Explaining the Flipped Classroom to Your Students – Tell Them WHY

--Originally published at Syndicated to FLN – Flipped Classroom Workshop

Knowing WHY is a Vital Part of Student Motivation

Good learning consists of a cycle of activities. Something along the lines of “Introduce – Consume – Reflect – Apply – Master”. Many experts have written about the concept of learning cycles over the years. I first came across it through online content from Dr. Jackie Gerstein, whose work I admire (check out our interview with Dr. Gerstein here).

When someone knows WHY they are doing something, they are much more likely to be invested in doing it. Motivation experts have been writing about this for years. A personal favorite in the student motivation field is Larry Ferlazzo. In this article, “The Importance Of Explaining ‘Why’“, he focuses on this essential component of motivation.

There are actually quite a few good reasons to implement flipped learning (here are 8 great ones), but naturally, the most important one, and one that applies to every student, is to facilitate improved learning.

So let’s discuss how this approach makes better learning possible by helping to provide a robust and effective cycle of learning activities. I believe that discussing this with students motivates them not only by helping them to understand why we (well really … they) are doing it, but taking the time to explain this also shows the respect we have for their personal ownership of their own learning, and this is also an important motivator.

Introducing a Topic and Raising Curiosity

This starts with an introduction of topic content. You will introduce a topic with a brief dialogue and a few questions to raise curiosity.

For example, in a lesson I teach about copyright and digital theft, I ask students if it is okay to give a copy of a song they bought to a friend. Most feel that it is. Then I ask them, “What if you wrote a book, an amazing story that people just love, and you knew you could make a nice income from selling the book, but then you found someone giving digital copies away for free?. Is that okay?” Suddenly, they have a different opinion about digital theft. This sets the stage for increased interest in the related materials they will consume outside of the classroom.

I think too often we as teachers fail to consider the importance of, and the need to, stimulate student curiosity about a topic. It is too easy to simply take the approach that they need to learn something and you are going to teach them whether they want to know about it or not. Isn’t it so much better, and more effective, when we can get them interested first?

Learning Materials Consumption

Then comes the first phase of flipped content learning – reading, listening, and/or watching as you or other experts explain the topic in a digital format. In the traditional classroom, this was typically done during class, by you, the teacher. Unfortunately, this often left little time for the all important next step, which was to review and apply what was learned. That is where the learning really starts to take hold and make sense, becoming part of a student’s longer term memory.

By moving content outside of the classroom for students to start learning about a topic, you free up time during class to review and apply what was learned and make sense of it. This is a huge benefit of the flip (reminder though – you may want to avoid labeling what you are doing at first – explain it, but you don’t have to give it a name).*

Reflecting on the Learning Content

During or immediately after reading, listening, or watching learning materials outside of the classroom, it is very important for students to reflect on what they learned. This helps to reinforce their learning, get them thinking constructively about the topic, and it also can help to ensure that they do their “homework”. When the only measure of whether or not they did this is a bell ringer activity, it just isn’t as effective at getting them to do the work outside of class, IMHO.

Open this article and scroll down for a list of 7 great techniques to engage students during or immediately after learning content consumption.

Review and Apply In Class

Using class time differently is probably the ultimate goal of the flipped classroom. It is certainly the thrust of flipped classroom pioneers Sams and Bergmann in their excellent book, Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement.

First, we can start by delving into the feedback we (hopefully) gathered through the aforementioned engagement tools to uncover areas that they may be struggling with, or that otherwise warrant further review.

After working to help bolster any difficult topic areas, students can further explore and reinforce learning with an array of active learning techniques, such as:

  • Group Activities and Collaboration: This page from Cornell offers good explanations and lots of examples of different collaborative group learning activities. And here are “6 Awesome Cooperative Classroom Games” from TeachHub.com to add to the fun!
  • Peer Review: Julie Schell writes a great blog focused on Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction technique. In this article, she offers a 2 minute video primer on the technique.
  • Inquiry & Experiential Learning and other Constructivist Techniques: This article delves further into these and other active learning methods, supported by flipped learning.
  • Project Based Learning: Explore PBL further with these resources from Edutopia.

Developing and Demonstrating Mastery

Mastery Learning is an approach wherein students must achieve a defined level of mastery in required knowledge areas (such as 80% or better on a knowledge test, for example) before moving deeper into a topic or moving on to a new topic. Jonathan Bergmann provides insight into how he evolved his flipped approach to incorporate mastery learning in this brief video.

The Flipped Classroom model naturally lends itself to mastery learning. This New York Time ‘Opinionator’ piece by Tina Rosenberg, “In ‘Flipped’ Classrooms, a Method for Mastery”, speaks to how these constructs compliment each other:

“In a traditional classroom, the teacher must aim the lecture at the middle, leaving the faster learners bored and the slower ones lost. Differentiation and personalization are big challenges. But the mastery system allows each student to learn at her own pace.

Since the flipped classroom eliminates the whole-class lecture, they’ve realized, it has also eliminated the reason for students to work at a uniform pace.”

Of course, one should only include this element in your explanation if you plan to use mastery learning in your classroom.

Bullet Points for Review with Students

So, to summarize, these are the things you want to review with students when you explain to them why you are using the flipped instruction approach*. You can keep it brief, or get into depth, that’s up to you, but just be sure to give them the respect of bringing them into the fold and letting them get invested in their own learning by simply telling them why.

This teaching approach provides for a full cycle of learning, including:

  • Introducing learning materials before ‘consumption’
  • Engaging with learning materials and reflecting on what was learned, questions they may have
  • Reviewing in class, digging into material that needs further explanation
  • Applying what was learned
  • Mastering the materials

*You may want to consider NOT using the specific phrase or label “flipping the classroom” in your explanation. A few students may grab on to a label like this and use it as a way to put a ‘name to the blame’. It is easy for frustrated students who don’t like the idea of having to take more ownership of their learning to push back by saying “that teacher is doing this ‘flip the classroom’ thing and it’s stupid. My other teachers aren’t doing that!”. Instead, just explain the process, but don’t label it.


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