding (but under-appreciated) book, An Ethic of Excellence. I particularly agree that video-lessons need to be engaging, and I think and have written they ought to be succinct! What takes 45 minutes to lecture in class, I want to believe, should never be more than 15 or 20 minutes on video- at most. The beauty of video is it can be paused or replayed if it is delivered too rapidly.

    But. I also think that there is a competing value in combating the problem of perfectionism in both our students and our teachers. I think far too often students and teachers choose not to take risks, not to experiment, not to try new approaches, not to innovate, because they fear that they will make mistakes as they do, or they will appear to be somehow sloppy or error-prone or messy in the process.

    Edison invented the light-bulb by trying a hundred different approaches, and none of them demonstrated a high “production quality.” It was only after it worked that he then worked to improve the production quality.

    What I mean to take from Dr. Morris’ message, and as I review what you write David I realize we are not differing very sharply, is to get going with the project if you see its value, and then, as you do it, work to improve it every step along the way. I know he is doing so, and I am sure most teachers will do so. To my observation, there are far, far more educators who might wish to try this approach who are not doing so because they feel they won’t do it to a high level of quality at the start than there are educators doing so who are not trying all the time to improve their quality along the way. But you can’t carry out the work of improvement if you are doing it in the first place.

    Thanks again, David. Great stuff.

    • jalupraful
      February 14, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      Thanks a lot

  2. April 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Thanks for the clarification Jonathan,

    Please understand that I meant no disrespect to Dr. Morris… I just wanted to express that we can’t expect to be throwing out at-home lessons that aren’t thoughtful and engaging for students and expecting them to sit at home and watch… especially if we are doing so on a regular basis.

    Still you make an excellent point to consider. I hate hearing my own voice recorded and that could very well become a non-starter for many people considering doing a flipped class… and there are probably many teachers that would offer up different, but not necessarily sound reasons for not trying this: perfectionism being a key point.

    On the other side of the spectrum, when ‘tablet’ computers first came out, I met a group of Math teachers that were so excited that they could screencast their lessons and put them online for students. These 30+ minute lessons were done in front of the class and recorded to ‘go back to later’… really? Although this is not a flipped classroom approach, this was something that inspired my thoughts about the need for good production.

    I’m excited to start seeing teachers share their resources. Another teacher you quoted was Shelley Wright who said, “I love the idea that my students are now being taught by leading neurologists. Shouldn’t all of our biology students be able to say that?”
    And so, experts at all levels can help teach ‘our’ students… including other teachers who have provided good flipped classroom lectures/presentations.

    The issue of (both production & lesson) quality is probably one that will sort itself out when students chose to watch these lessons at home, or not… thus challenging the classroom teacher to improve what they do, or stop using this approach. Still, the point that you bring up is well worth noting. I’m reminded of the quote, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!’
    Be Brave!

  3. April 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Great post! It truly encompasses the art of flipping. I enjoyed re-reading through the linked posts and taking the time to truly determine how I’d like this to look on my campus. I will be meeting with a team of teachers this week to solidify some of their concerns on flipping within their classrooms. I will be using this post to inspire and shape their decisions as we develop a plan together.

    Thank you for posting such wise words!

  4. April 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I do a significant amount of speaking about flipteaching and workshops around the tablet/screencasting “tabcasting” necessary to make it happen. See: http://www.flipteaching.com for info and a copy of my doctoral dissertation that studies efficacy. Thanks fir your article.

  5. May 1, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Criticism /reflections on the use of the flipped classroom have their place of course but only in the same way as any other learning and teaching strategy should be equally critiqued. Advocates of the method should see the opportunity to answer as a way to refine and clarify their own pedagogy.

    Just a couple of personal reflections and student feedback on my own flipped Biology classroom.

    Video/ Screencast length needs to be in the sub 10 minute area the closer to 5 minutes the better.

    Worrying about your voice is a minor concern, the teacher needs to get over this personal insecurity, after all the students listen to you every day! Paradoxically when working well the flipped classroom reduces the amount of teacher voice.

    Student homework motivation. Part of my method (and others as I understand) is to make the video about low / mid order thinking. My students watch video, blog 5 key points (low) or pose 5 further questions (mid )about the video on their blogs. Total time 20 minutes tops (straight forward and readily achievable) which does not consume unnecessary time at home.

    On return to class (i already know who has done their homework from their blogs) I apply a 10 mark test of their homeLearning. This could be an online MCQ or an authentic application of theory (easy in Biology).

    The follow up is an exercise with high order application of the learning in a variety of instructional cycles. I / students have started making videos of class discussion or demos containing the higher order thinking. The students deploy all sort of digital tools to capture the events of the class and add this to their blogs as a record of events.

    By the way, in my classes all of this is on highly pressured examination courses such as iGCSE and IB Biology. The structure allows the students to access resources for multiple reinforcement of learning. Equally the time savings and preparation of the student for class have vastly increased to the time carrying out experimental Biology.

    The beauty of the flipped classroom however is the transformation from teacher monologue to student dialogue.



  6. May 1, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Kim and Ramsey, thank you for your comments!

    Kim, I’m so glad this post will spur some conversation, and I hope you blog about how things go at your school. Ramsey, thanks so much for sharing the link.

    John, I love your opening paragraph:
    “Criticism /reflections on the use of the flipped classroom have their place of course but only in the same way as any other learning and teaching strategy should be equally critiqued. Advocates of the method should see the opportunity to answer as a way to refine and clarify their own pedagogy.”

    …and then you proceeded to do just that! You add insight into the workings of a flipped classroom in a way that is only possible from someone ‘living’ it. Thanks for taking the time to be so thoughtful in your comment response. Excellent advice, and thoughtful reflection.

    You create homework that is expected to be done and then hold students accountable for it. I wonder how effective this would be in lower grades and not in IB? But that’s a question, not a statement.

    And finally, you start strong and you end strong: “The beauty of the flipped classroom however is the transformation from teacher monologue to student dialogue.”


  7. Helen Fitz
    May 2, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    What are some of the other successful ways you have presented the core material for students to access at home? I am at a conference that suggests voice thread slides. Are there are ways that are just as workable? I assume power point doesn’t work as well –simply because students are less engaged?

  8. May 29, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Hi David,

    Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you’d like to check for comments.

    Please feel free to post there when you have anything you’d like to share that you think is relevant to ESL/EFL teachers.



  9. June 27, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Hi Helen,
    I’m embarrassed about the delay responding (I’m going to email you as well). for most of May I had major internet issues and specifically email issues here in China… Email read on my laptop mail would not register as read online (and vice-versa), and not all mail was coming to my phone or to my laptop, and sometimes I could not access the online version. Basically I spent almost a month with email being my nemesis and a beast I just could not tame. I’m still not completely caught up.

    Now to your questions:

    First off, I have been out of the classroom for a few years now and am an administrator. I wrote this post based on observations, not actually running a flipped classroom and I apologize if that was not clear.

    Voice Thread is great if you are expecting feedback/input from the students… if you want critical responses and not just the content delivered. Powerpoint is a presentation tool not a homework/instruction tool. It would have to be a pretty amazing Powerpoint to have me choosing to look at it as homework!

    Video seems to be the Flip tool of choice by educational leaders such as Jonathan Bergmann http://mast.unco.edu/programs/vodcasting/ who was on a webinar panel with me two weeks back: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/flipped-classroom-webinar/ One of the key things I got from the seminar was the idea that the flipped classroom should still promote inquiry outside of the class and not just provide answers and algorithms for students. That will go a long way to promote engagement.

    In the wiki discussion after the seminar, I said this:

    I’m still hung up on the homework piece and wandering why we have to continue school so much into the evening?

    Some other key ideas:
    • We now have a growing number of educators replicating work! Creating a [good] video is a long process. We need to start pooling talents.

    • Great points made about the need to promote inquiry in videos rather than provide answers and algorithms.

    • It’s hard to really be creative with the approach when there is a need to be so content driven. We will probably see the real innovation happen on the fringes with courses where the course load isn’t overwhelming.

    • The ‘flip’ will be harder and harder to define as teachers (and students) use video to enhance classroom learning in new and creative ways. (And this is a good thing!)

    Question: How do we ‘flip’ professional development so that sessions are more focused on application rather than information?

    Hope this helps!
    PS- I should also say thanks for the FB link-love Ann! 🙂

    • Trevor
      August 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      “I’m still hung up on the homework piece and wandering why we have to continue school so much into the evening?”

      I believe that it is necessary when courses are required to cram so much content into each semester. Also, kids spend a good portion of class time off-task. If they choose not to work at school then they need to work at home.

  10. August 2, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Hi Trevor,
    I was actually hung up on this idea of homework as well, and a comment response to this post on my blog inspired me to write this: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/homework/
    Your concerns are likely to be addressed, but not necessarily answered there.
    Thanks for commenting,

  11. uksuperiorpapers
    May 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    This is assuming all students have technology at home and can use it. It also assumes students want to learn and will do their homework. I like the notion of on line lessons and maybe some independent application and discussion.

Leave a Reply

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