Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

10.23.15Some Questions about Reading in the “Flipped” Classroom

iStock_000007931611_MediumMy son started high school this year and among other things the process has caused me to reflect on some current ideas in education I have not paid much attention to….one of these is the “flipped” classroom, which is the way at least one of his teachers runs class.

The idea behind the flipped classroom in case you, like me, are a late adopter, is that the “lecture” happens at home instead of in school (the flip) and class is more activity-based.  This means my son watches video lectures of science content in the evenings for homework. There are some benefits to this. The content he sees is rich in many ways–it’s a lecture supported by images and graphics and footage of whatever they are talking about–eukaryotic cells, say.  And the lectures are well prepared by a professional scientist so they are engaging and rich in facts, and he doesn’t mind listening. But there are also some downsides- foremost among them is that they never read in or for science class. Homework used to be regular reading from a text book and that does not seem to have flipped to anywhere–the classroom or any place else.

I asked my son about this the other night because it concerns me. You have to get a lot of your information in the sciences directly from texts in college, and scientific writing is a distinct genre with its own style. It requires practice. So in short, I think it’s really really important to both read and be able to read the literature of the discipline in the sciences.

Anyway my son’s response to, “Do you ever read for science? from the textbook, say?” was, “Well, we have a textbook.”  There’s also new research coming out that suggests that students learn less from online presentations of information, and that because it comes easily, it goes easily.

Anyway, I’d be interested to hear from some folks who know flipping. How do you address or think about the potential lack of reading in flipped classrooms?Are there things you do to ensure that flipped classrooms still include regular reading? And do you worry about lower absorption of content via online presentations?

Just wondering. Thanks for your thoughts.

7 Responses to “Some Questions about Reading in the “Flipped” Classroom”

  1. Janette Thompson
    October 23, 2015 at 8:02 am


    I’m a big fan of flipped learning and think that technology can go a long way towards achieving a good ‘flip’ ethos in a way that engages young people.

    My particular interest is how an attractice and interactive VLE can be used to host a variety of activities INCLUDING reading material both in the form of ‘text book’ type entries, videos, such as the ones you describe in your post, and other more interactive functions such as mulitiple choice questions and forums that encourage students to ‘do something’ with the material they have just read/listened to. Such activity as posting in a forum would allow students to both read and write, hopefully using the language pertaining to that particular subject.

    Other websites such as TED Ed allow you to do this very well and, ideally, one would put together lessons which include reading stimulus as well as video and audio materials.

    • Doug Lemov
      October 23, 2015 at 10:01 am

      Thanks, Janette- Really helpful. It sounds like reading can live–quite happily–with flipping. Someone on my fb site noted that textbooks aren’t really that well written or “disciplinary” though. He suggested having students read actual scientific writing and your set-up could allow that too. Less reading maybe but of higher quality. Anyway, thanks.


  2. Rob Grant
    October 23, 2015 at 8:41 am

    Hi Doug,

    your point about reading is interesting. In the way that flipping is often described the pre class part is simply some kind of presentation, as you describe in your son’s case. My impression is that this is broadening out a bit, with the pre class bit seen as ‘preparation’ and including more varied activities. I’m in the early stages, using a flipped approach with one first year stats for social science at a UK university. The materials I ask students to work through before each class include online reading, academic paper reading, practical data analysis tasks, exercises and multiple choice questions – as well as screencasts of me explaining and demonstrating stuff. In class we do a variety of interactive activities to help the students chew over and get feedback on all this. There is a big focus on the readings.

    I do share your concern that there is less ‘absorption’ from recorded me presenting than from me live presenting. However i) I don’t generally find absorption as helpful a metaphor for learning as construction and ii) flipping responds to my longstanding sense that the best learning happens after my initial stab at presenting material, when students get to try and apply ideas themselves, ask me questions, get stuck, help each other, review and so on. The problem was that most of the time students and I had together was spent on my first stab presentation, squeezing out the most valuable stuff. So far, I’m pleased with the way that flipping is helping to solve this.

    Let me stop here. Hopefully others with more experience of flipping will have insights to share.


    • Doug Lemov
      October 23, 2015 at 9:58 am

      Hi, Rob-

      Thanks for such a thorough and thoughtful response. I see how the concept in your class focuses on doing the highest quality (and most challenging or important) work in the classroom setting. That makes a lot of sense to me.

      Thanks for such a helpful comment.


  3. Mary Lou Buell
    October 23, 2015 at 10:26 am

    I flipped my class 5 years ago…only did it for one year, and got me over the “but how can I not lecture” hump. (Now I never lecture and don’t flip.) My motivation for flipping was so that my students would read in class, under my supervision (often with me reading aloud as “the voice inside your head” as they read on their own), and with me modeling comprehension strategies.

    From what I know the purpose of flipping is to do have the lighter, easier work be done at home, and the heavy lifting done in class. Your questions are valid, and I would raise with the teacher.

    It’s hard sometimes being the teacher-parent! My daughter just started high school as well…right there with you!

    • Doug Lemov
      October 23, 2015 at 10:33 am

      Thanks, Mary Lou. Your observation, “The purpose of flipping is to do have the lighter, easier work be done at home, and the heavy lifting done in class,” is actually incredibly helpful to me in thinking about it. 1) we so often do stuff in education because you are supposed to do it without really knowing our own purpose…so there are a thousand purposes for flipping, say, or something else. your purpose statement is really clear though; it’s about boosting rigor so we do the hard stuff together, whatever it is. 2) it seems to align with what some of the other folks who’ve commented here or on twitter/facebook have pointed out: that if their goal is to make that hard stuff happen in class, there’s no reason that can’t include reading which, done well, is really good as a shared activity. Anyway, thanks. -Doug

  4. Heather
    September 22, 2017 at 3:00 am

    I teach 11th and 12th grade biology and it has always seemed to me that science classes have always “flipped” the classroom if the idea is for students to prepare/gain *some* understanding so that valuable class time can be spent “doing” science (labs, discussions, data analysis, argument-driven inquiry etc). I feel like the *new* aspect to flipping is to use video instead of reading a textbook at home.

    I, like you, worry that the skills necessary for building deep understanding come with reading, and that by not spending the time processing and self-assessing their understanding, and instead opting for sometimes short videos, we aren’t teaching our students how to do those important skills.

    I think like most things, balancing the kinds of work and preparation at home is probably the best strategy. Scaffolding how to read a text, how to summarize, how to consolidate ideas, and even how to self-reflect, helps build students’ confidence when they face academic challenges in the future. Spending time in class talking about their strategies for tackling the text, talking to their neighbors and comparing notes, and modeling by showing my notes of the same assignment, provide students with the tools necessary to feel confident. Re-assuring them that yes, in fact, they can handle it and thrive, boosts their self-esteem in the end.

    I try to mix it up. Sometimes prep (homework) is reading, sometimes videos with questions, or sometimes activities/analysis problems.

    Thanks for this post! I’ve Been thinking about this for awhile and value the discussion! (Sorry I’m just seeing this now!)

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