Flipping the Classroom: Does It Work? Will It Work for Me?

Flipping the Classroom: Does It Work…and Will It Work for Me?

In a previous SmartMusic blog post I shared some actionable tips for flipping the ensemble classroom. Today I’d like to focus on the history and efficacy of flipping the classroom and share a few tips to get started or to take your flipping to the next level.

A Brief History of the Flipped Classroom

By now, most educators have at least a rudimentary understanding of the concept of flipping the classroom. Generally, students learn the content outside of class time and then come to class to apply the content. So, when did the concept of “flipping the classroom” begin?

The pervasiveness of technology, coupled with philosophical discussions on teaching, led chemistry teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, then teachers at Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, Colorado, to essentially become pioneers of the flipped-class movement.

They began planning their classes together and sharing ideas about teaching. One day, Bergmann stumbled across a program that would convert PowerPoint Presentations into narrated video files. In 2007, the two began to explore that program as to help support students who were absent from class. While they stated that they recorded the lectures somewhat out of “selfishness” to avoid constantly having to go over what students missed, they discovered that students who actually were in class were also watching the videos over and over to help review for exams. This led the duo to explore the concept of providing “lecture-based” content through online videos and to focus on the application of the concepts in class.

While they do not claim to have coined the term “flipped-class,” nor do they claim to be the first to do so, they are widely recognized as early forces in the movement. Bergmann and Sams did, however, note that their students achieved at a higher level with the flipped-class approach.

The Influence of Subsequent Technology

Since that 2007-2008 academic year, technology has advanced rapidly. In the past decade, phones have gone from being used for talking or clumsy number-pad texting to essentially being mini-computers that keep people connected, and maybe even connected too much.

Technology, namely smartphones, has created a society that is perhaps addicted to connectivity and that is almost fearful of separation from technology. That has resulted in the development of numerous tech tools that have taken the awkward “narrated PowerPoint approach” to new levels with technology that allows video-commenting, embedded assessment, and tools that work on any device. That means that students can literally learn from their phones wherever they are and whenever it is convenient for them.

Do Students Benefit from Flipping the Classroom?

A big question that has yet to be definitively answered is whether flipping classes actually works. There are absolutely steadfast proponents of flipping classes and there are definite naysayers. Proponents cite things like the fact that students can go back and revisit lectures and other provided content as often as they wish. Naysayers will counter that students will either just skim the content or not look at it at all, so they will not learn. Some students like the flexibility of the learning activities done at home. Others may struggle with the technology, particularly if they do not have a strong internet connection, a good device to use at home, or if they live somewhere that lacks privacy or quiet to complete assignments that may require listening and recording.

Advocates of flipping the class cite boring classes, typified by the “Bueller, Bueller…” teacher of the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” An image is painted of how bored the students are in class listening to lectures and how engaged they are when they are online. Those not in support of flipping the class would say that teachers just need to do a better job making their classes engaging – and they might note that if online assignments are not created well and followed with meaningful applications of the content in class, they will not satisfy the spirit of the flipped class, anyway.

But, does it work? It depends on who you ask. A study by four professors at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, revealed that there was no demonstrable, statistical difference between the students who participated in the classes with the flipped approach and those with the traditional approach. In this pilot study, each teacher taught two sections of the same course, one flipped and one traditional, and tried to assess which was more effective for student learning by looking at numerous indicators.

Another study, conducted by the Flipped Learning Network in conjunction with ClassroomWindow, revealed that flipping the class made a tremendous amount of difference, raising standardized test scores by 67%. Both of these studies were cited in an article in USA Today.

There are probably as many studies, teachers, and reasons that support the flipped-class approach as there are to oppose it. In my opinion, the possibilities of using technology to expand learning by exploring at least a little flipping of classes should be something all educators explore. If nothing else it can facilitate having a meaningful class when a non-music substitute teacher is present or to be able to have class on a day when school is cancelled for weather. (I live in Pennsylvania – snow days are part of our lives!) Learning about tech tools – and how they can expand learning beyond the traditional method of the teacher delivering the content live – can help each educator find the right balance between flipping everything and flipping nothing. Educators know that students do not all learn the same way and at the same pace, so flipped classes can offer opportunities for differentiation – even students self-differentiating – and for diversifying the way content is delivered to ensure that all students are reached.

Additional Pros and Cons

For teachers, flipping the class requires substantial preparation outside of class. For example, if I am going to “lecture” a 30-minute class, I have to plan the lecture, but I don’t actually have to GIVE the lecture before class. I also don’t have to deal with the hurdles that may be encountered in the process of recording, which could be anything from needing a Java update to the neighbor deciding to cut his grass. In a flipped class, any content delivered as a lecture (or with narrated slides or similar) would have to be planned and recorded ahead of time. Relevant content and activities have to be planned out and resources created or located.

Additionally, good teachers will incorporate meaningful assessment and application activities to ensure that the students are, in fact, meeting the objectives, so setting these up takes time. While that is neither a positive nor a negative to flipping the class in terms of student-learning, it can be a concern to teachers who are already very busy. That said, if the content is created well and with reuse in mind (ex. avoiding saying “this is due on December 10” or “wasn’t last week’s football game great!?”), once the content is created, it can be reused. Additionally, colleagues, even from other schools, can provide content videos for their own areas of expertise to share amongst a group of teachers, which can provide resources to lighten the load.

Comfort With Public Visibility

One often overlooked consideration for posting content online, such as videos of lectures, is that not all teachers want to be on YouTube. While many teachers are very comfortable with an online presence, other teachers prefer more anonymity in the online world. Once content is created and out there, it could potentially be copied and shared. Teachers should keep that in mind when creating content and should ensure that they are comfortable with the professionalism of any materials they create and distribute online. This includes ensuring that they are abiding by copyright laws for work that is not their own.

Some teachers noted that even though they created YouTube videos for their classes, students from around the world were accessing the videos, as were students’ parents (in order to better help their children) so there is no telling how far the videos might reach.

Where to Start

For those who have not flipped a class before, perhaps the best place to start in a music ensemble setting is with something very content-based, like learning the background of a piece or information about a composer. It does not have to be something to take up an entire class. Instead, focus on an objective – “as a result of participating in these activities, the students will be able to describe the story behind [musical work]” – and consider content and activities that will support student learning for that objective.

The way I like to deliver content like this is by creating a slideshow with something like PowerPoint and choosing one of many programs, like VoiceThread or Nearpod, to convert the slideshow into interactive content that can include assessment. I narrate slides that benefit from verbal explanations, incorporate videos, and include student-response opportunities so I can learn more about the students’ understanding of the content. At times, I also include a quiz or similar assessment through my learning management system so I can check for learning.

More Advanced Implementation

For those who are already flipping their ensembles and have the content-sharing aspects down pat, I recommend exploring flipping some assessment opportunities, particularly self-assessment and peer-assessment. To do that, I like using VoiceThread or GoReact. They allow students to upload videos of individual or class performances and then have students either self-assess or peer-assess by commenting on the performances.

Directors often play a recording or show a video of a concert performance and ask the class for their opinions either verbally or by writing the thoughts on paper. Rather than taking class time to do that, moving that activity outside of class will give students the chance to listen and process their thoughts before responding and they will not have to fear “being wrong” when speaking out loud in class. All students, even the shyest students, can participate. The director can choose whether or not students’ comments will be visible by others. I recommend not having them visible at first, but then opening up the comments after the assignment is due and having students review them to see what common themes emerged.

In conclusion, regardless of whether flipping classes is or is not trending in your school, the bottom line is that the teaching needs to be done well, whether it is done in a traditional classroom with traditional, but engaging, content-delivery or whether it is done online with interactive technology and activities woven in. Each teacher needs to consider his or her learners and situation to determine what will have the strongest positive impact on student learning in that setting. In the music classroom, some content simply cannot be flipped, but being open to considering the content that can be can open up more time for making music – and there is never enough time for that!


Atteberry, Emily. “’Flipped Classrooms’ May Not Have Any Impact on Learning.” USA Today (October 22, 2013), accessed online June 6, 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/22/flipped-classrooms-effectiveness/3148447/

Bergmann, Jonathan and Aaron Sams. “Our Story: Creating the Flipped Classroom.” Brock International Prize in Education (2014), accessed online June 2, 2017, brockprize.org/nominees/Bergmann-Sams.pdf.

Graham, Edward and Tim Walker. “What ‘Flipped’ Classrooms Can (and Can’t) Do for Education.” NEA Today (March 29, 2013), accessed online June 6, 2017, http://neatoday.org/2013/03/29/what-flipped-classrooms-can-and-cant-do-for-education/.

Straumsheim, Carl. “Still in Favor of the Flip.” Inside Higher Ed. (October 30, 2013), accessed online 6 June 2017 https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/10/30/despite-new-studies-flipping-classroom-still-enjoys-widespread-support.

Dr. Kathleen Melago serves as associate professor of music education at Slippery Rock University and has served as the head of the music education program since she joined the faculty at SRU in August 2009. She has taught music in school and privately in Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Ohio. Kathy frequently presents at state, regional, and national conferences, and has recently presented at the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference, the National Association for Music Education Eastern Division Conference, and the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Spring Conference. She is looking forward to presenting at the National Association for Music Education National In-Service in Grapevine, TX, in November 2017.

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