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What I Learned by Flipping My Elementary Classroom

Monday, April 16, 2018
This post is a reflection of the implementation of my flipped classroom.  If you're looking for how to implement your own flipped classroom approach, check my post So You Want to Flip Your Elementary Classroom, Now What?

I took on a giant project this year by flipping my classroom.  The flipped classroom approach is something that I've seen floating around in the education community for a few years now, yet I'd never felt like I had sufficient resources to make it happen.  This year, I jumped all in.

Probably prematurely, admittedly.  But the learning is in the mess, right?

As part of my Ed.S. program at Bellarmine, I had to design and implement an action research project focused on increasing student achievement.  I felt like this was my opportunity to take the risk that I had wanted to in my classroom, and I knew I would have the support of my administration, my Ed.S. mentor, and my colleagues.  I am a huge proponent of educational technology and I'd recently acquired two Chromebooks thanks to a Donors Choose project bringing my count of classroom devices from four to six.  With six devices, I felt like I was ready to change the world.

I even made a Google folder called, "How to Change the World This Year."  I can be a bit pretentious at times.

That being said, I spent a lot of time researching flipped classroom approaches, designing and creating videos, monitoring student progress, and reflecting on the process along the way.  I did some things well and there are many things about the process I would change.  I'd like to share some of my learning with you in hopes that it will help your flipped classroom transition smoother.

Let me start by saying that my approach to a flipped classroom was and is much different than the typical flipped classroom.  In a typical flipped classroom, students would watch a video about the topic for the next day for homework and then come to school the next day with some prior knowledge and experience, ready to dive into more hands-on experiences.  For my third grade students, many of whom don't have internet access or devices at home, this wasn't possible.  I opted for an in-class flip using a station rotation model, where one station was the viewing of the video and interactive components.  Other stations I used in my classroom at the time, were a modified version of teacher-led guided reading, independent reading, and partner practice.  You can read more about a typical flipped classroom approach in Jon Bergmann's book called Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (affiliate link) or at his blog here.

I would also encourage you to learn more about the alternatives to the typical flipped classroom models.  There are some examples from Jennifer Gonzalez over on Edutopia.

Four Things I Learned By Flipping My Classroom

1.  It's better to start small and build up.

In my original action research, I stated that I'd increase reading achievement of my students by flipping my classroom.  If you're an elementary teacher, you are immediately aware of the problem with that statement.  What component of reading?  Within my third grade classroom, I teach phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.  In a typical lesson, I'd try to teach each of those components within a common theme or unit, using one or more texts and pulling as much out of it as I could.

So, when I first started my flipped classroom, I kind-of, almost, might have tried to do it all at the same time.  I was overly ambitious.  I learned right away that it was too much - for me to prepare and for my students to find beneficial - so I had to back down.  I ended up flipping just the phonics portion of my lesson, then slowly adding vocabulary and comprehension. It was much smoother once students knew the routines and expectations.

2.  Make sure routines and expectations are explicit.

Students have to know what they're doing and why they're doing it.  In my school, the constant infusion of technology into my students' instruction was new for many of them, which caused some confusion on how it was to be used.  Because I was so excited to just get started, I glossed over routines and expectations which was a terrible idea.  Always start with your routines and expectations.

Some ideas for routines to teach when flipping your classroom:

  • How to transition in between stations
  • How to get out technology/devices and put them back
  • How to access the videos/activities (e.g. the learning platform you're using)
  • What to do when you're finished
  • How to ask for help
  • Voice levels during the station

3.  You still need to differentiate.

In my mind, a whole group lesson was the same for everyone and differentiation came in with the other stations.  However, when my students struggled with the flip and I really began to reflect on my teaching, I realized that I did differentiate during whole group instruction, it just wasn't as explicit.  For instance, I might stand next to a student who was having trouble focusing or prompted responses when students struggled.  There is a definite benefit to being face-to-face with students when teaching so that you can gauge their reactions and understanding.  This is much harder to do through a screen.

You can still differentiate a whole class lesson through a flipped approach, it just takes more work.  For example, add several videos for students to watch.  If they understand (and show understanding through an online activity like a Google quiz) after watching the first one, they can stop and move on to something different.  However, if they're still struggling, they can watch more videos and have multiple tries to show their understanding.  This helps personalize the experience of a flipped classroom for each student and allows them to take more ownership of their learning.

4.  Assessment and accountability go hand in hand. 

Assessment is just best practice.  When I started my flipping my lessons, I originally had it set up so that students watched the videos, then came to a guided reading group, where I did the assessing.  But I soon realized that students were not being held immediately accountable for the learning in the video, so they came to the table and had I to teach what they were supposed to already know!  It defeated the entire purpose of the flipped classroom.

So, I started utilizing some wonderful tools to hold my students accountable and help with assessment.  The G-Suite for Education (specifically docs, slides, and forms/quizzes) is a great way to do this.  They are relatively easy to set-up and intuitive for students to use.  You can read more about how I've used Google forms to assess my students on a previous blog post.

The flipped classroom model was a learning experience for myself and my students.  If and when I do this in the future, I've got a much better idea of how to approach it so that things run smoother.  Have you implemented a flipped classroom?  Did you do the typical flip or a modified in-class version?  I'd love to hear your successes and horror stories!  Comment below and let me know!


  1. Great post! I like that you made this teaching method fit the needs of your students and the lack of internet at home.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Carrie-Anne! I think, like with any instructional strategy, you have to make it work for your students!


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