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‘Flipped classroom’  offers one solution to homework overload

DeenBess Sherman

Deena Bess Sherman

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Flip Your

Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, was published in July 2012 by the International Society for Technology in Education and the ASCD. It is available at and

Updated: February 19, 2013 2:08PM

Everyone hates homework. Students complain about doing it, teachers hate correcting it, and parents feel helpless when they lack the expertise to help with it.

A recent Beacon article entitled “Homework Headaches” reminded us how much time some Fox Valley students spend trying to keep up with it.

Various solutions — like block schedules or mandatory study halls — have been suggested. My daughter, Kyra, who remembers long nights of high school homework and now studies at Aurora University to become a teacher, told me about an innovative solution. It’s called the “flipped classroom.”

It was stumbled upon by high school chemistry teachers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann of Woodland Park, Colo. In order to help students who missed class, the teachers began recording lectures so they could be watched from home.

The unintended consequence was that other students began missing class because they could watch the lectures at their convenience. So Sams and Bergmann had a brilliant idea: let all the students do just that — then use class time to ask questions and get help with homework!

The approach has both pros and cons. On the pro side: teachers don’t have to give the same lecture five times in a row each day; teachers have more “face-time” with individual students; and students get their homework done during school. It also helps address the disparity between households where parents have the time and knowledge to help their children with difficult courses and households where this is not the case.

In the current issue of “Education Week,” Superintendent Patrick Twomey of Havana (Ill.) Community School District explained: “(In the current model), one student goes home to educated parents who can help him with his homework, while another student goes home and gets no help. In the flipped model, both of those kids come back to the classroom after receiving the content, and now all of the help with the homework is given by the expert in the field.”

Flipped classrooms also have drawbacks. The most obvious is that students who usually don’t complete homework may not listen to the assigned video either. Second, for people who want to get away from a lecture-based learning paradigm, this does not do it.

Robert Payne, a history teacher at West Aurora High School, raised another concern. He said: “I think ‘flipping’ is a fairly good idea on the surface; however, I believe that it would severely limit the interaction, inquiry, and feedback that is essential to the learning process . . . . some of the most salient learning experiences come from the spontaneous reaction to new ideas and concepts as they unfold in class. Additionally, the teacher often relies on a variety of non-verbal cues as he or she delivers information.”

Another point made in the “Education Week” article is that “flipping” does not turn poor teachers into good ones. One of the major keys to learning is simply having good teachers who can engage students both as a class and as individuals. It is also important for parents to stay involved in their children’s education, whether or not they are able to help with homework.

I believe that ultimately the best education takes place when committed teachers are allowed the freedom to use many different learning tools. The flipped classroom might be among them, especially if homework is an ongoing concern.

At the end of the day, I agree with Payne when he says, “I personally believe that a fully interactive classroom in which the students and teachers exchange ideas and opinions is a better approach.” But that’s in a perfect world with teachers as talented and inspiring as Payne and students who can complete long, sometimes difficult homework assignments. In our imperfect world, some limited classroom flipping may be an interesting tool to address the homework issue.

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