Revisiting old posts: To flip or not to flip, that is the question.


Never one to shy away from discussion, I have been pondering the recent Twitter response to a small-scale study on flipped learning.  This in turn has led me to consider the impact of dismissing a pedagogical approach wholesale based on one small study in 1-2 subject areas.

What is Flipped Learning?

‘Flipped learning is a pedagogical approach in which the conventional notion of classroom-based learning is inverted, so that students are introduced to the learning material before class, with classroom time then being used to deepen understanding through discussion with peers and problem-solving activities facilitated by teachers.’

What did the research say?

The research was conducted with a group of 1,328 students (852 students in Maths and 476 students in Economics).  Half of the sample was assigned a flipped learning method and half a standard learning method.  Each teacher taught at least one flipped and one control classroom.  A discreet unit of work was set aside for this research.  The teachers themselves produced a video for the flipped learning and asked pupils in the flipped learning group to watch the video prior to the lesson.

The results showed that there were marginal gains in Maths with no gains in Economics and that there were null long-term effects.

Were there any flaws with the research?

  1. Group make-up. On page 5 it states, ‘Due to the small number of advanced classes, we excluded these class sections from the study.’
  2. The concept of Flipped Learning for that particular school was for their students to watch a video. 80% of Math and 73% of Economics students in the flipped classrooms watched at least some of the video.  On average students watched roughly 50% of the video content in Math and Economics.

My response to the flaws.

Flipped learning has an expectation that pupils will independently learn.  This method potentially, therefore, is better suited, initially, to our more able students because of their capability to do this until such an approach becomes a habit and a core expectation.  Therefore, to exclude them from the study has the capacity to skew the results somewhat.

In my opinion, ‘weaker’ students can access flipped learning.  However, the research states that they were instructed to watch a video.  Watching a video alone will not support learning.  Pupils need to do something with what they are learning – whether it be make notes, or then have the opportunity to apply what they have learnt within the home setting in order for that information to be retained.  Furthermore, modelling how students should approach flipped learning, in terms of your core expectations, would ensure students feel confident enough to tackle it in the right way.

Flipped learning is reliant on pupils doing the work.  In this research only 80% of pupils watched ‘at least some of the video’ and ‘on average students watched roughly 50% of the content in Math and Economics’.  It doesn’t take a research scientist to know that if you don’t watch the video, flipped learning is going to be of no benefit to you whatsoever.  Therefore, the flaw with flipped learning is the engagement and not necessarily the approach.

My experience of flipped learning.

I use flipped learning with my IGCSE class.  I have been using flipped learning to support the initial teaching of the poetry anthology in year 10.  Each week I assign my pupils two videos to watch that have been created by the fabulous @Rumseyresources.  Each video takes them through one of the anthology poems.  Pupils are asked to complete a cold reading of the poem, jotting down their initial thoughts before watching the video and annotating their copy of the poem which they then bring to the lesson.  Once a week I will bring that learning together.  In the lesson I will do a number of things

  • Share knowledge of the poet and the contextual backdrop to the poem. Pupils will consider how the poet’s background and the social historical context might have influenced the writing of the poem and will begin to make connections.
  • Compare the poems against a theme – for example, death exploring the poets’ perspectives and the ways in which the ideas presented are similar or different.
  • Focus on reader response with this theme in mind and how we craft an analytical response ready for the IGCSE exam.

What have I found?

Benefits: pupils come to the lesson with a fantastic core knowledge of the poems and the methods the poets have used.  This frees me up to focus in on the areas I think are really key – deeper meaning and reader response.  In addition, it has provided them with a different perspective on the poem.  And for those, who are really keen I recommend different videos to watch to increase the different interpretations.

Drawbacks: I have had greater success than the research project with engagement but I still have 1-2 pupils who don’t commit as fully to the flipped learning as I would like.  HOWEVER, I don’t view this as a flaw with regard to the pedagogical approach, I view this as some of my students are being a little bit lazy.  Does this mean I am going to stop using flipped learning?  Nope.  At some point, our pupils have to take responsibility for their learning and homework is an essential part of this – be it flipped learning or not.  If they choose not to do the homework, that is a choice they are making.

If there are pupils who struggle, then they are welcome to speak with me before hand and I am more than happy to help them with the process of flipped learning.   In addition, we have fantastic facilities and computer access so those without the internet can complete the flipped learning at school.

What is really important is that time is given for flipped learning to become the norm – to become a habit that pupils realise they need to do and that the answers will not be given to them so they don’t need to worry about completing the work.  I will test my pupils’ understanding of the poem – both with written quizzes and orally as I am going through the context and key themes, but I will not repeat material which reinforces to pupils how important it is they do the work.

My conclusion:

Flipped learning is something our pupils will be tasked with at A level and at University.  In English, pupils are asked to read a chapter ahead of arriving at a lesson, for example.  In using flipped learning at IGCSE, I’m asking pupils to take some responsibility for their learning in a guided way.  Using engagement as a way to dismiss flipped learning as an approach is, in my opinion, giving us a platform to make excuses once again for pupils who don’t feel studying at home is part of their remit despite the fact that these are their qualifications.

Yet, I will also state it is one pedagogical approach amongst many and careful consideration needs to be given to it in terms of actual content you want pupils to cover at home and how suitable this is; how that learning is structured; how you assess whether the learning has been done and how you use that learning in the classroom to move your pupils forward.

The final word:

Over the past year, I’ve had an EduTwitter break.  It’s given me time to step back and I’ve realised that there are many bandwagons on Twitter, often linked to schools of thought or popularity.  I’ve felt this year, mainly because of the liberating approach of my school, that we don’t need to jump on bandwagons.  If it works for us, that, sometimes is good enough.  Because of course, as Dylan Williams once stated: everything works somewhere but nothing works everywhere.

Having the confidence to be critical consumers of research and step back from popular opinion and do what works for you in your school with your pupils is the key.

Other studies on flipped learning

Beapler et al (2014) students’ outcomes in a flipped classroom were significantly better than those in a conventional classroom or control class, and students’ perceptions of the learning environment were also improved.

Hung (2015) in her study reported that the structured and semi-structured flip lessons were more effective instructional designs than the non-flip lessons.

Xue (2013) flipping pedagogy in calculus was effective and worth the significant investment of faculty time.

McGivney-Burelle and Xue (2013) found that students’ ability to pause and re-watch the videos at any time may affect students’ effective learning as they enable students to take notes from the videos at their own pace.

McLaughlin et al (2013) and Galway et al (2014) the flipped classroom has promoted students’ empowerment, development, and ability to learn independently or at their own pace.

NFER (National Foundation for Education Research) (2015) ‘flipped learning encouraged students to take responsibility for their learning, to learn at their own pace, to deepen their knowledge and understanding and to make faster progress than would otherwise have been the case.’)


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