To flip or not to flip….does reverse instruction work?

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I have to admit that I was sold on the idea at first explanation. I even wondered why nobody had thought of this concept before? It is so simple. Instead of lecturing during class time and assigning complicated homework that students struggle completing on their own, have the students listen to the lecture (in the form of a homemade video) at night and come ready to partake in discussion/activity/challenging problems on the information when they arrive to class. This notion is known as the flipped classroom or better known as reverse instruction. The idea started with two teachers (Johnathan Bergman and Aaron Sams) in the tiny town of Woodland Park, Colorado. It began unexpectantly, as with many great things, with a teacher simply starting to video his lectures through the use of new technology (Vodcasting) in order for students who miss class to watch and keep up with the work on their own. Word got around, and more and more students began asking for the videos for enhanced explanation of a newly introduced concept. And voila, there you have the flipped classroom. For a more in-depth visual explanation of the flipped classroom, check out the  flipped classroom infographic. Johnathan Bergman also has his own blog with up to date information on how to flip a classroom for those interested.

Even after further research into the idea, I couldn’t see why everyone wasn’t introducing this model right away. There were soo many positive outcomes to this:

  • Less class time spent on initial “yack time” by the teacher
  • Ability to begin class delving into application of concepts and not introduction of concepts
  • Ability to spend more time with those students in class who struggle

As a Special Education teacher the idea of reverse instruction just made sense. Who wouldn’t want to set up more class time for creative exploration of an idea, possibly allowing for more inquiry based instruction, or allow students more cooperative learning time? As for the concept of providing the content teacher with more time to differentiate and help those who need it, that is basically what I advocate for daily. When I took a look at the article from the Daily Riff “The Flipped Class: What it is and What it is not” all of the benefits easily seemed to outweigh the shortcomings, and it was clearly identified what is and was is not reverse instruction. It seems as though many teachers are afraid that videos will replace teachers. That is not what reverse instruction is about. In fact, the overarching majority of testimonials of those who have indeed “flipped the classroom” have been positive, as shared by those on the Flipped Network. There is even a pile of research on the Flipped Learning Blog that has been done, supporting the practice. So why do I still feel hesitant? Not resistant mind you, but hesitant.


Part of the reason I want to awkwardly shy away from flipping my own class is for selfish reasons, and I openly admit this. I believe that it will take quite a bit of time creating Vodcasts of my “lectures”. Also, honestly I just shy away from the camera and feel that videos or recordings of myself to be abhorrent. I am not a bad teacher and my students do learn and are actively engaged. I just don’t like the limelight (or listening to my slightly valley girl voice intonations). I do of course realize that it is not about me, but what is best for the students, but this is where my issue stems from. I am all about the flipped classroom concept. It is simplistic and beautiful. But I think we are forgetting some fundamental basics about what good teaching is all about. Honestly, any teacher that gets up at the front of the classroom and lectures for more than 10 minutes at a time (or even worse most of the block), and then straight away asks students to answer questions or solve problems, isn’t necessarily following best practice. These are not effective teaching strategies. Effective teachers are those who engage the learners AND are able to incorporate new content and new academic terms without lecturing in front of the class. I think what the flipped classroom has done has simply supported what best practice teaching should be all about anyways.

I imagine that many of my SPED students may watch an online 10 minute vodcast of new material and still have nearly no retention or solid understanding of what it was about the next day in class. What the flipped classroom has done has either prefaced new content with the basics, or supported content with additional knowledge. There are many ways of doing this. As a Special Education teacher, it is crucial that instruction be differentiated and given in multiple modalities to support a wide array of learning styles ( and multiple intelligences). The visual and perhaps auditory learners may do very well with watching a video the night before, and then ideally the kinesthetic learner can then “do” an activity in class the following day that relates. I believe that the flipped classroom is a good model, hell even a great model, but let’s not get stuck in any one model. Yes, the old “sage on stage” model should be obsolete, but I hesitate to think that every student will now go home and watch their teachers lecturing at home, to come back to class and do the same ole’ thing. Flipping it any direction isn’t necessarily the answer, the answer is in improved instruction techniques all around, and I do sincerely believe that both Johnathan Bergman and Aaron Sams understand this.

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6 Responses to To flip or not to flip….does reverse instruction work?

  1. Jon Bergmann says:

    Jillian: I think one of the key points to make about the flipped class is that it is not just about the videos. It is about the teacher providing rich and engaging activities during their face to face time with their students. This is where the “magic” happens. It is in these face to face times where we as teachers can do what we have known all along are best practices for our students.

    Our story is a story of change. Where we were lecturers who were freed up to do more important things with our students.

    Great post. I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

  2. Avatar of Dan Dan says:

    I’m echoing your angle on the flipped lessons, love at first sight, followed by similar hesitations. I have been playing around with flipped lessons over this last year, and have been getting (mostly) positive feedback from students. One great time saver I have found is that I don’t have to make all my own videos. Like you I’m often pressed for time, don’t like the limelight, or think my students see enough of me in class they don’t want to look/ listen to me at home too. Some colleagues have made some great videos and shared with me, not to mention Khan Academy ( and Brightstorm (link to have some awesome stuff going on, especially in mathematics. At the end of the day I love the extra one on one time the flipped lesson give me with struggling students.

    • Avatar of jilliann jilliann says:

      I actually use Khan Academy videos quite frequently anymore in my Math class in a reverse instruction kind of way. I have my students watch a Khan Academy video and then “teach me” what they believe to be the most important points or rules. This way i know who got what parts of it and I have a framework from which to start the lesson. Those that already have it I go ahead and get started. Others that need some more help receive just that. It really optimizes setting up a differentiated classroom. I also find that the students know they will be listening to me anyways at some point and really like the challenge to learn for themselves. By utilizing instructional videos online I feel like I am also explicitly teaching students how to become more resourceful by giving some good sites to go to.

  3. Paul says:

    You’re right, a talking head lecturing is pretty boring, for any amount of time. What if we teach the students the skills they need to create the instructional videos? They can be creative and show they’ve mastered the content by explaining it. They might even be more engaged, helping each other learn. Now we just have to figure out how to take the time to make it happen :-)
    Here’s another link for more instructional videos: link to
    If everyone shares all of their instructional videos we’ll have millions to choose from – Maybe there will be an Oscar-like awards program for instructional videos? :-)

    • Avatar of jilliann jilliann says:

      I really like that idea of an Oscar-like awards program for instructional videos. Maybe with non-teachers creating these, it would raise awareness of exactly how much work actually goes into making quality ones. Teachers could really use some support in this day an age. Good stuff.

  4. Neil Commons says:

    The issue of differentiation with the flipped classroom is a fascinating one. If I consider my example of a flipped DP Physics class I think that this situation enables students to more effectively self-differentiate. Skipping through content they already have down but focus on areas of weakness or unfamiliarity. And by offering several different learning pathways (it is not all video with me) they can select a route which best fits them. Then through considered starting activities and initial questioning I can soon pick where a students understanding really lies and can provide more support or challenges during the lesson time. Now I don’t want that statement to sound to yeah me as I recognise that only works because of the context I teach. My students have selected Physics already as they want good grades which indicates both motivation and some ability. This really does restrict the range of learners in my classroom and allows and makes this all much easier than it would in a more general/ varied class environment. So all in all you are really sensible considering the issues around flipping a classroom and I would say only flip when everything is aligned to make it work for you and your students.

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