Redesigning Learning in a Flipped Classroom

Flickr CC, TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³

A comment I hear frequently after a visit is, "That looked nothing like what I thought it would." It's a good place to start a discussion about the total redesign a flipped classroom brings.

A major criticism of the flipped classroom is that lecture is given as homework, and homework becomes the new class work. This view is too simplistic and leads to a labyrinth of other misconceptions. The main part of this argument assumes a flipped classroom simply injects video into a traditional teaching format. Assignments are not modified and class expectations do not change.

I think of this like adding more salt to saltines. It may increase the flavor a little, but you are not doing anything revolutionary to that cracker. Inevitably, the saltine tastes the same.

In order to leverage the power of video, either as instruction or as extension, you have to rethink what class looks like.

I do not have a preference where my students learn chemistry. I have a group that watches the videos the night before and then uses class time (extremely effectively, I might add) to work through challenge problems, labs, quizzes, and projects. In the same class, I have two students that work 30-35 hours each week outside of school. They use the class time to watch the videos together and then move forward. They rarely do chemistry at home, which is fine with me. Yet a third group does most of their chemistry at home, checks with me in class, and then moves on to geometry for the rest of the period. Each group is totally different than the others, but they are still learning.

I had to re-think what class looks like when information is available anywhere, any time.

Learning about and moving to a flipped classroom requires that you shift your thinking about class time in general. Your role, as the teacher, changes entirely. You have to be okay with students using class to learn chemistry, or using it to learn english, or math, or history. Part of the beauty in a flipped classroom is that it is no longer limited to my content. I can learn alongside students every day. (Did you know, frogs blink their eyes to help them swallow? So. Cool.)

At this point, you may be thinking, "This sounds like something that could easily end up in anarchy." I want to reassure you, that although this sounds uncoordinated and chaotic, it is a good, fulfilling chaos. Students are engaged in their learning. They are coaching one another through hard questions. Groups form spontaneously, based on self-identified needs. There is freedom to be wrong, free from a fear of failure or negative consequence. Since the class is student time, the “noise” is really hypothesis, creation, and critique in their purest forms. Also bear in mind, this change does not happen overnight. This movement requires a shift that has to occur in both the student’s, as well as the teacher’s, perception of school and the learning process. This requires a healthy investment of time and energy.

Don't simply salt your class with video and call it a flipped classroom. Many teachers begin by adding some of the new with the old, but that approach will rapidly stagnate and your class will not feel any different than when you started. Challenge yourself to think outside the box about the time in class. Ask students for their opinions. You could even go so far as to implement an iteration of Google’s now-famous 20% time initiatives. By simply allowing for flexibility, your class dynamic can change dramatically.

Time spent in school should be spent meeting your student’s learning needs, not defining learning for them. We seem to have lost that vision in the age of industrialized education.

A true flip is not in when or where videos are is time to go deeper. Flip your thinking about where learning happens and work with students on making the change. Working together, you will all land on your feet.

37 thoughts on “Redesigning Learning in a Flipped Classroom

  1. WmChamerlain says:

    What if you didn’t create video lessons and you just assigned content area reading but still conducted your classroom the same way? Would you still call that a flipped classroom?

    • Brian Bennett says:

      I would. I simply use video as another resource, especially in biology and chemistry. Some of the processes are hard to follow in a textbook, and I am not convinced a text is the best way for (all) students to learn those concepts. The same goes for video…I can only do so much, and I will be the first to admit not all students learn the best from a video. But, it is one more resource I can provide to my students to help them learn the content.
      Last year, I had a student that preferred to read. He didn’t watch one single video, but did very well in the course starting with texts I had available in the class and integrating his own searches on the internet. I was there to guide and support as he built is understanding of the concept. The key being he had class time to work with me on that learning.

      • John Chapman says:

        I wouldn’t call it flip teaching if the reading at home was followed by group discussion in class, but would if it was followed by engaging activities using project based learning with differentiated instruction. I think there is also room for a very short video to provide direct instruction about a skill to use while doing the reading, like framing, foreshadowing, archetypes, etc. Whatever is most appropriate for the reading.

        • Brian Bennett says:

          I think there is room for both “versions.” I’ve definitely had days where kids need to watch a video, all at the same time, to prep for a lab or other activity. But, you’re right, the majority of my class time is really not only differentiated in learning, but in activities being completed as well.

    • Kevin Coleman says:

      Remember, “a flipped classroom” might represent a very basic conception of learning as the article indicates. More, it is a shift learning/teaching practice entirely, so, assigning reading and is that a flipped classroom doesn’t exactly encompass what this article is trying to convey.

      To answer the question, it depends. It depends on the learners, the teacher, the context, and the objective. If the objective is learning reading skills, such as skimming, scanning, formatting, etc, then you could present that content as the homework and students spend class time reading and applying those skills, possibly with texts of their choice. I would call this more of a flipped reading lesson. Students can use higher order thinking skills and application of skills during class time with the guidance of a coach.

      But it all depents. It is the duty of the teacher to know intricately the learners, own teaching styles, context, and objectives to be able to best determine what should be flipped and what not. The trick is, using class time to let them apply, extend, and create.

  2. David Walp says:

    Your blog looks great! I am just starting to get into web 2.0 applications through my graduate program and I am very intrigued by everything that I’ve seen so far about flipped classroom models, which I had not even heard about until a week ago!

    • Brian Bennett says:

      Great! I’m glad you’ve found my portion helpful. Feel free to browse my archives and tags and ask on anything you find interesting. You can also get to me on Twitter.

  3. @jsprfox says:

    Great post! You did a marvelous job describing how important it is to relinquish control of learning to the students in our classrooms. Your writing highlights the challenges that flipclass presents to traditionalists. I was interested that you identified how while videos have been chosen as a focal point of media and other mainstream interests in describing flipclass, they are actually a rather small part of the overall philosophy. Well done!

    • Brian Bennett says:

      Thanks. I’m drafting a followup that deals with WmChamberlain’s comment at the top of the thread because we need to talk about the flip as a philosophy, not as a procedure.

  4. Stephen Rahn says:

    This sounds like a wonderful learning experience. I wonder how difficult it was to get buy-in from your administrators and/or parents? Your classroom doesn’t look like what they are likely used to seeing, so I am curious as to how much (if any) resistance you have had to deal with.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      To be perfectly honest, this really developed after the Christmas break, and I haven’t had too many visits from administrators this semester. But, my department head has come through frequently and he supports it. So, if there is any worry or angst, I haven’t heard about it. But, I do agree. It is a radically different approach to what the class time looks like, so I wouldn’t be surprised if roadblocks come up.

  5. GS Arnold says:

    2nd try, hopefully it doesn’t double post.

    I totally agree, the videos are not vital, though useful, and there is chaos, especially if you allow self paced.

    But that is worth it, my mantra for next year is not only every student every day, but every student in control of their own learning

    Videos are not the heart of flip class, the spleen maybe, useful, but not life threatening if removed.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      I really like your heat/spleen analogy, because it’s spot on. Videos are a tool, but not the end-all of a flipped class. It’s the communication and the interaction. Thanks.

  6. Chris Ludwig says:

    I love the description of your class, and would add that a little creative anarchy in the class can be a powerful community-builder since you learn more about your students when they are busy chewing on the solution to a problem than if they are sitting nicely in their desks. I also agree that the problems and assignments don’t necessarily have to be for your course content either. That’s really “just-in-time” learning with a cross-curricular spin, and the best part is its student-directed, which should be one of the goals of any classroom.

    As for the question about videos, I agree that they are just another resource that will reach some kids and not others. I barely use them, preferring more interactive stuff when I can find it. I think we’re in a moment in Ed history where people want “flipped” to mean one thing, but it doesn’t. If you make your classroom as awesome as you can make it by giving students choices about how they learn and how they assess that learning, then you’ve achieved the flip, whether you use videos or not.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      You’re right about the “What is flipped” question as it comes up at the end of debates. Flipped doesn’t mean you’re using video…I used videos before “officially” flipping last year. It simply means I’m opening the learning space to all learning, not just my own.
      Thanks for the comment, Chris.

  7. Randy Van Arsdale says:

    Hi Brian, good article… Do you have any suggestions for quiz/tracking tools – other than Google Docs? ideally smt that syncs with Blackboard?
    Regards, r

    • Brian Bennett says:

      I know Moodle has some built in quizzing features, as well as Edmodo. I do not know about something that integrates with Blackboard because I haven’t used that platform since college.

      • Suzanne says:

        I like Quia for quizzes etc. I haven’t tried to use it with Blackboard yet though b/c we have enough online assessments in the course that I hate to add more for them. It is nice though b/c it is a veratile website for teachers. You can make online games, etc for your class to add various forms of formative assessment. I have used it in my f2f class. Good Luck!

  8. Hola Brian! Great post and so very true! I often describe the method as a way to enhance student learning. In Foreign language specifically, it is the best way I have found to give students immersion in class. And really, isn’t that what all FL teachers are looking for some way or another?


    • Brian Bennett says:

      I think it is something all teachers should be looking to do, but maybe foreign language teachers have done it the best so far. I remember learning history, food, culture, even math in my high school French classes. My goal is to begin interconnecting all of the learning that is happening at once.
      How does geometry play into chemistry?
      What about science the time period you’re studying?
      If we begin to incorporate learning, the learning will become more relevant and engaging to the kids.

  9. Jodi Klemme says:

    @bennettscience I really like the idea of meeting the Ss need by allowing for flexibility and what Ss need to work on but question do you allow that flexibility if they aren’t doing well or could be doing better?

    Thanks and have a great day love you tweets and blog


    • Brian Bennett says:

      Yes, I still do. Instead of jumping in and taking over, I try to let them fail at something, because it opens the discussion about the best use of class time, learning spaces, etc. I then intervene with a plan of attack. If they work with me, they usually turn their habits around. Some, though, choose not to take the opportunity and they lose the option for flex time. They usually sit up at the front until they can catch up on their work.
      Also, I didn’t say this well enough in the post, this takes some serious time to develop…it didn’t happen on day one of class. This has really taken off since Christmas break. I’m working on a way to get it up and running sooner next year.

  10. Randy Van Arsdale says:


    I liked your article. Do you or anyone else have suggestions for quiz/tracking tools – other than Google Docs?

  11. Randy Van Arsdale says:

    Sorry – I see your reply now…

  12. John Tague says:

    An excellent post as always. I particularly like the flexibility within your room based on students needs. I assign videos as homework, but have become flexible regarding completion before class. For a variety of reasons, sometimes it just isn’t possible for a student to see the video before class. Rather than a punitive response, allowing the student to watch at the start of class still let’s let them move forward. In the old system, if a student didn’t complete their homework, we moved on and they became more confused and discouraged. That has become one of the guiding principles of my class: forward progress by every student every day. The other is: no one gets held back or left behind.
    My goal for next year is to add variety to the types of things we do in class. Hope to learn a lot in Chicago!

    • Brian Bennett says:

      That’s another good way to show the transition that occurs in many flipped classes. We begin punishing kids for not watching the video when they’re supposed to. To me, that defeats the entire purpose of having the video to begin with.
      I’m extremely excited about Chicago as well. Be sure to introduce yourself to me!

  13. Craig Hill says:

    I have flipped my class in the same fashion as you. The students have the ability to learn as they want, when they want, how they want. Since chemistry is a requirement I am not getting the desire to learn my subject of chemistry from them. It is just another thing they have to do. Some of the resistance to the flip has gone away and I have buy in from most of the students but so many of them want to be passive learners. Or just tell me what I need to know to get a good grade. My focus next year is going to be on assessment and how to measure learning with something other than a test… By the way I like the new design of the blog.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      I think this tends to happen on its own, especially when students don’t watch the videos in the “first” attempt…why not have them watch in class?

      It is encouraging to hear it also works for your students. Let’s stay in touch about assessment, because I’ve done that some this year, but I definitely need to improve my approach.

  14. Quinn Barreth says:

    This is an excellent summary of the ideology of Flip. It really is a bridge to 21C learning. All the things we have been discussing the past 10 years (differentiation, assesment for learning, etc) are built into this model.

    I especially relate to when you speak to re-thinking what the classroom looks like. I have not been doing videos of my lessons because I am not efficient at it (yet) and it is not the simplest method for information to get across to elementary age kids. But re-thinking the classroom to allow for students to be the creators of their knowledge is acheivable even for younger ages. This is what I have been building towards.


    • Brian Bennett says:

      Thanks, Quinn.
      Everything I see out of your class also looks awesome. I’m curious…are you splitting time between instruction and creation time for your students? How are you bridging that gap you found with the videos?

  15. Marc Seigel says:

    Perfect comments as always. Unfortunately you are taking away my presentation at flipconf12 with this. I am planning on talking about how we need to flip our mindset on assessment and not just reuse the things before this instructional shift. Not making that change is one of the ways that causes the flipped classroom to fail.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      Oh no! Sorry, Marc…I definitely didn’t mean to steal your session with this. I’m glad, though, that you’re addressing it at the conference. We need to push the conversations and the framework of the flipped class beyond the video and into the philosophy. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say in a few weeks.

  16. This was a very informative and meaningful post. I wrote a post myself today about the flipped classroom and ran across the link to yours via Twitter.

    You made an excellent point in the conclusion that cannot be emphasized enough: Don’t simply salt your class with video and call it a flipped classroom. Many teachers begin by adding some of the new with the old, but that approach will rapidly stagnate and your class will not feel any different than when you started. Challenge yourself to think outside the box about the time in class.

    I couldn’t agree more. As I wrote today: Videos are not used as a replacement for instruction, they are meant to be part of an interactive instructional strategy. The purpose of flipping or changing the classroom structure is to focus on improving the students’ learning experience and increasing their level of engagement in the learning process.

    Dr. J

  17. Brian — I look forward to sharing and discussing your post with teachers I support. Great advice, and timely too. Thanks. For the critics (or skeptics) out there, would you be willing to cite any current evidence of student success from your approaches? Such as reduction in course failures, improvements in external test scores, or simply anecdotal evidence of affinity toward your subject area?
    Thanks in advance.

  18. Andrew says:

    I have flipped three of my math classes this year with a simple structure of video at home and problem sets in class. I want to move to more projects and lab type of structure. Where can I find some solid resources for high school math? How do I add some of the other components and not just turn their assignments into homework because the class time was consumed? I am the entire math department in a small school and need some help.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      Hi Andrew,
      Whenever I’m contacted by a math teacher, I always send them to Dan Meyer. His philosophy about education, and especially math education, lines up perfectly (in my opinion) with an inquiry flipped classroom. You can contact him on Twitter as well. As far as your class structure, it totally depends on your group of students and the culture of learning you’re working in. One thing that works this year may not work next year, so keep that in mind. I would scaffold the heck out of any inquiry you do and then loosen up as the kids get the hang of the learning and the responsibility they need to develop.
      Another great math contact is Crystal Kirch. She has a great blog, Flipping With Kirch, where she journals her learning tools and methods…you can connect with her on Twitter as well.
      Finally, make sure you get on the Flipped Class NING as well and join the math group.

  19. Carla Belyea says:

    This blog has been good as I am working on redefining my philosophy of education this summer. I blogged about it here

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