A Letter to Edutopia’s Guest Blogger: In-Class Flip Is Not A Version of Flipped Learning?

A few weeks ago @cultofpedagogy blogged about “The in-class Flip” and I tweeted a response.

in class flip conversation

Because of this so called “in class flip”, I have received and read comments from teachers curious and possibly confused about Flipped Learning. I started writing a comment to Jennifer Gonzalez @cultofpedagogy post and author of the article via @edutopia and discovered that it was just far too long for a comment. So here is what I have to say:

To Jennifer:

I think the biggest issue that bugs me about the article around this so called “in-class flip” is that it is trying to rename what already exists and has already been named. Teachers reading this post should have been told by you about the models of blended learning within Rotations. Flipped is one of the arms of a rotation model.  I see the word “rotations” was mentioned in your post and that is great but there is no reference, no link  to where this “naming” comes from or implies within the blended frame.  So, yes, there are different rotation models and the one you mention is ” station rotation” but you have renamed it “in class flip”. How is what you are describing as an “in-class flip” different from the definition of “station rotation”? Maybe it’s semantics, maybe am a nerd, maybe am totally wrong and misunderstood your post but what I am frustrated with is gimmicky new names like “in-class Flip” confusing newbies about flipped learning. Thank you for responding to my tweet but am not satisfied with the response that you are “just helping discouraged flippers realize possibilities”.  Flipped learning fits in with middle school and high school and other rotations should be considered for elementary. Is that your audience?

The name is not the only issue. You do a good job of referencing Flipped Learning, albeit “traditional” flipped. You indicate that this “version” is not the flipped learning they’ve read about, but your newer version which is different. It seems as though you are trying to make a name for yourself with some new model. And the moment you start using language referring to Flipped to the Traditional flipped, you are (perhaps inadvertently) trying to place it where tradition lives, where it’s not hip. There is no such thing as traditional flipped learning there is ONLY Flipped Learning. Your model is not the newer modified version of flipped.

Here is what I argue: Flipped Learning can Transform Instruction if done well. If it’s not working then we need to look at what is happening during instruction. Flipped learning is about Good Instructional Practices. Simple. Simply stating in your tweet that you are providing discouraged flippers with possibilities suggests to teachers that a cosmetic change to their class from traditional flip to the hip in class flip is a possible solution? What you need to be doing before throwing flipped into the recesses of tradition and administering a band aid to what is the bigger problem  is instead addressing how teachers are implementing their teaching and learning cycle within the flipped model? Or asking teachers how they are planning for their face to face time once stuff moved online? How about even addressing whether what’s online is engaging and do they have online assessments built in to build competency?  How about the homework issue? It was an issue before class started, it’s still an issue with flipping, right? How is that being addressed regardless of flipping?

I can tell from your post that you know that flipped learning can be powerful. But I’d like to recap why that is: Let’s talk about student at center of learning.  Moving content to an online space, and inverting instruction so delivery of content or low level procedural stuff can be accessed online places the student in the driver’s seat– students are able to personalize their learning. When students (assuming we are targeting middle and high school flippers only) control the path, place, and pace of learning it leads towards a more student centered approach. The station rotation you describe and acknowledge has some limitations in meeting blended learning that transforms since there are time restrictions within a class period clearly placed in an in class rotating model. So instead of those students listening to a teacher in person, now they are listening to it in class, online, right there, in class and still only have @15 minutes I assume to take notes and move along, right? What has changed? That pacing and place piece are missing which allows students to pause, reflect, take notes, rewind, come back. That’s the power of a flipped model. How about the opportunity to check for understanding, take a quiz, come back relearn, retake the quiz. When done away from class, at their pace, students come to class the next time and if needed the teacher clarifies the low level knowledge based stuff and moves students to digging deeper and thinking critically. I am not saying a station rotation isn’t a way to improve practices. It’s still an awesome model. I am saying it is not really leveraging technology to transform instruction- that is what Flipped learning does. So yes, “station rotation” works and should not be overlooked but you are confusing teachers by associating your version of station rotation with the power of flipped learning.

Another key to blended learning that transforms is online assessments: Once content is online and places students in the driver’s seat, online formative assessments help them personalize their learning. Online formative assessments are the game changer for teachers and students creating that step into competency based learning. Sure you can build that into the station rotation and the online content they engage in while in class but how can the teacher use the data from the assessments to make decisions that shape the rotation when the assessments are done in class during the time that we should be leveraging that face to face time to dig deeper ?  Online formative assessments within a flipped model gives us immediate results and feedback that translate to more engagement with the curriculum. Bottom line: high quality blended learning must allow for personalized learning and allow teachers to differentiate– how is that possible with the so called “in class flip” or as we all know it as station rotation? We need to be leveraging good online learning tools so that data is in-time and looped within student-centered feedback but we also need to have time to review the data so as to inform instruction, right? With that data, gathered prior to class, teachers are empowered to differentiate in real time, and now we are getting the most out of the promise of blended and flipped classroom.  Online formative assessments have allowed the teacher I work with to review assessment data BEFORE students arrive in class and thereby allowing her to tier activities based on that data and then continue to assess needs and adapt paths as needed. That is far more difficult to manage while instruction is happening and when the teacher should instead be taking advantage of small group instruction and ongoing formative assessments through observation and working with students.

A teacher with whom  I have been working uses online work within a rotating station but that is embedded within the Flipped model.  Since we spent time thinking about the WHAT NOW of class time after we started the flipping process, we ended up framing learning around PBL so her stations were designed as a means to answering the problem. The knowledge based procedural learning did not happen in class. If the knowledge based procedural stuff is still happening in the station rotation or what you call the in-class flip, how is technology being leveraged to transform instructional practices?  How do we free class time to get at the deeper thinking? The ability to work with real-time data gathered from an online course significantly increased the possibilities for differentiation for the teacher and it is through the frequent opportunities for differentiation that teachers’ instructional practices will be transformed. That is the promise of Flipped Learning.

I would have loved to see you describe how the power of Flipped Learning is about  freeing up class time so as to build in opportunities for application and critical thinking– to deeper levels of thinking. Your description moves away from the integrity of flipped classes to in class stations that are scheduled to allow students to digest low level procedural knowledge based stuff in class. When do students have enough time to receive guidance towards working on the application of the concept? Most districts use unit plans and teaching and learning cycle model. The unit plans are recommended to be completed within time frames. How do teachers meet those time frames from unit to unit while honoring the teaching and learning cycle?  How does the reteaching and then the intervention on the TLC fit into the time frames?  Flipped Learning when done well opens up the opportunity to meet the teaching and learning cycle within district time frames. This time piece in your version of flipped is not just a challenge and takes time as you mention, it’s simply just not Flipped Learning. It’s a whole different rotation approach that should not have the word Flip mentioned in its name.



  1. Hi Nawal,

    First off, I hate to hear that my article created confusion for the teachers in your district. My original intent was to give another option to teachers who are flip-resistant, and maybe create a bridge to true flipped classrooms. Whether the problem is with teachers or with students, there appears to be a population of people who are kind of anti-flip, and I was hoping to find a way to get more of those folks on board. I most definitely was not trying to turn people away from flipping. I suppose I could have used the word “pure” instead of “traditional” to describe true flipped learning. I did not intend to be critical of flipped classrooms or put them in the past; on the contrary, I see blended learning as a stepping stone to true flipping, which I’m sure will be standard practice once more teachers get trained and more communities get a solid technology infrastructure.

    One risk of putting an idea out for public consumption is that someone else has already had the same idea, named it, or otherwise established it in some other form. It didn’t take long after my article was put up for several commenters to mention that the arrangement I had laid out was called Blended Learning. So right away, I learned a new term. I most definitely was not trying to rename this nor was I trying to make a name for myself with the concept. I do not have any kind of business that runs workshops on this model or anything remotely like that; I just wasn’t aware of the term blended learning.

    I have read an awful lot of complaints online from teachers who struggle with flipped learning; their two biggest complaints seem to be that students are not doing the required viewing at home, or that their community does not have enough reliable technology to make it viable. This seemed like a way to deal with that — yes, kind of a band-aid, but some way to take advantage of the technology, rather than just waving it all away because it’s too hard.

    In your third paragraph, you address a number of questions that really make up the meat and potatoes of flipped learning (quality of both in-class and online instruction, for example), and ask why I wasn’t addressing these instead. Well, it’s because those deeper, more significant questions are already being talked about all over the place, both on Edutopia and elsewhere online. But even though the information is there, most teachers are really busy, some are overwhelmed by technology, and I think others would rather not mess with it at all. I would think that trying the blended learning rotations would be a good way to (1) get a teacher used to the process of creating the videos and adjusting their instructional mindset toward the kind that truly is more engaging, and (2) get students used to driving their own learning – deciding if and when they need to rewind, whether to review the video later on, etc.

    On that note, I should mention that I did point out in the video (3:00) that although this is not pure flipping, because it doesn’t completely free up class time, it does free up the instructor for more one-on-one time with students, which is a benefit of the flipped model. I also demonstrate how teachers should plan to give students opportunities to revisit the videos if they need to review them (4:22), and that some of the stations in place should be very flexible in terms of time, to allow the greatest opportunity for personalized learning.

    Again, I apologize if the whole thing came off as me trying to start a new army of hip anti-flippers. I would love to post a comment right on the article itself to let readers know about this possible misinterpretation, and to link them to your response, so we can engage more people in this conversation. What do you think?

  2. I must say that I am fascinated by this discussion. I work in a small, very low income sort of high school where many of our students’ families struggle to keep a roof over their heads, much less have any sort of environment at home where watching instructional materials is possible. I, however am in love with the idea of flipped learning. I was just starting to give up and just keep it in the back of my head for when/if I ever went to a school where more kids could benefit from the model…and I found this. We have, through grants, gotten some good technology for our school. We have long class periods because we run a “block” schedule. I have dabbled in the idea of “Layered Curriculum” as well, and think that by breaking my students into two groups I could very easily implement flipped instruction *in* the classroom. I think some of the issue the two of you are having is semantics. I don’t see this as being short rotated stations/centers. If I had a more traditional calendar I would still break the students into two groups, but instead of dividing the class period it would be days. I think that this is a good solution for schools like mine, and if calling it a different name gets the attention of people like me then all the better. In the end it is about making sure we reach as many of these kids as deeply as we can and getting them to take charge of their learning, seeing that the teacher is not the person that fails them, but the one that guides them.

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