In a flipped classroom, students are expected to find out about topics at home and apply them in the classroom
For Administrators

Flipped Classroom: Promise and Peril

By Brian Gatens December 5, 2013

With over 20 years in education, I’ve learned that we’re a faddish lot. Like most industries, we latch onto the “next great thing” in hopes that it may be the silver bullet that solves all our problems. Now it’s time for the “flipped classroom” to respond to our need for better student achievement and higher-performing schools.

In the flipped classroom, teachers rely on technology to help students learn and study course content at home. This enables teachers to use class time to apply what students learned at home. It literally flips the traditional model of the teacher as the dispenser of information.

While the flipped classroom does hold promise, it would be folly to think it can fundamentally improve schools all by itself. Here’s a look at the pros and cons.

Major positives of the flipped classroom

It plays to your audience

Students are more technologically adept than ever. In the traditional classes, students are expected to set aside their smartphones, computers, and tablets and sit at desks for lectures. The flipped classroom, by contrast, expects them to engage with technology at a high level and taps into their desire to take part in socially centered learning.

It promotes higher-level thinking

It’s fair to say the traditional classroom devotes too much time to pass down information to students via lectures. The flipped classroom offers the opportunity to better master information at home and then frees up class time to apply that knowledge and adapt it to the habits and practices of the world outside of school. This includes working in collaborative groups, engaging in problem-solving activities, and developing reading, writing, and presentation skills.

It deploys a wide variety of resources

The Internet is an ever-growing reservoir of quality teaching resources like videos, infographics, online lectures and interactive programs. The Web offers the opportunity to continually engage your students and offer fresh content in ways that far surpass the usual format of worksheets, quizzes, and tests.

Major pitfalls of the flipped classroom

It’s not a magic recipe for a lower-skilled teacher

The flipped classroom is not a “teacher-proof” model of instruction (and nothing ever will be). High-quality instruction is still high-quality instruction, so a lower-skilled teacher will not improve solely by using the flipped classroom. It may offer the opportunity to improve their practice, but it would be a mistake to have a struggling instructor engage in the flipped classroom without addressing the deeper teaching issues.

It can’t replace teacher-learner interaction

The flipped classroom provides an excellent opportunity for students to gather basic knowledge and understanding away from the classroom setting. Nevertheless, it is essential that once in the classroom, teachers use that time to develop, refine and advance student understanding of the content. This can take the form of a short “mini-lesson” that reinforces the content or a group activity that offers deeper understanding. In any case, the flipped classroom will never replace the teacher-learner transaction.

It may be difficult for parents to relate

When fully instituted, a flipped classroom will be unlike anything parents experienced during their schooling. It is essential that teachers spend time teaching parents about the effectiveness of a flipped classroom and how it will lead to a higher skill level for their children. Most parents will be initially suspicious of anything new or faddish, so teachers and their administrators need to make information about flipped classrooms public so that trust is built and transparency is demonstrated.

An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, New Jersey. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.

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