Troubleshooting the Flipped Classroom: Dealing with Unprepared Students – Dr. Catlin Tucker

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Why Would a Teacher Use the Flipped Classroom Model?

First, let’s establish the value of the flipped classroom in case you have never used this blended learning model. The flipped classroom was designed to invert the traditional approach to instruction and practice/application. Instead of spending precious class time transferring information live for the whole group in the form of a lecture or mini-lesson, which presents myriad barriers (e.g., auditory processing, attention deficit, lack of background knowledge or vocabulary, absences), teachers record video instruction and assign those videos for homework.

The benefit of assigning video instruction for homework is that students can control the time, place, and pace of the learning experience when they watch the video at home. They can pause, rewind, or rewatch a video. They may also be able to add closed captions and adjust the speed of a video to increase their understanding and acquisition of this new information.

Then, class time is dedicated to practice and application, which has traditionally been assigned as homework for students to complete independently. Moving practice and application into the classroom provides students with peer and teacher support as they attempt to apply new information. Teachers are freed from the front of the room and work directly with individual students and small groups, supporting their individual progress and providing additional support, scaffolds, models, or reteaching.

The Biggest Challenge with the Flipped Classroom

Teachers who want to use this model are most challenged and frustrated by students who do not watch the video for homework and come to class unprepared. If several students in the class still need to watch the video for homework, teachers may be tempted to scrap their lesson and dedicate class time to reteaching the content that was covered in the video.

I caution teachers not to do this. It’s akin to a parent asking their child to clean their room before company comes over, but when the child doesn’t do it, the parent cleans the room for them. By doing so, the parent inadvertently sends the message that the child doesn’t need to take responsibility for their chores because the parent will always step in and do it for them. In the same way, when teachers reteach video content in class because some students come unprepared, it conveys the message that watching the video and coming prepared is optional because the teacher will provide repeat instruction during class. Not only does this discourage students from watching the video, but it penalizes those students who completed the assignment and forces them to sit through another explanation instead of working with their peers and teachers to practice and apply their new learning.

Start with WHY

So, what can a teacher do to combat unpreparedness when using the flipped classroom? First, I want to encourage every teacher using a blended learning model to clearly explain WHY they are using this model to students and their families . What is the value and purpose of flipped instruction? How will this benefit students, making it easier for them to acquire new information? How will class time be used more effectively to ensure all students are making progress toward understanding complex concepts and applying key skills?

Without a clear understanding of the value and benefits, students may not truly understand why they are being asked to watch videos at home, and parents may push back. Always communicate the WHY behind new instructional practices to get buy-in and increase students’ likelihood of completing the assigned work.

Now, let’s explore some strategies you can experiment with to address the issue of students coming to class unprepared.

Strategies to Encourage Students to Watch Flipped Instruction

#1 Pair Videos with an Engagement Strategy

It’s essential that students mentally engage with the information presented in a video. We do not want them to slip into a passive, consumptive role. We want them to think about the concepts, processes, phenomena, issues, or skills presented in the video. Teachers should pair videos with an engagement strategy to encourage students to think more deeply about the information being presented.

The engagement strategy can ask students to identify the key points, make connections between concepts, ask questions, make predictions, infer meaning, compare and contrast, and/or classify. The goal is for them to contextualize this new information and begin to make sense of it before they return to class. Below are engagement strategies teachers can pair with videos.

  • Concept Mapping: Have students create concept maps or mind maps that visually represent the relationships between key concepts presented in the video.
  • Content Questions: Use a platform like Edpuzzle or your learning management system (LMS) to insert questions into the video so students are prompted to pause and answer questions as they watch the flipped instruction.
  • Guided Notes or Graphic Organizers: Provide students with a guided note template or graphic organizer to complete as they watch the video. This helps them identify the key information and organize it to aid comprehension.
  • Sketchnotes or Storyboarding: Ask students to create sketchnotes, storyboards, or visual narratives that illustrate the key points and concepts from the video and make connections between them.
  • 30-Second Synopsis or Summary on Flip: Have students record a 30-second explanation of the video’s main point[s], putting the ideas in their own words. The goal is to help younger students understand the video.
  • 3-2-1 Reflection: As students watch the video, ask them to identify three things they learned (facts/information), two connections they made, and one question they have.
  • Online Discussions or Debates: Design an online discussion question or debate that encourages students to consider questions related to the video content and post their thoughts, opinions, questions, and reflections. Encourage them to respond to two or three other students’ posts to encourage collaborative meaning-making.

The engagement strategy becomes the students’ documentation of learning and their “entrance ticket” into the actual lesson. They only get to proceed to practice and application if they have evidence they completed this engagement activity. Instead, I encourage teachers to have a designated area in the room for students who need to watch the video and complete the activity before joining the rest of the class.

#2 Use a Quick Quiz to Assess Completion and Comprehension of the Video Instruction

If teachers are worried about whether students watched or understood the flipped instruction, they can begin class with a quick formative assessment strategy, like an entrance ticket or quiz.

Teachers should use a Google Form in quiz mode or build a quick check for understanding in their learning management system (LMS). Using a digital platform to assess student learning makes it possible to quickly identify what students know or understand and surface that data quickly.

That way, the teacher can identify which students are ready to enter the practice and application section of the lesson and which students are not prepared either because they did not watch the video or did not understand the content presented in the video.

Students who did poorly on the assessment because they did not watch the video must spend time completing that assignment. Meanwhile, those students who watched the video but struggled to perform well on the assessment can be pulled into small group differentiated instruction with the teacher while the rest of the class moves onto practice and application with the support of their peers.

#3 Provide Alternative Forms of Media for Students to Choose From

Some students may find it challenging to acquire information in the form of a video. Learner variability reminds us that students learn differently, and one mode of representation is unlikely to work for all students.

Giving students a meaningful choice provides them with agency and allows them to choose a preferred pathway to acquire new information. Some students may enjoy reading and engaging with a text, while others may opt for a podcast or recording on a topic. When possible, providing a “would you rather” option, like inviting students to read an article or watch a video, will likely result in more students completing the assignment because they enjoy a higher degree of autonomy over their experience.

Below is a template I designed to encourage the teachers I work with to build a metacognitive practice around flipped instruction. The assignment begins with a goal-setting activity and then provides students with meaningful choices about what type of media they engage with to learn about a topic and which strategy they want to use to engage with that information. It also requires that they complete a self-assessment to get them thinking about how they performed on this assignment. The metacognitive pieces of goal setting and self-assessment help students think more deeply about the impact of this work on their progress toward academic goals and their overall development as a learner.

Move Flipped Instruction into the Classroom

If teachers continue to find that a significant number of students do not watch videos for homework, there may be barriers preventing students from completing this work in their home environment. Students may not have a quiet space to concentrate or responsibilities (e.g., watching a younger sibling) that make it challenging to complete the video lesson. Unreliable internet and a functioning device can present potential barriers.

If the issue of unpreparedness continues, teachers can incorporate flipped instruction into the classroom using various blended learning models, such as whole group rotation, station rotation, and the playlist or individual rotation. Using video instruction in the classroom has the following benefits.

  • Students control the pace at which they acquire and process new information.
  • Students have 24/7 access to video instruction when teachers record lectures and mini-lessons, making them available online.
  • Teachers do not have to repeat the same explanation multiple times.
  • Students who transfer into the class late or are absent have access to the instruction.
  • It frees the teacher to move around the classroom, supporting individuals and small groups of learners.

The primary objective of flipping instruction in the classroom is to empower students by giving them autonomy over their learning experience. This approach also allows the teacher to reallocate their time and energy away from traditional whole-group instruction, which, due to time constraints, limits the use of high-impact instructional strategies. Instead, teachers can focus on more personalized and effective teaching methods that cater to individual student needs and promote deeper understanding.

Wrap Up

The flipped classroom model promises to shift the transfer of information online and use class time to promote active, student-centered learning. However, I know challenges arise when students come to class unprepared.

In this blog, we’ve explored strategies you can use to address this issue effectively. From formative assessments to online discussions and creative representations of information, these strategies empower educators to foster a deeper understanding of the content presented in videos and encourage students to take responsibility for their learning.

Yet, I also recognize that despite our best efforts, some students may continue to come to class unprepared. It’s important to remember that the flipped classroom model can adapt and evolve. Teachers can explore blended learning models, such as whole group rotation, station rotation, or playlist models, to offer students more control over the pace of their learning journey. These approaches not only accommodate diverse learning preferences but also free teachers from their traditional role of “expert” stuck transferring information at the front of the room. Instead, leaning on video and other forms of media strategically can free them to use their precious class time to provide tailored support to small groups and individuals.

Ultimately, remaining flexible and responsive to your students’ needs is the key. Whether through innovative engagement strategies or adaptable instructional models, the goal remains: We must strive to empower students to become active, self-directed learners who can thrive in the flipped classroom and beyond.

Want to learn more about the flipped classroom and how to design effective instructional videos? Check out my mini-course!

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