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Questions to consider before flipping: before you jump on the latest education trend, consider five questions to determine if this is the right plan for you and your students.

Flipping the classroom is a popular educational strategy that promises to increase student participation and engagement and enhance the student-teacher relationship. One flipped classroom model delivers direct instruction and fact-based lectures via videos that students watch outside the classroom, while activities and active-learning strategies are conducted inside the classroom. The "flip" is that students do what had been conceptualized as "homework" at school and hear traditional lectures at home via online digital videos.

However, new research indicates that flipping may be less effective in courses that lean toward discussions, performance, or writing (Johnson, 2013). Content areas, such as English language arts (ELA) or other humanities-related subjects, may be less suited to flipping than math and science, where yes or no answers are more applicable (Moran & Young, 2013). In a recent study of nearly 200 ELA students in the 7th grade, most found the flipped classroom method less engaging than a traditional classroom (Moran, 2014).

Despite these studies and the lack of much hard evidence suggesting that flipping results in more effective teaching or learning, many administrators are encouraging their faculty to try flipping. According to the Speak Up National Research Project (2013), 27% of principals wanted their teachers to try implementing flipped instruction during the 2013-14 school year. The Flipped Learning Network encouraged a global initiative on Sept. 6, 2013, when all teachers in every content area were asked to flip one lesson. In a recent conference presentation about our research for the North Carolina English Teachers Association, all of the K-12 participants attending our session said their schools had pressured them to flip their instruction.

Scientific curriculum needs

Some support for the flip likely stems from a scientific curriculum perspective that advocates a systematic approach to receiving instruction at home via digital video or some other technology and then completing an assignment that reflects mastery of the knowledge presented in the video. Although these same proponents decry the top-down delivery system of a formal lecture by an expert during class, skeptics point out that the flip perpetuates the lecture model, only changing it to video from face-to-face. The teacher continues to be cast in the role of expert, and students are expected to digest information and perform tasks that are then evaluated by the teacher.

Our research suggests that flipping is best suited to a curricular approach that integrates the method with many other research-based strategies. Discussion-based courses may benefit from a particularly strategic approach to flipping. To that end, we offer the following five questions to consider before flipping the classroom.

#1. Are you modeling the flip for students? We know from established research that modeling reading comprehension and writing strategies is essential (Allington, 1994; Beers, 2003; Biancarosa & Snow, 2006; Graham & Perin, 2007). For flipping to be effective, students need explicit instruction in the steps involved and guided practice for understanding the process and expected outcomes. In a 2014 study of two 7th-grade ELA classrooms, teachers modeled how to view the sample videos actively and provided note-taking strategies. They cued students to pause and rewind the video while they took notes and to review parts of the video that might at first be difficult to comprehend. This is, in effect, a variation of rereading--a well-established and effective comprehension strategy. Modeling the flip is essential for helping students get the most from a video lecture. Perry, Turner, and Meyer (2009) advocate for a classroom environment that motivates student learning through scaffolding and positive feedback. When teachers show students what to do and then practice it with them, they are more likely to experience success.

#2. Have you flipped more than once? Bergmann and Sams (2012) adopted the flipped classroom model every day in their high school chemistry classes. They used the method to lecture on the rigorous concepts in chemistry through videos while allowing class time to support students' practice. While we do not advocate for flipping classes every day in humanities classes, we believe implementation is more likely to be successful when students have time to understand how the strategy works. We also advocate for reflecting on the flipping experience with students after each attempt--especially the first time--to improve the next iteration and the rest to follow. Based on feedback from middle and high school students and teachers, instructors should continue to devote class time to actively reading, writing, discussing, inquiring, and performing (Moran & Young, 2013; Moran, 2014). Students and teachers value the interactive nature of the classroom, so rather than feeling the pressure to flip the classroom for the entire school year, we advocate flipping a particular unit of instruction or flipping the classroom once a week or every few weeks.

#3. Are you choosing appropriate content? Most of the research on flipping has been conducted in high school and higher-education STEM classes (Gehringer & Peddycord, 2013; Johnson & Renner, 2012; Marcey & Brint, 2012; Strayer, 2007), so it may seem difficult to gauge what content is appropriate for flipping in a middle or high school ELA classroom at first. However, teachers in our research suggested that content that has a memorization component was most effective, and students concurred. A unit on figurative language in which students are required to memorize literary terms such as "metaphor" or "simile" would work well, but part of the key also would be providing examples of the terms used in context. The teachers also found success with a video they created that showed students how to annotate a piece of text. Other aspects of the humanities classroom--dramatic performances, spoken poetry, literature circles, reading and writing workshops--would not be as appropriate for flipping and would still require an interactive and dynamic classroom approach.

#4. Can students demonstrate what they've watched and learned? In addition to demonstrating that they've watched videos teachers created for them, students need to document what they've learned initially from the content presented, otherwise they'll be lost during classroom activities planned for the next day. Beers (2003) warned against the "just do it" approach to teaching reading. We extend this warning to include viewing instructional videos as well.

Active viewing requires implementing scaffolded strategies so students can interact with and process the digital videos they are viewing effectively. One tool for achieving an active viewing approach is EduCanon (www.educanon. com), which offers a web-based platform for monitoring students' video watching and also provides a forum for students to take notes and ask questions. For accountability purposes, Bergmann & Sams (2012) recommend having students take notes while viewing the videos and requiring students to hand in those notes. This creates a way for students to demonstrate their viewing and processing experiences in the flipped classroom in a way that goes beyond a simple fill-in-the-blank approach. This will discourage students from choosing to opt out or to copy a peer's notes. Ultimately, we want to prime students well for the class time to follow.

#5. Are you taking a proactive approach to classroom management? One of the biggest hurdles for teachers in our research was classroom management. In the state where the study was conducted, large classes are the norm. Most classes in the study had more than 30 students. Teachers found themselves literally running from student to student in an effort to reach every student, every day (Bergmann & Sams, 2012). They were often frustrated by not being able to speak with each student during the 50-minute class since this was one of the selling points of the flipped strategy. Given the large class sizes, some students were socializing rather than collaborating on planned learning activities while teachers tried to meet with each student. Teachers tried to have students write their names on the board for conferencing, but given the numbers involved, even this did not solve their dilemma.

Based on our research, we advocate that teachers begin class sessions following a flipped viewing experience at home with what Atwell (1998) refers to as a status-of-the-class conference, where the teacher checks in with students on where they are and what they need before starting the day's lesson. Other strategies associated with reading and writing workshops like this one can be adapted to help structure the classroom session following a flipped viewing experience. If class sizes are large, we also recommend having students work in small, collaborative learning groups where each member has a role and contributes to creating a product rather than working individually, thus allowing the teacher more time to do mini-conferences with each group rather than feeling pressured to meet with individual students.


As with all new educational approaches, there is a danger to seeing them as what Postman (1993) referred to as a silver bullet. The reality is that all strategies, especially those involving digital technologies, should involve careful planning and informed implementation. This also means drawing on an important and well-established research base with regard to reading and writing, as well as developing digital literacy. While some aspects of flipping work for math and science classes, that does not guarantee they'll work in humanities-based classes. If a flipped approach is planned and implemented well, there are important ways the strategy can enhance student learning. The teachers in our research reported that they enjoyed the one-to-one student conferencing and felt that they knew each student's level of mastery with the content in a way that they had not experienced previously. Given the experiences of the students and teachers in our study, we advocate for a more thoughtful and complex approach to flipping the classroom to avoid the pitfalls of perpetuating another educational fad and instead build on a strong foundation of research-based practices to create a more lasting and effective approach to using digital video.

CLARICE M. MORAN ( is a postdoctoral instructor and researcher in the College of Education at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C. CARL A. YOUNG ( is an associate professor of English education in the College of Education at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.


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Marcey, D.J. & Brint, M.E. (2012, October). Transforming an undergraduate introductory biology course through cinematic lectures and inverted classes: A preliminary assessment of the CLIC model of the flipped classroom. Presented at the Biology Education Research Symposium at the meeting of the National Association of Biology Teachers, Dallas, Texas.

Moran, C.M. (2014). Changing paradigms: A mixed methods study of flipping the English language arts classroom (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.

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Author:Moran, Clarice M.; Young, Carl A.
Publication:Phi Delta Kappan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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