Flipping the Classroom – What does it really mean?

Yesterday, one of our Foreign Language Program Assistants sent me a link for an Italian online scholastic journal that discussed the flipped classroom and its many benefits.  Then today, while meeting with a colleague in the Conservatory, we briefly discussed how the flipped model is really the only way to teach without constantly feeling like you’re running out of time to cover everything – although is there really ever enough time to explore everything you want to with your students?!  Funnily enough, however, this colleague wasn’t 100% sure he knew what it means to flip the classroom.  When I explained, he realized he’d been teaching that way for years.  Most language instructors teach in a flipped model as well – whether we realize it or not!  But what does it really mean to flip your classroom?  And is it really worth it?

Two Chicago area high school science teachers were looking for a way to avoid reteaching their lessons to absent students and discovered a tool that would allow them to lay recorded lectures overtop of a powerpoint slideshow and be easily uploaded online as video podcasts.  The tool allowed students who missed class to see the actual lectures from their teachers, but also allowed students who had been present during the live lecture to revisit the lesson before a test, or just to clarify a difficult lesson.

Eventually, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, the founders of this pedagogical approach, wondered why they weren’t always recording their lectures and using their valuable class time for engaging, communicative, student-centered activities.  And so, the idea of the Flipped Model (a name which would come later) was born.

Check out this video clip from 2007 in which the founders were interviewed.

Redefinition of the teacher’s role – The teacher becomes a guide and facilitator.  Students will have the opportunity to help shape the lesson and drive the trajectory of their learning.  Activities will help students explore the concepts you presented to them outside of class you will work with them to deepen their understanding rather than talk at them.

Tailored learning – Perhaps the biggest struggle for teachers is finding a way to reach each student, meeting them at their level, and helping them build proficiency.  In this model, students who need more time with the the basic concepts and mechanical exercises have the time to spent on it, while students who may absorb new concepts more quickly can push themselves to use intuition and deductive reasoning skills to expand upon their understanding.

A good investment – When first moving to a flipped model, there is an initial investment that may feel overwhelming.  First of all, don’t feel that you must change everything about everything all at once; start small and make changes as you go.  Know also that resources abound!  The internet hosts thousands of Open Access materials to get you started – lean in to your professional community for you.  Remember too that once you’ve built your course, you will be able to tweak and tailor your materials each time you return to reteach it.

Easy and accessible to students – The availability of technology makes it easy for students to access your course materials.  They can be walking to class from their dorm rooms and rewatching/re-listening to last night’s lesson.  Most tools offer both desktop and mobile versions and are therefore accessible to students 24/7.  Here at Oberlin, Blackboard offers an array of tools to help but iTunesU, WordPress blogs, and personal websites offer many options as well.

Deeper connection with students – This model also allows each instructor to get to know her students better. One of the things I always remind new language instructors is that the elementary language classes are intimate spaces.  People are learning to communicate; we talk about families, friends, most and least favorite things, fears, triumphs, etc.  Oftentimes, we as language teachers get to see friendships (and sometimes even romances) formed – it is one of the many privileges bestowed upon us as instructors in higher education.  By engaging in the flipped model for learning, we allow ourselves to really get to know our students.  In the small college and liberal arts settings, it’s so important to establish strong relationships with students – how can we do that if we’re lecturing at them and not allowing them the chance to show us who they are and what they can do?

Build students’ confidence and curiosity – How many times do you remember being at home, struggling with homework, with no one to turn to for help?  With the flipped approach, students are able to address their questions in real time with the instructor and in doing so, are able to reduce feelings of inadequacy.  By building confidence in our students we also help them increase their interest in our subjects, promote exploration and experimentation.  In language classes, this is where students move from memorizing language to navigating language.  Although students will still make mistakes, they will be bold in their exploration.

Don’t worry – you don’t have to record yourself!  At a basic level, asking students to pre-read materials and come prepared with questions is a great first step.  You can work up to recording yourself (or curating appropriate Open Access materials) as you become more comfortable with the model.  The idea of the flipped classroom is that the students have been familiarized with the new material before coming to class and that your time together can be spent engaging in activities that will help demonstrate, make use of, navigate the new concepts.

For language teachers, this helps us to stay in the target language and help students navigate real-world type situations rather than spending 30 minutes listening to grammar explanations and then only having time for a few mechanical activities before the lesson ends.

If you would like to have a consultation on flipping your classroom, please stop in or make an appointment with the CILC.  We are happy to help you get started, walk you through the steps, propose some appropriate technological tools, and encourage you on your way!


Jon Bergmann’s website and blog

Dan Pink The Telegraph article from 2010

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching “Flipping the Classroom” teaching guide

University of Washington Center for Teaching and Learning “Flipping the classroom” resource page

Economist article from 2011


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