The “flipped classroom” supports multiple styles of learning

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Every student learns differently and at their own pace. Using the flipped classroom approach is a way to address each child’s unique needs, while preparing them for collaboration with others.

What is a flipped classroom?

Most of us grew up in classrooms where the teacher would lecture about a topic and students did most of their schoolwork at home. Who can forget listening to your history teacher talk about George Washington crossing the Delaware River or your English teacher discussing Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities? These can be engaging lecture topics for some students; but for others, listening passively for an hour while surrounded by a classroom full of peers is a challenge.

One teaching method that changes the entire teaching process and engages multiple learning styles is the flipped classroom. In a flipped classroom, students learn about their subjects at home by reading content or watching videos that the teacher has made available online, and the students work through assignments in their classroom at school. In this blended learning approach, face-to-face interaction is mixed with independent study. Students then come to school with background knowledge of the subject and are ready to ask questions, get help and guidance from the teacher or participate in collaborative projects with their classmates.

What is unique about the flipped classroom approach?

Rather than listening to lectures and memorizing facts, the flipped classroom approach helps students develop deeper analytical and collaborative skills as they tackle complex problems. The teacher serves as a coach and helps guide the students throughout the learning process. Instead of having strict rules about how the philosophy is implemented, the flipped classroom should be thought of as more an approach to teaching.

The beauty of this teaching philosophy is the flexibility it offers, since no two flipped classrooms look alike. According to the University of Washington Center for Teaching and Learning, “The Flipped Classroom is a pedagogy-first approach that strives to meet the needs of the learners in our individual schools and communities. It is much more an ideology than it is a specific methodology…there is no prescribed set of rules to follow or model to fit…Practitioners of the various flipped classroom models are constantly tweaking, changing, rejecting, adding to, and generally trying to improve the model through direct experience with how effective it is for kids.”

Why is the flipped classroom beneficial for students?

Instead of students sitting in a group environment listening to teachers – and needing to follow at the pace of the teacher and the rest of the class – the flipped classroom offers an individualized learning approach that allows students to learn at their own pace. Since the teacher is able to walk through the classroom as the students work on their assignments, they can help answer questions for each student or for each group of students, as well as provide direction. This allows the teacher to work one-on-one with students who need extra guidance and to facilitate group work or discussion.

The other unique aspect of the flipped classroom is the use of video technology. Students who are absent for a lesson can easily learn what they missed. Students who need more time, or who process information differently, can review the video or learning content more than once to make sure they absorb it. In addition, a 2009 meta-analysis done by the Department of Education showed that in many cases, online learning has some advantages over face-to-face learning. The flipped classroom can give students the best of both online and classroom study.

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Changing a teacher’s approach

One of the interesting aspects of the flipped classroom is that it requires teachers to rethink their approach for how to present information to their students.

Learning to record lectures on video can be a first for some teachers. However, the content is re-usable, so lectures and instruction don’t have to be repeated until the content changes. And many teachers enjoy the shift from talking to a class into a mode of walking around, coaching and facilitating student learning in a more interactive way.

As with any philosophy, there are some drawbacks.

The most obvious drawback to the flipped classroom is that not all students have access to high-quality video or internet access from home. This is particularly true for students who live in rural areas that do not yet have high-speed internet access and in low income areas where they may not have technology at home. While students could go to their local library to use their computers (provided there is a library nearby), many libraries only have a few computers, often with a time limit for how long a person can use them.

There are ways to combat the lack of internet access. For example, teachers can provide lessons on a flash drive or DVD for use on home computers or media players. For those students who don’t have either one, schools can offer media players or iPods that students can borrow.

Another consideration of the flipped classroom is that it adds to “screen time” in a culture where children and young adults often spend many hours in front of screens playing video games or doing other things online. In a sense, doing homework online replaces some of that screen time with learning-focused behavior. And, for some students, learning in this way makes it easier to focus.

Building on the idea of the flipped classroom

Changing the learning environment helps improve the learning paradigm in a variety of ways

1. Interaction: For many students, it’s hard to sit in a classroom for an hour and stay focused while listening. The interactive nature of the flipped classroom can energize both teachers and students and promote interaction that keeps everyone engaged.
2. Collaboration: When we talk about collaboration, the idea is to get students to share ideas and then build on the ideas as a team. This teaches students that there is a give-and-take approach to working together. The collaborative nature of problem-solving with other students helps prepare students for life after graduation.
3. Communication: Many children spend so many hours in front of screens that they don’t develop the necessary social skills to succeed in today’s world. Using the flipped classroom approach encourages interaction and helps student develop needed communication skills.
4. Pace: Every student learns at a different pace. Some absorb information quickly, some take more time, others are visual learners and some prefer to learn through discussion. The flipped classroom allows student to find supporting materials that work best for them.

Have you had success using the flipped classroom approach? If so, please share with our community.