Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why has the Flipped Classroom evaded English Classrooms?

Why has the Flipped Classroom evaded English Classrooms? or Why has English instruction avoided the Flipped Classroom model?

I attended the NCTE convention in Chicago the last few days and these two questions, virtually the same, have been bouncing around in my head.

What led me to really begin asking these questions?
Up until 2 years ago, I had been gradually introducing more technology to my classroom. One piece this year, another piece the next. However, I decided one of my strengths as a teacher was my ability to infuse the curriculum with technology. I worked formerly as a Television Writer/Producer and was required to continually learn and be on the cutting edge of technology. I was stupefied to come into the classroom and see such an aversion to technology in a lot of areas. I decided to take the leap to more technology by cannon balling in and stop the piecemeal disorganized way I had done it in the past.

I already used the Writing Workshop model. Then I read "The Digital Writing Workshop" by Troy Hicks and got inspired to forge forward. Last school year, I also attended the NCTE Convention in Orlando. One of the biggest highlights happened on day 1 when I saw Troy Hicks, Bud Hunt, and Sarah Kajder present in a session titled "Creating Opportunities for Learning with Newer Literacies and Technologies: Three Reports from Cyberspace". Hearing these speakers not only gave me great ideas and inspiration to bring into my classroom, they also validated my decisions on the uses of technology.

After that, the convention sessions where informative but not mind-blowing until day 3 (Saturday) morning when I lucked into a session called "Using Google in Ways That Haven't Even Been Invented Yet: Visionary Reports From Cyberspace." In this session, I watched Andrea Zellner, Sara Beauchamp-Hicks, and again Troy Hicks talk about their uses of Google Apps. I sat in that session seeing small snippets of what they could do and said to myself, "I want to do that." Their presentation inspired me to become a Google Certified Teacher, which I accomplished this past summer in Seattle.

One of my biggest take-aways from the convention was there were people doing what I was trying to do. And, these people were getting respect and adulation for that work. There was hope!

As my teaching and technology infusion progressed, I came across the Flipped Classroom. As I researched this, I saw it as a way to effectively implement the Writing Workshop model. I previously blogged on my decision to move to a Flipped Classroom, so I won't rehash all that here. However, up until this point, the most support I've found in building my Flipped Classroom PLN has been from science and math teachers.

A few weeks back, in a twitter #edchat, the topic of the Flipped Class was discussed. As I have done some presenting on the Flipped Class and had been researching it extensively, I followed the chat and contributed when I felt I could. Brian Bennett was going a great job of answering many questions. Then one of my responses drew criticism from Bud Hunt. Yes, the same Bud Hunt that I had admired just 11 months ago (and still do). It seemed to me that Bud didn't agree with the Flipped Classroom model. I felt he was oversimplifying the issue, but in his defense, in 140 characters, everything is oversimplified. I don't think I swayed his leaning much, if any. I told a colleague the next day that it was difficult for me to have someone whose work I admired be against something I had so embraced. I hoped maybe I mis-interpreted Bud's argument because of the concise nature of twitter.

When the online program was released for NCTE11 in Chicago, I immediately began searching for sessions that I would like to attend. I typed "Flipped", "Flip", "Flipping", and any other variation into the search box and came up with zero results. There were still many other good sessions I planned to attend.

On Thursday evening, I participated in a Google Plus Hangout with a handful of Flipped Class gurus (Aaron Sams, Brian Bennett, Dan Spencer, Jerry Overmyer, Ramsey Musallam, and Karl Fisch) discussing a project. I was the lone English teacher in the discussion. All the others are math and science. I was the "red-headed step-child" of the group. Here I sat in a hotel with 6000+ English teachers and I was spending my time talking with math and science teachers. It didn't quite seem right (no offense, guys).

I sat in 8 hours of sessions on Friday and got some good information. Almost every session, I noticed, brought up Google in some way. I saw presentations by fellow Google Certified Teachers, and learned small tidbits of useful knowledge here and there. But, nothing was said about the Flipped Classroom anywhere.

Things changed in my second session on Saturday. I have been considering implementing a NaNoWriMo project with my students. For those that don't know, NaNoWriMo refers to the National Novel Writing Month and helps writers gain the skills to write a novel in one month. I attended a session that included Tracy Becker. She seemed very knowledgeable and well-read as she quoted John Jazwiec, John Steinbeck, and others. Her work was clearly researched based. Then it happened....she mentioned the Flipped Classroom. My ears perked up and my tail started wagging like a dog hearing its name. Tracy was looking for ways to get more in-class work time and had decided to try the Flipped Classroom model later this school year. There was no reaction from the audience. None. Almost as though they hadn't heard her. And, like that, she was on to her next point.

I listened to the rest of her presentation and the two presenters following her. After the session, I introduced myself to Tracy and told her about my experience with the Flipped Class. (Jon and Aaron, since she is from Michigan, I also told her about the Flipped Class Conference coming to Chicago in June!) We only had a few minutes to talk, but listening to her verbalize her decision to move to the Flipped Class, I saw she was where I was about 7 months ago. I was thrilled to meet another English teacher, a respectable, intelligent one at that, come to the same conclusion about the Flipped Classroom that I had. Coincidentally, she got the idea from some math teachers at her school.

This leads me back to my original questions: Why has the Flipped Classroom evaded English Classrooms? or Why has English instruction avoided the Flipped Classroom model?

I'm not saying the flipped class is right for every teacher. But, I'm surprised more English teachers haven't embraced or even tested the Flipped Class in a small way. I was discussing with a parent early in the school year the amount of English teachers that have flipped. I said, "I realize that if I am one of the few people doing something, I am either 1) extremely progressive or 2) terribly misguided."

The Writing Workshop, while a great method that I am still implement, wasn't fully meeting the needs of my class. So, I toil forward, either being extremely progressive or terribly misguided, hoping to find more English teachers willing to try Flipped Instruction. Thank you, Tracy, for giving me hope. Thank you, Bud, for challenging me to really assess what I am doing. I am still committed to the Flipped Classroom because I am seeing great learning happening in my classroom and wonderful work coming from my students.

I've proposed a session for ISTE in June titled "Flipped Instruction in the Language Arts Classroom". I am considering a similar proposal for next year's NCTE. I know it's a gamble (that's a joke for the NCTE folk as they know the conference is being held in Las Vegas). But maybe it will put the Flipped Classroom on more English radars.

So, in answer to my initial questions, I have no idea. Do you? I'd love to discuss this with any English teachers either for or against the Flipped Classroom. Comment here, tweet me @tcockrum, or accost me at an upcoming conference.


  1. My English teachers are interested in seeing how they could implement some flipped ideas into their classrooms. Have any advice for them to start?

  2. I am also interested in this idea, but am unsure how to implement it. Any suggestions or resources I could check out?

  3. Mike,

    Thanks for the question about the Flipped Class. My advice to get started is:
    1. choose one unit or two upcoming units
    2. determine learning objective for the unti(s)
    3. determine activities to assess that objective (could be the same activities they already do if they are effective)
    4. then look at what content needs to be delivered through whole group direct instruction in class and offload it to a video, podcast, etc. (at the beginning, it is alright to use someone else's video, but eventually, they should make their own)
    5. determine a simple, reasonable way to hold students accountable for the content and clearly make the expectation known to students
    6. Let parents also know of the expectation (also be prepared to help parent/students with technology issues)
    7. Be organized and remember to talk to ask many students as possible (preferrably all) every day of the unit.

    I'd be happy to answer any question you or they have. If time permits, I'd be happy to do a G+ Hangout or Skype session to talk to them. Email me privately at staenglish78 at gmail dot com if you have more questions.

  4. Deanna,

    Thanks for your question about Flipped Class. I'm happy to help. Two excellent resources I've used are and The first one is a Flipped Class Network community of educators using and exploring the Flipped Class. Great way to make contacts and get questions answered. The second site has a great section on tools you can use and how to use them as well as some theoretical foundations for the Flipped Class. Those are my two go to sites for information. I have a lot of other resources that I could provide based on your individual need, but most can be found by using the two sites I mentioned. Also, if you are on twitter, follow #flipclass to get more info.

    Feel free to email me if you have more questions.

  5. I have read a little about this concept, and I am interested as well. I think the lack of interest isn't that there is NO interest. I think the lack of models for us to look at (I know--perhaps laziness on our part) is a deterrent. Thanks for the advice on where to look.

  6. I teach 9th grade English, and I am interested in the flipped classroom (among other things/conferences that you mentioned). The nutshell explanation that I was given of the flipped classroom is that the teaching is done via the internet at home, and the practice/application is done in the classroom. The first difficulty I see with my situation is that my high school is on a block schedule, so I see a class for 90 minutes twice a week and then again for 40 minutes on Fridays. My fear is that the instruction at home will take too long, and the practice in class won't take long enough.

  7. I've started flipping my senior English class and found that I've gone much more project-based then anything. I am at a loss for what to post as video- I assign topics to groups and they discuss the day's reading instead (we now read difficult texts in class like Heart of Darkness). Have you found that your classes have gone more PBL than anything?

  8. Thanks for the comments. I do do a lot of PBL. I find my videos are made up of concepts or instruction that I consistently am asked or need to repeat. This way, when the question is asked, I can direct them to check their notes or re-watch the video. The videos are also a good way to prep students for discussion. Give them key terms that will probably come up...that sort of thing.

  9. Wow! These words are my thoughts exactly. I'm an English teacher from Sweden. I teach at the secondary school level, and I really want to flip my classroom. I teach English, Entrepreneurship and some Media related stuff at the Technology Programme so basically the framework is set for me. I have the students, I have the will and I have the resources ready. All I lack are ideas to go about it.

    Like you, all I find about the flipped classroom is made by Math and Science teachers and flipping their classrooms seems more natural. There is so much more stuff in English class I wouldn't know how to go about flipping. I have some ideas about making videos of me going through different points of grammar. Perhaps using stop motion or some other film tricks to hopefully make it a little more interesting. But basically to offer students a way to work with the issue that is most at hand. Also I'm thinking about creating online exercises that are available and add some examinations that students can go through when they feel confident enough.

    I'm really looking for other people that share my situation or have progressed through it, to be able to learn more and get more ideas.

  10. I agree with Cockrum's assessment of the use of flipping in English so far-- most effective subjects for videos tend to be the things that I get repeated questions about, the things I just get tired of repeating.

    I'm finding myself doing much what Sams/Bergmann are talking about in their recent interviews/blogs, which is using video as one prong of a differentiated learning plan for the students who need it. I don't see flipping as the endgame anymore (though I used to as well); it's one of the balls in the cannon.

    Does anyone here know of screen capture software for Macs that I can use to talk my way through, say, writing essay openings? (So students can see me stutter and fight my way through the writing process...)

    1. Have you tried Camtasia Studio by Techsmith?
      I did this with it:
      Is that what you had in mind?
      They have a free 30 day trial. Mac and PC version. I use the PC version but have heard the Mac version is much better.

  11. I'm a second year teacher of 7th grade ELA and really want to try flipping the class next year. I've had trouble finding ELA focused advice or example videos on flipping and came across your site. I have the summer to explore and start thinking about how I want to do this next year and I'm not totally sure where to start. I was thinking to start with just grammar instruction, but don't want my students to get bored and turned off to the process because well... they dislike grammar. Is there a way I can get access to your videos to see the types of lessons you do... especially if they are literature and/or writing based. Also, any resources you can point me towards this summer would be so beneficial. THANKS!

  12. What I don't understand about the flipped classroom is if I can't get them to read a book at home, how am I supposed to get them to watch a video? And why would I even WANT them to watch a video vs using that time for independent reading or writing? PBL is all very good, but they still have to learn how to write a paper . . .

  13. I too have been interested in doing flipped lessons in my ELA classroom. My initial struggle with getting started is that in ELA I am teaching more skills, like reading and writing skills, than I am teaching content, like different types of figurative language. I think is is more clear cut for math & science because their curriculum is focused content...a particular theorem in math or concept in science. Putting content into a video is straightforward, but encapsulating a skill into a short video is not so clear. I have started doing 5 minute lessons using Jing on "how to use" and "how to make a MLA works cited page" and "how to navigate and use OWL at Purdue." Does anyone know if an English teacher exchange for flipped lessons exists?

  14. JC: Try here or here

  15. Hello there, Mike. I just wanted to let you know that I am finishing my Master's in English as I type this and my graduate research project is delving into this exact question. I would be interested to hear of any great resources you might have to share.

  16. I taught English/Language Arts for nine years and then moved to another state that didn't recognize my license. I'm currently pursuing a master's degree in secondary education so I can get back in the classroom, and we're learning about the Flipped Classroom model in my Technology Integration class. Every single piece of information we've read/watched gives examples of the model in a math classroom. I Googled "flipped classroom and English" and ended up here. I'm glad I did; now at least I have somewhere to start when get back in the classroom!

    Also, what's your take on trying to initiate a flipped classroom in a district where the "digital divide" is very real?

    1. Jen,
      I wrote this post over a year ago and am finding more and more English flippers all the time. Email me directly if you want to find more resources.

      As for the Digital Divide, it takes some work but is definitely manageable. As a matter of fact, when Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams began flipping in rural Colorado they had nearly 60% of their students without internet access. Many of my students watch videos in class, which is one option. You can out videos on a flash drive for those with a computer but no internet access. You can make your videos smart phone accessible. And, you can always burn to a dvd and distribute the dvds. There aren't many homes anymore without a dvd player. I also offer before and after school availability for students wanting to come in outside of school hours to watch videos.

    2. Jen, also check out the resources at ... Lots and lots of good stuff there.

  17. Great article, thank you for putting it out there. I too am a former TV producer/writer turned teacher -- actually this was my first year teaching. My math-y husband turned me onto Khan Academy, which led me to a massive research project on flipping classrooms, which led me down the path of struggling to find resources and connections for English teachers who want to flip. Your blog and this one are the only two really solid resources I have found so far. I'm on the journey. One of my big summer projects is to break down the curriculum and begin making videos for instruction. News didn't prepare me for ten weeks off at a time!

  18. Mr. Cockrum,

    I have delved into this and attempting to also "flip" my classroom, but I am at the Middle School level of ELA. I have a reading class--with a prescribed curriculum that cannot be changed--and a writing class. The writing class is the one I'm looking at completely flipping but my question to you is how many middle school classrooms do you know of that have flipped? I agree ELA is a rare field to be flipped, but middle school is also a rare field. I'm wondering if you have any resources as how people have adapted at the MS level. Thank you!

    1. Upon writing this previous post, I began perusing your site. YOU'RE the ever-elusive MS ELA teacher! Awesome! I look forward to continue following your blogs and YouTube! I feel fortunate I crossed your digital path and look forward to learning from you.