Flipping the teacher

If I'd suggested flipping the teacher while I was still at school, I would have been in serious trouble. Given my reputation though, it wouldn't have been out of the ordinary.

I once spread a rumour at primary school that my tyrant of a head teacher had died (wishful thinking), and when he came back from sick leave, I wasn't the most popular child in the school. Having said that, many of the kids began to believe in the resurrection of the dead.

Once, during a chemistry lesson in secondary school, I was larking around and accidentally burnt a big hole in my teacher's pretty floral dress with concentrated acid.

He was furious.

I got into a fair few scrapes and a lot of mischief, but suggesting that we 'flip the teacher' would have been the last straw.

Today, the idea of flipping the classroom is a familiar one. Flipping teachers may not be so familiar. Don't panic though - I'm not advocating violence, nor am I suggesting children use obscene gestures. Flipping teachers is about swapping roles. I have already written about this in previous posts. The idea that teachers should become students so that their students can act as teachers may still be contentious and problematic, but I believe that as we see more flipped classroom approaches, the argument for also flipping the role of the teacher will become more compelling, and eventually more acceptable.

A little history: Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann developed the term 'flipped classroom' by considering the time spent by teachers with their students in classroom. They wished to maximise this time, and developed a number of strategies that involved instruction taking place outside the walls of the classroom. Inside, with the teacher present, students were able to explore their learning in more depth and detail, capitalising on 'face time' with the expert. The work of Harvard University professor Eric Mazur supports this approach, because, as he says - instruction is easier than assimilation, and advocated coaching rather than lecturing as early as the 1990s. This is not new of course. For centuries, innovative teachers have been trying to find other more effective methods of pedagogy that can take the place of lecturing and instruction.

If we are at all serious about promoting student centred learning, then we should at least reconsider the roles teachers traditionally play at the centre of the process, and begin to discover how we can help the student replace them. This does not mean that teachers relinquish their responsibilities or shirk their obligations. What it does mean is that teachers should seriously consider new forms of pedagogy where students are placed at the centre of the learning process, and have to spend some time 'teaching'. We learn by teaching. If you have to teach or present something for an audience, you will make damn sure you go away and learn it thoroughly so you don't make an absolute ass of yourself. This is the same principle we see when we flip the teacher.

Here are just five ways you can flip the teacher:

1. Ask students to peer-teach. This form of paragogy ensures that all students need to know something about the topic before they teach it, and can also learn from each other during the process. Even better, get them to teach you something you don't already know about.
2. Give your students a problem to solve. Ask them to come back later to show how they solved the problem, and get them to defend their solution. If they all have different solutions, the fun can start.
3. Students create a self-directed project that encapsulates the principles or facts of the topic they are learning. It can be in the form of a video, or presentation, or role play, or even a blues song (be creative). Just as long as they 'perform' their work in front of an audience.
4. Act as a student, and ask your students awkward questions about what they have learnt. Challenge them to explain clearly what they know. This approach ensures that they must think more critically and reflectively about what they have learnt, and that they need to justify their decisions.
5. The age old seminar is a great flipping method. Ensure that each student has time to study a specific aspect of the course, and prepares teaching materials. They then get to present their work in front of you and their peer group, and are also tasked to encourage discussion by preparing some key questions.

I gratefully acknowledge Max Brown for giving me permission to use his most excellent cartoon that depicts flipping the teacher.

Graphic by Max Brown

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Flipping the teacher by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Great post Steve; I really like why just flip the classroom when you can flip the teacher!
Ann Rooney said…
Brilliant idea. It is all about asking questions.
Ann Rooney said…
Really useful ideas. I'll use them tomorrow. Questions, listening and then more questions to dig deeper and create understanding.
You burnt a hole in HIS pretty floral dress? Wow, that was a liberal and advanced school you attended! :)

We have been implementing flipped learning at my current institution due to having given iPads to all 1st and 2nd year teachers and students. Our students were used to teacher-centered learning in which the teacher led all lectures, and controlled their learning process. We have had to re-train them to study their own lecture materials, take some responsibility for their learning on their own at home and then support the teachers to do group interactive and iPad-collaborative or project/group based work in the classroom. It is a re-invention of the educational process for both students and teachers that does not happen overnight, but, can, with time (as with most innovations), happen with appropriate administrative support and PD opportunities. Some of our teachers have gotten quite amazing at it. But, we have found that when it does not work it is for one all important and crucial reason: the students need to do the required work at home before coming to class. If they do not, the process fails.
Martin King said…
This is one of the most powerful and radical concepts in formal education - I wonder if it can get any systemic traction - I can imagine it being resisted.

Often this type of flip is associated with technology - probably because its specific (limited impacts) and can be understood - students are usually more familiar and comfortable with new tech than older teachers. Our most innovative teachers have some very useful experiments with this with what we call eAmbassadors - students helping and advising on tech stuff.

Even more radical of course is where the flip occurs in generalised teaching and learning itself - open ended project based learning can facilitate this .. but its not so easily amenable to formal standardised assessment of course.

We have some interesting and useful examples with Peer teaching\learning where we have students mentor other students in maths - for want of a better name we sort of called these lAmbassadors (Learning Ambassadors).

I have only seen very positive results from real flipped teaching but our experiments have are subject to "experimenter bias" they have been voluntary experiments by the most enthusiastic and innovative teachers - I'm not so sure this would be the case with systemic approaches.
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Steve Wheeler said…
Absolutely it's about asking questions - and those questions need to be searching questions that are not easy to answer.
Steve Wheeler said…
Correct Ann - for me, it's simply an extension of the old Socratic method, taking learners deeper and deeper into their understanding of their topics.
Steve Wheeler said…
Just my little joke Michelle ... it's amazing what difference it makes when you miss our a single 's' ;)

I agree, this requires a little unpacking and success rests on every player taking responsibility and playing their roles. Your school sounds amazing, and I wish you continued success with this approach to pedagogy.
Steve Wheeler said…
Sounds like a fabulous approach Martin, and one I would love to hear more about. Have you blogged or written about it? If so, perahps you could share the link with us on this blog? I have just heard this evening that I have been nominated by students for 'innovative teaching methods' in their annual SSTAR awards. I will let you know if I actually win!! ;)
Loved your post, it defies the traditional role of the teacher. Very useful tips to flip it all up
Congrats! That would be quite the honor.
Wendy said…
I like your style Steve.
Martin King said…
Steve - some rough information and notes about our eAmbassador work is in this Gdoc linked here http://goo.gl/68xfJR
You might enjoy these two pages:

Flipping a flipped classroom:http://effectivecurriculumideas.weebly.com/extensively-planning-a-whole-school-or-year-level-approach-to-deliver-effective-curriculum-via-interactive-whiteboardsone-to-one-ipad-or-laptop-programsalternative-iwb-technology.html

Setting up a flipped classroom as if it were a video game: http://effectivecurriculumideas.weebly.com/teaching--learning-through-video-games---game--classroom-parallels.html
Robert Schuetz said…
Hello Steve - this is terrific post. Flipping the teacher, or classroom role reversal fits the paradigm shift from pedagogy to heutagogy. If the end game is to produce self-determined learners who contribute to the learning of others, then flipped teaching can certainly be included as a primary strategy. My post on this subject; "Double Flipping For Your Students" http://goo.gl/NbJ9P
Aaron Davis said…
Great post Steve and really like your ideas. Just wondering if we there is not another opportunity at play here, that is to not only flip the roles with students become their own masters, but also teachers flipping their role and learning how to learn (http://readwriterespond.com/?p=22). I feel that it becomes another one of those things where one thing happens in the classroom, while another occurs outside. I am really interested in the idea that if teachers actually knows what it feels like to learn, they are comfortable with the uncertainty, then they will be better situated to introduce such practises in their classrooms (http://readwriterespond.com/?p=116). For example, I know quite a few teachers who expect their students to share with the world, yet fret that what they say might not be 'professional' so never post a thing. Just seems a little ironic to me.
Phil Parker said…
Thanks Steve. As an aged Drama teacher (now an evangelist for technology in learning) Dorothy Heathcote (expert in educational Drama) created the idea of "Mantle of the Expert" some 40 years ago. It's the same idea you're presenting here. It shifted the responsibility of 'knowing' from the teacher to the student. A hugely empowering concept and one that could transform students.

As I discovered the power of technology it seemed to make sense to combine these ideas. With greater variety of digital learning tools the options have opened up enormously. The concept remains the same, though the tools have changed. It's still about empowering learners.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Phil. I agree, it's nothing new, we've been doing it for years but for the fact that the technology we now have available makes it easier to implement.
Tracey Duffy said…
I did something similar when I was teaching ICT to a Year 7 group. There was a lad in the group who was streets ahead in terms of knowledge about databases, and quite honestly probably knew more than I did. So I basically gave him the topic and the tasks that the boys needed to cover and he ran the lesson with me supervising. It worked really well. The other boys took to it well and didn't use at as an excuse to bully the other pupil but gave him a pat on the back at the end of the lesson. We need to get over the fact that we are not necessarily the only expert in the classroom and why shouldn't we all learn from each other no matter how old you are!

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