Flipped classroom concepts are becoming quite trendy in schools. So what is a flipped classroom model and how can it help your child?

Has your child’s teacher mentioned a “flipped classroom”? Are you wondering what is a flipped classroom approach? And perhaps more importantly, are flipped classrooms better than “normal” classrooms?

There was a steep increase in the usage of the flipped classroom approach during the pandemic, thanks in part to the growing reliance on technology to learn. Overnight, the boundaries between classroom and home became blurred, and in the process, flipped classrooms started to make a lot more sense. Remote learning underlined the fact that we are living in a digital age with a generation of students who have grown up confident using technology and consuming content through digital devices.

Past concerns around access to computers and space to learn at home became redundant, because families were suddenly forced to make it work whether they liked it or not.

If students were already doing all their work on their computers at home, why not ask them to review passive materials before the class?

What a flipped classroom looks like

Although it might sound a little topsy-turvy, a flipped classroom is simply a different way of thinking about the classroom-homework dynamic. In a traditional class, students are introduced to new content at school and then assigned homework and projects to independently complete at home.

In flipped classrooms, students are exposed to new material outside of the classroom usually via videos, reading or online sources, and then use class time to apply that knowledge in classroom activities, debates or discussions. The idea is that if passive material can be viewed beforehand in an at-home setting, students have the time and space to review those materials at a pace that works best for them and their needs.

Why would a teacher use a flipped classroom?

Those who advocate for a flipped classroom approach to learning say that it makes efficient use of class time because students are prepared and ready to learn before the lesson even starts. Pre-prepping at home also allows students to get their minds in motion for more detailed classroom discussions that can focus on higher level thinking skills. Because basic knowledge has been gained at home, there’s more time for group problem-solving, student presentations and whole-group discussions in class.

Plus, flipped classrooms give students a large bank of in-depth learning materials that they can go back to time and time again throughout the year, acting as a useful aid when revising for exams and writing coursework.

Materials for flipped study included:

  • pre-recorded lectures
  • podcasts
  • vlogs
  • screen recordings
  • annotated notes
  • quizzes
  • texts
  • interactive videos

With so much educational content available to students online, the possibilities are almost endless.

What are the advantages of a flipped classroom?

There is a wide range of research on the effectiveness of flipped classrooms. The research has included a wide range of subject areas, from lower primary/elementary mathematics to university-level multimedia courses.

Research into the impact of flipped classrooms studies in a K–12 context has found students demonstrated:

Moreover, several scoped studies suggested that it might be beneficial in developing students as autonomous learners.

Challenges of the flipped classroom

While the research shows there are clear benefits to the flipped classroom model, there are also challenges.

1. The expectation of independent learning

The first is one that parents will recognise only too well: Ensuring that learning takes place outside of the classroom. Success in this area will depend greatly on the quality of the teacher, the clarity of communication and the quality of the materials.

Parents should work on creating a calm, relaxed home learning environment for homework time. The key is to recognise the importance of study space and make it a priority in your home—even if it’s just a corner of the kitchen table.

Remember, students with the space to work are more likely to succeed than those with little space or time to study.

Of course, factors including lack of computer or internet access, lack of space or having non-English-speaking relatives can put students at a disadvantage. In her webinar, professor emeritus of education, Dr Cathy Vatterott, draws attention to how homework can “entrench privilege . . . and discriminate against others”.

Schools, teachers and parents should work together to alleviate these kinds of disadvantages in home learning—especially when teachers are using the flipped classroom method.

2. Students may be going in “blind”

Another challenge that might arise with a flipped classroom is getting students to adapt to the change. There’s always a risk that students might react negatively to being asked to watch or learn certain materials with no prior knowledge or context to guide them.

Teachers should be prepping their students enough ahead of time, so they at least have some context for the required viewing and have the ability to ask any questions beforehand. Teachers should also explain that if any questions should come up while viewing, they should write them down to be discussed in the upcoming class.

Parents can help encourage their child’s curiosity by posing various questions around the material and getting children actively engaged in whatever they’re watching, reading or listening to. By getting excited about the content before the lesson, they will be more likely to absorb the lesson, helping comprehension, engagement and memorisation.

3. Not everybody will do the work

When planning a flipped lesson, teachers should always have a contingency plan in place because it’s not realistic to assume that every child can or will watch the material ahead of time. If the resource is digital, schools should offer students opportunities to access the content before and after school, or during lunchtime. They should always have an alternative activity planned for those who aren’t prepared so that they have something meaningful to do and can engage and participate in the lesson.

Long-term benefits of the flipped classroom

Gaining skills in self-directed learning is useful beyond the flipped classroom. It will help students when preparing for HSC subjects that involve major coursework and performances because they will already have practice at conducting their own study and setting their own schedules. Self-directed learners who’ve developed good study habits tend to manage this pressure better than others.

Flipped classrooms help cultivate critical and independent thinking, building students’ capacity for lifelong learning. Skills like independent and student-led thinking will serve students well as they proceed to higher or vocational learning, and further afield into their future careers.

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