Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why the flip’s a flop

I don’t like the Flipped Classroom approach because its foundation is in flipping lectures from classwork to homework.

There are two problems with that.

  1. Lecture
    Lecture is not the most effective method for learning and,
  2. Homework
    Not only should families not be forced to bring school into the home, but there is a growing body of research shared by education thought-leaders like
    Alfie Kohn, Peter Dewitt, Ira Socal, and Joe Bower that says there’s little to no benefit in doing so.  

When this is pointed out to flipped classroom proponents they often carry on about the model being more than lecture-driven homework. Especially, they explain, for those who have evolved to flipped classroom 201 or 2.0. But for those teachers who are enlightened to know that homework and lecture are not best ways to support learning, why hang on to a term rooted in that?  

Now, I don’t take the changing or abolishing a term lightly. I still use the term PLN  even as it was falling out of favor and I no longer use the term differentiated instruction even when it was rising into favor. But I’m not flipping over the term flipped classroom because the very root of the model (video lecture-based homework) is built on a foundation that is neither innovative or best for children.

Defenders of this approach insist that homework and lecture are not necessarily crucial components of the flipped classroom model and instead say it is the idea of student-centered learning. Now I’m a fan of learning that is customized to student’s passions, talents, interests, and abilities, but that has been going on effectively for quite some time without videos, lectures, or homework at the core with models like the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM), Montessori, and Big Picture Learning (BPL).    

Proponents of flipped classroom talk about how their in-class time can be spent working with students rather than lecturing and that is great. Really it is, but as Gary Stager points out, in many cases the flipped classroom is a preposterous unsustainable trend, masquerading as education reform, in which kids are forced to work a second unpaid shift because adults refuse to edit a morbidly obese curriculum.

When I look at these classrooms I still see kids grouped by date of manufacture. I see homework being done in class, which is better than home sure, but it's still not real-life work or passion-driven work. I don’t see students having lectures that are customized to their learning style, passion etc., and, well watching videos just isn't revolutionary. Ask the kids who have known for years that they can learn from watching videos if only their schools didn’t block YouTube or ban them from bringing in their technology.  Not only that, kids are often really good at finding videos that best appeal to their learning styles rather than the one-size-fits-all videos shared by most flipped teachers.

Everyone who is flipping over flipped classroom while at the same time flipping out about those who criticize the flip for having roots in homework and lecture, consider this:

If you are not doing the video lecture at home (which is origin of Flipped Classrooms) stop fighting and just let go of the misleading term. If you’ve evolved beyond the flip, why not call it by something more representative of the 2.0 work in which you are engaged? Like it or not, flipped means flipping class lecture to homework lecture. Let those tied to homework and lecture keep “flipped,” but if you want to associate your work with real student-centered transformative learning then another name is order.
Addendum: Great post outlining the evolution of a teacher and learner beyond the flip. She explains the core of the work of a teacher who's ended their love affair with flipped. Which is this: 
It has nothing to do with videos, or homework, or the latest fad in education. It has everything to do with who owns the learning.
And, that's the point...there are already several terms for that. I like to call it learner focused.


  1. Lisa,

    Good post. I appreciate that you do recognize that there are proponents of the flipped classroom out there who are not fans of homework or lectures. I agree, it's difficult to change or abolish a term. I can only speak for myself. One reason I hold into the term is because my adventure into the flipped classroom helped me see that my lectures weren't necessary and solidified my belief that homework wasn't helpful and in a lot cases harmful. I had abolished homework 2 years before I started flipping and never required anything done outside my class.

    This is one reason I will continue to help teachers explore the flipped classroom. I have met many teachers who are willing to explore it. Maybe because in its most basic form, it's just shuffling the deck of cards. Maybe because its a trendy topic. I don't know, but almost every teacher who tries it is eventually faced with the fact that the majority of what traditional teachers assign as homework is pointless and most of their students don't need or want their lectures.

    In the end, it helps move teachers out of traditionalism and helps them see the need for innovation. So, does the term flipped classroom fit what all if us do? Probably not. Has the flipped classroom helped me and others examine our practices and become better educators? Definitely.

    So I totally understand why you don't flip over flipped and why you think the flip is a flop. I think this is probably your best post about it I've read of yours. Thanks for writing it and for always being willing to engage in conversations.

  2. Also worth recalling that dreadful comment made by Marc Prensky that flipping allows all students to get the key bits of teaching from the "best", like Sal Kahn, instead of having to make do with the mediocre presentation of their in-class teacher, who's only still there in the classroom because she didn't have the entrepreneurial vision and drive to seize the opportunities of mass online education.

  3. Maybe the flip is the best of both models! The name really doesn't matter. We can call it blended, reversed, flip etc. What I love about the traditional stand and deliver model is that I can send my student to school. Once there, my student can work with a teacher, other students, become a representative of their school, and have exposure to lots of activities. On the other hand, what I love about on-line education is that it is available 24/7/365. Digital resources are available for personalization and review. It is a new model, taking the best from both. We shouldn't decide on one or the other, but rather, look at what is best from each model and effectively establish a new one.

    1. The name DOES matter. It is a name based on lecture & homework and those are two things that often leave a bad taste in the mouths of innovative educators.

      This isn't about online or f2f. You can do online w/out homework or a lecture-based model.

      And, as I said in the post using video for learning is not new. Kids have been doing it for years. Some teachers are just starting to catch up.

  4. Lisa I agree with you 100%. I see all the homework that three of my four children bring home and I am utterly astounded. I also agree that lecture is the least effective mode of learning/teaching. I am glad to see that for some former proponents of the flipped classroom have come to realize that it did not transform their practice into the realm of astounding. What are your thought about the flat classroom project? - Timothy Scholze @scholzet

    1. From what I've seen and read the flat classroom project sounds fantastic.

  5. This is a little preposterous. Of course teachers "lecture": they narrate, explain, question, probe, provoke, etc. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Almost all students need the guiding encouragement and challenge that a teacher brings to the classroom. Can "flipping" (i.e., recorded videos) replace that? Of course not. But they can help get the ball rolling and provide a reliable source of information on standard operations, algorithms, enrichment, modeling, etc. If it just provides 25% more time in the classroom for individual/small group help in the classroom, then it's a great help. I don't think it's necessary for EVERY teacher of, say, Chemistry or Algebra 2, to record his or her own lectures. It's just too labor intensive and redundant. Khan has provided a model, but it's just a start. Given the very deep pockets of publishers, I just don't see why they can't hire some of the most talented teachers/lecturers, team them up with some talented graphic artist, and produce these for a national audience, included in the price of a textbook, or purchase a subscription for students. Get rid of the printed textbook altogether, I say. It won't solve all our problems, but it can help, and it's just silly to pooh-pooh all this as the original post does.

    1. Lecture is fine, at times, but a model based on it as homework is not for reasons I stated in the post. I agree that videos are great learning resources and should be used, but this is not new or revolutionary. Additionally, I am not seeing teachers using these videos in ways that could be transformative i.e. differentiating videos based on the child's learning style, passion etc. Grouping kids by ability rather than manufacture date. And, as I stated in the post, a model based in homework, is a model that I and others don't see as sound practice.

    2. I agree that homework too often kills family time, reading for pleasure, play, sleep time, etc. (and some older students might need to work part-time). Watching traditional-style lectures on video should only be for what Khan originally intended - tutorials for those who need them. I can see homework being legit for a few things, but mostly for older kids: studying for tests, writing and reading, and doing work on projects. Maybe in studying math you'd need to memorize multiplication facts or practice solving problems, and maybe in learning a new language you'd need to memorize vocabulary words. But no worksheets, textbook chapter questions, or mindless assignments.

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  7. Lisa,

    You make an interesting point, but in my experience, this is a pretty narrow understanding of what flipping is. Firstly, the flipped model takes direct instruction, whether that be reading and notetaking, lecture, or building background knowledge, and makes that an individual task rather than a group task. This way, students can work at their own pace and remove the distractions of the classroom. You would be amazed how a 30-45 minute lesson can be condensed into a 10-15 vodcast when the disruptions of announcements, bathroom breaks and other distractions.

    In my experimentation with flipping, I had the students complete surveys about their experience. Most of the students preferred the approach for several reasons. Faster-paced students were less bored and frustrated with the pacing of the whole class. Slower-paced students felt like they had control over the lesson and were less confused and frustrated. Many also felt that the assignments couldn't be "wrong" and they didn't ever need help, so most of the time, the assignment was faster.

    As far as loading on homework, my school has strict limitations on the quantity of homework and the flipped model has never exceeded these parameters. Many teachers in my flipping community also provide the activities on days with study halls or advisory periods so that there are no concerns about internet accessibility.

    I have also found that the more creative the educator, the more creative the vodcasts and classroom activities. Remember -- the most important aspect of flipping is to preserve as much classroom time as possible for creative and immersive learning opportunities, the opposite of lecturing. In my classes, I will often use the flipped model to support such research-based reading strategies as pre-reading material and providing background knowledge. It can also be used to expose students to a particular concept in isolation, then see what opinions, comments and questions arise when they are together.

    Perhaps the apprehension about flipping is based on the fact that the founders and pioneers of flipping were upper-grade science teachers, for whom lecturing is still an important part of their instruction. Flipping is used by teachers of all levels, however, and I can honestly report that the vodcasts and pre-made videos that I have created and that are being used by teachers in my flipping community are seldom lectures. The personality and creativity of the educator certainly shows through in the material that they chose to present.

    Finally, I just want to add that flipping is a strategy, a model, but not a be-all-end-all solution to classroom instruction and management. I have found great success with incorporating it in my classroom occasionally, but I have certainly not shifted to a full-flipped model. It's all about knowing your kids and knowing what works for them.

    I did enjoy reading your post and thinking more critically about flipping practices and I welcome your feedback. You can see all the "un-lecture" stuff we are doing on my blog, linked below.



  8. I really enjoyed this article and the comments, it's a great discussion. Like just about every other mode of instruction or pedagogy, making it work depends as much on the art of the teacher and the context of the course as it does on the procedure. After reading the article and the comments though, the debate seems to mostly center on a matter of semantics.

    You can make the same case about the term "homework" that you make about the term "flipped". Following strict definitions you do make a good case against the "flipped classroom", at least in terms of innovation or real change. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that viewing a video related to a subject you are supposed to be learning about qualifies as traditional "homework".

    It seems to me that the holy grail of innovative education would be to foster a passion for learning in students in such a way that the student would not perceive actions they took to learn that subject outside of the classroom as "homework", but rather as an ingrained desire to expand their knowledge. Would all such activities outside of the classroom still qualify as "homework"?

    Granted, in such a Utopian world the student would have many options beyond a recorded lecture. However, we don't really live, teach or learn in that world, at least not yet. There are practicalities that must be dealt with, not the least of which is the current model of how a school works on a fixed schedule, with fixed locations for learning, limited choice in format and instructor, etc.

    As a strategy for at least introducing some level of innovation while still meeting those practicalities, I like the concept of "flipping". I do agree that the method is somewhat limited in its potential to bring about true change, but it's a start, and it can and often does lead to further innovations. I've read several recent posts from proponents of "flipping" in which the instructor has taken that first step and is now moving on to better and more innovative techniques.

    In the end, we're all searching for better tools to use in education, and like any craftsman or artisan, teachers must try tools out to see how well they fit.

    1. David,
      I want to give you a personal example of one reason I don't have tolerance for the flip beyond all the research that says homework doesn't help.

      I featured a teacher friend this week who was frustrated, in part that her kids weren't doing homework and weren't motivated in class. She is an awesome teacher. We brainstormed some ideas, I wrote an article to get more.

      She spoke to her students yesterday and had a heart to heart. Here's the deal. Many of these kids are parenting their siblings or their own kids. Many have jobs. Many have very adult responsibilities and they're tired as hell. They love their teacher. They felt bad. They want to meet expectations, but when schoolwork comes home, it backfires. They will be working together going forward to understand one another better and set more realistic expectations.

      My point with homework is that a person's time away from school should be their time. The school should stay out of it whether we're talking a wealthy district with over-scheduled kids, ones where kids have grownup responsibilities, or ones where parents just want to spend time with their family and see their kids run around and be active or pursue "their" passions.

      A model based on a forced second unpaid shift, as Gary Stager says, is never one that I will support.

  9. I agree with the general point of the article, but it is largely an argument in semantics. By narrowing the definition of flipped, it paints those who use a broader definition of the term in a negative light. No argument that just watching lectures at home and doing homework in class isn't a great fix for today's problems in education, but for many of us who have used the term flipped in a much broader sense to describe our classroom (I actually say partially flipped), the article paints our teaching in a negative light. Who cares what terminology we use to describe our classrooms, as long as we're focused on differentiated, student-centered active instruction to build true understanding? We could coin hundreds of terms to describe it, but what really matters is what we do.

    And I do realize that homework is, more and more, being frowned upon in education, but I think it has value outside just reinforcing content. As we send students out of school and into higher education and careers, personal responsibility, time management, the ability to struggle through areas of difficulty independently to build true understanding, and learning to teach themselves are skills these kids will need for the rest of their lives. Homework plays a part in that. I'm not saying 2nd graders should have four hours of homework a night, but as students move into the higher grades, some level of independent work in an independent setting provides value beyond content repetition. It provides further tie-ins from home to school, and works on many of these independent skills that are so important in today's dynamic society.

    Homework isn't a forced second unpaid shift, but learning doesn't end at the end of the school day, and as David stated, work outside of class doesn't have to be tedious. I have students write a weekly blog post about how what they're learning in class relates to their activities outside of school. It builds connections, it emphasizes writing as learning to develop and synthesize ideas, and it's fun. This isn't a forced second unpaid shift, it's enrichment.