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Monday, July 23, 2012

The Flipped "Phenom"

The Flipped “Phenom”

Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

I’m hearing a lot of “Flip This” and “Flip That” nowadays, and to be quite frank, the more I read, the more I believe we’re on to something extraordinarily elementary.

I’m speaking of the Flipped Classroom and the buzz it’s generating.

Whether we’re hearing success stories from those deserving of accolade, such as “Flipped” Pioneers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Simms, Master Teachers from Woodland Park, Colorado or from Greg Green, Principal of Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, Michigan, the message is the same:  Flipping is working: Students are engaged; failure rates are down, and discipline is improving.

Hey … nothing is wrong with that!

I can’t wait until we get some solid research to see for sure.

Most all of you know what Flipped Classrooms are nowadays, but for those who would like a lay definition, here goes:  Flipped instruction has students watching lectures and other forms of direct instruction via the Internet, smart phones, or DVD’s on their own time.  They then return to class where the instructor serves as a coach, a guide, and an all-around “go-to” person to facilitate deeper learning.

It is the opposite of presenting the instruction while students are in class and then asking them to go home to apply and extend upon what they learned.

After “flipping,” Green’s Clinton Township failure rates were down overall, around 33% – down from 52% to 19% in English, from 44% to 13% in Math, from 41% to 19% in Science, and from 28% to 9% in Social Studies (Green [CNN], 2012).  Sweet stats!!

Just Tweet or surf, and you’ll hear positive anecdotal information abound.

Again … I see all of this as elementary.  Why?

-- NOT because flipped instruction requires any less than the deep preparation accorded all other pedagogical techniques in teacher education programs. 

-- NOT because technology has provided a template to make things easier, as quality flipped instruction takes a surgeon’s eye and a therapist’s precision in its development and craft.

-- And NOT because the rest of us have been grossly “upside down” in our understanding of best practice for so many years and in need of enlightenment. 

It’s elementary, in a “foundational” sense, because the notion of the flipped classroom, “done well,” is simply a creative, re-packaging of the qualities of foundational instruction that should be happening – flipped or not – when we take into consideration how students are wired for learning. 

I’ll give it this; flipped instruction is probably on balance, a bit more efficient.

Dave Saltman (2011) in the Harvard Education Letter’s “Tech Talk” presents three necessary components that “beginners” should put into their flipped instructional cycles: (1) exploring, (2) explaining, and (3) applying.

Exploring involves initial teacher/student interaction, where prior knowledge is engaged and concepts of study are relevant and articulated in a way that students can understand.  Explaining involves the more didactic instruction that goes home with students, viewable through the Internet, DVD’s, and/or smartphones.  Finally, Applying involves students and teacher working together on what has been presented toward higher levels of engagement (Saltman, 2011).

Maybe I have flipped, but I see this simply as good-ole’-fashioned teaching, albeit with new technology and a bit more efficiency.  Let’s return to the elementary notion in all of this.

If students learn the WHY behind something (“Why” it’s important), they’ll want better to learn the WHAT.  Further, the WHAT helps them to learn the HOW.  The WHY-WHAT-HOW teaching and learning sequence is simply good teaching.

In the Flipped Classroom, the Exploring phase (“Day 1”) offers WHY instruction is relevant by making schematic connections.  The Explaining phase/evening (“Night 1”) provides the WHAT the content.  Finally, the Applying phase (“Day 2”) reinforces HOW we can extend and apply the learning (Saltman, 2011).  It’s the WHY-WHAT-HOW teaching and learning sequence, again … simply good teaching.

And … with credit to those flipping, I DO agree that of the three, the WHAT portion is learned most efficiently on one’s own.

My traditionalist colleagues, however, may push back, contending that the discourse involved in face-to-face instruction is a requisite component of a quality education.  I cannot disagree.  Having a good teacher (not just any teacher, but a good one) around during the WHAT would be the “Cadillac,” yet admittedly, this ideal of effectiveness would hamper the efficiency demanded by today’s extrinsic factors of “mandate.” 

So let us go ahead and FLIP.  Foundationally, it makes sense.

And while we’re at it (as some of my students are now suggesting), let us try flipping staff meetings, professional development outings, leadership roundtables, and school board meeting work-sessions as well. 

We must be careful, however, that when doing so, we understand the importance of EACH part of the learning equation – the WHY, WHAT, and HOW. 

Failing to bring incredible “care in production” to the WHAT in this new medium would run the risk of shortchanging those more inter/intrapersonal, tactile, or kinesthetic, as well as those who are averse to didactic instruction or “anything technology.”

If those most prone to frustration end-up as de-facto, 2nd-class citizens in this new, delivery medium, then any notion of the benefits of flipped instruction will most certainly be “flipped-off.”


Green, G. (2012, January 18). My view: Flipped classrooms give every student a chance to succeed [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Saltman, D. (2011, November/December). Flipping for beginners: Inside the new classroom craze. Harvard Education Letter 27(6). Retrieved at


Dr. Ryan Donlan encouraged your thoughts, opinions, feelings, reactions, reflects, as well as any intended actions you have based on his short article in this week’s Ed. Leadershop.  Please consider contacting him if you like for any further conversation at or at (812) 237-8624.

1 comment:

  1. Have we not always flipped - even before the introduction of technology? Think differentiated instruction and project based learning. A new name for an old idea that has evolved as resources have.