To Flip or Not to Flip is Not the Question

Over the last few years there’s been a lot of talk out there about flipping classrooms. Of course, the main idea is to give you more time with students when they need it the most: when they are working on their “homework”, when they are applying their learning, when the deeper understanding is taking place.

I’ve read articles that claim the flip does not work because students will be lost without instruction. Just asking students to watch a video will not work. I’ve also read the opposite, that teachers need to spend 100% of class time helping students think, not teaching content. This camp would advocate that if it can be Googled or viewed on a website or video you should not be covering it in class.

There are a lot of factors at play that make flipped instruction work differently for different situations. I would even argue that it works best in certain subject areas. And I will admit there is power in the flip. But I think the real power of this whole flipping idea comes when teachers really reflect on their practice and consider how their students learn and how to best engage them.

If you teach the humanities for example there is a lot of benefit to using flipped instruction. Sure there are endless facts and dates that are just begging to be memorized (that can happen during the flip time), but isn’t the main event, the big idea, to learn about people? And what better way to do that than through interacting in class, debating and discussing ideas, the sort of thing that is tough to do with standard flipped instruction. On the other hand, courses like math or other courses that have that “exact answer” nature may be better suited to flipped instruction.

The most skilled teacher will certainly flip parts of their course, knowing that students can learn certain content on their own and do the real processing and consolidating in class. They will also recognize that there are times when their classes need some direct instruction.

This is absolutely true in the classroom of life, where I have three students (my own kids in grades 1, 3 and 5). Just the other day my son and I were stacking wood. Winter is coming here in Norway and we heat our home mostly with a wood stove. My son was very excited about the gigunda pile of wood that was dumped into our yard. As he and I started working on the stacking process I noticed he had no idea how to stack wood in such a way that it would stay put against the wall. After a minute or two of watching me my 6 year old quickly figured out how the wood fit best. There was simple task to be learned, the sort of thing we can flip as a teacher.

A day or two later I was helping my 3rd grader with spelling. Truly this is the sort of thing kids can learn on their own. It’s classic “drill and kill”. Especially in the English language I find myself saying to my daughter, “I don’t know why it is spelled that way, it just is.” This is the perfect opportunity for flipped instruction. There’s not a lot of consolidation and processing needed here, just get the facts in your head, right?

My 5th grader, on the other hand, is at the age where she is starting to think more deeply about friendships, why people do what they do, etc. Our talks tend to be more of a learning conversation. For example she has been working lately on a persuasive essay about school uniforms. We’ve both been enjoying the conversations that have been sparked at home since this project was assigned. Something as simple as the persuasive essay needs a conversation and cannot be taught completely through reverse instruction. To me, the perfect hybrid of Flipped and Traditional teaching would be to have my daughter watch a persuasive video (or ask a parent to advocate for one side of the argument during dinner) You get the benefit of the flipped classroom but the student is not being asked to “learn it all on their own” via videos.

So where are we heading now? What are we to do? I’m advocating for flipping as needed and thinking carefully about what content we flip. I maintain that the best teachers know what needs to be done in class and what might be possible at home. The strongest benefit is that all of this flipped classroom talk is making teachers think again about their approach to teaching and learning. Honestly that may be the most powerful benefit behind most of the trends we see popping in and out of education. They make teachers reflect on their practice!


Works Cited

“The Flipped, Flipped Classroom.” Stanford Daily. Web. 01 Dec. 2014. <;.

“We Need More EdTech, But Less Technology In The Classroom.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine. Web. 01 Dec. 2014. <;.


One thought on “To Flip or Not to Flip is Not the Question

  1. Hi David! How are you? I always enjoy reading your blogs and learning your thoughts on new technology trends. After all, you’re a tech’ expert!
    I agree that with any digital tool that we want to use in class, we should think carefully about its purpose : what will it allow me to do that I can’t do without and how will it improve my students’ learning? I am always trying to find creative and efficient ways to teach French grammar but there will always be the students who get it and the ones who don’t. If I can find or create appealing grammar videos that students can view and review at their own time and space, it might help them to grasp those grammatical concepts. It will then give us more time in class to use the language in communicative activities. That’s one way I would try to flip.

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