Team ISTE
Master the dance of flipping your elementary classroom

Many high school teachers have transformed their classrooms by flipping their science and social studies classes. But what does this teaching strategy look like when applied to the elementary classroom? Flipped education pioneers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, authors of Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, explain how to address challenges such as classroom management, lesson planning and student engagement in their new book Flipped Learning for Elementary Instruction.

Read the excerpt below to learn some tips for making the transition in your classroom.

Managing the chaos

One of the biggest struggles flipped class teachers face is choosing which students to help and when. This could be especially true in a classroom with student choice. Because teachers are constantly moving around the room assisting students, often the students who are the most demanding get the most help and attention. As you know, the most demanding students are not always the ones who need the most help. In a flipped class, we need to be cognizant of which students need more help, which ones are ready for the next challenge, and which ones have learned something incorrectly and need clarification. There are no easy ways to determine which students need the most assistance, as that changes from day to day and even moment to moment. Frankly, this is part of the art of teaching. The dance of the classroom is a difficult one, but it must be managed.

We had students come find us when they needed help, resulting in too many students standing in line and waiting for us. This affected how willing students were to seek us out. In identifying students in need, one strategy you might try is employing a visual cue. Cara Johnson, a teacher in Texas, uses a set of three colored plastic cups at each table to create a quick visual trigger to identify which students need help. A green cup indicates that students are fine and do not need any help; a yellow cup indicates the group has a question, but does not need an immediate answer; and a red cup indicates that the group of students are at an impasse and need immediate assistance. Using a system such as the cups helps students subtly indicate to their teacher their need of assistance, while giving the teacher a way to quickly identify individual and group needs.

Keeping students engaged

When Jon first started to flip his classes, he wanted to have several hands-on activities for his students to engage in during the class time. At first, he had students completing these activities almost every day. He soon realized that he was assigning too many activities. The pace for his students was too frantic, with students getting to the point where they were just trying to get through the activity, instead of really learning from them. What his students needed was more time to process what they had learned. There are times in the elementary classroom when teachers do the same thing. Worksheets are still commonplace in many classrooms, and they still can be useful for some students—however, making time in the classroom for simple activities that do not challenge the students to apply their knowledge may not be the best use of the class time. Homework for homework’s sake is not a meaningful use of your students’ time, or yours.

We have also seen the other extreme, where teachers have students watch a video and then complete worksheets in class, or answer simple lower-level questions, repeated day after day. Being able to identify characters or a simple plot structure, although beneficial to some, will not challenge them to think for themselves.

Though students need time to process and practice, they also need engaging activities with which to interact.

If the only change you make is the time in which you deliver direct instruction and worksheets, you have not made any pedagogical changes. You have merely made temporal changes, which will not help your students become more critical thinkers.

There are two ends of the spectrum where a teacher can err: either not giving students enough time to process, or giving them too much. We, as teachers, need to become more comfortable with silence, and to allow for time to think. This can be a challenge for students. Struggling is good for students and encourages them to find their own answers. Landing on either end of the spectrum can lead to disengaged students. Try to find a balance, giving students time for hands-on activities and enough time to process content with the expert teacher present. Realize that the sweet spot can change, depending on the day or even the class. The key is to reinvent the class time. Flipping a class inherently provides a teacher with additional class time to involve students in more active learning.

Get step-by-step guidance on how to challenge your elementary students using the flipped classroom model in Flipped Learning for Elementary Instruction.