Upside-down instruction? Topsy-turvy teaching? You may have heard the buzz about the flipped classroom model, but do you really know what it’s all about? For teacher Aaron Sams, one of the originators of the flipped classroom, it’s simply an improvement. Want to know how it works and why it’s caught the attention of thought leaders in education? Read on to learn the key components of the flipped classroom model.

Lessons Happen at Home

Flipped learning takes lectures out of classrooms and moves them to a space where today’s children are much more comfortable: their home computer. Teachers shoot their own instructional videos and assign them to students to watch at home. Ideally, this helps students to more easily retain the information because they can pause and rewind at will. Students who learn quickly won’t get bored, and students who need more time don’t get left behind. A parent who watches along with her kid gets a new perspective on what’s being taught each day, and she can see her kid’s learning style in action.

Students Learn at Their Own Pace

When students learn at home, there is less risk of self-consciousness and embarrassment. If a student needs to revisit a concept, he can review the material. If he has a pressing question, he has time to form the question and bring it to his teacher later. In a traditional classroom environment, some students hesitate to ask questions for fear of ridicule and judgment by peers, and in some cases, even by the teachers themselves. With the flipped classroom model, students learn in a safe space at their own pace.

Learning Can Happen, Even When Class Is Skipped

One reason the flipped classroom was born was that some of Sams’ students were frequently missing classes for extracurricular school activities. By providing video lessons, via Internet or DVDs, Sams made sure those students wouldn’t miss a key lesson or the teaching of an important concept. Students in a flipped class can go on a band trip or stay home with the flu, and still keep up academically.

Collaboration Is at the Core

If the lecture happens at home, what happens in the classroom? The goal of the flipped model is to bring more active learning into the classroom. Hands-on projects, Q-and-A sessions and other forms of give-and-take instruction are done in a group setting with teachers and peers present to help. In flipped classrooms, the emphasis is placed on interpersonal dynamics between students. The extensive interaction that occurs not only promotes upper-level thinking, but also team-building skills. Working with others enhances young learners' creative abilities as they’re given insight into the thought processes of other students.

Teaching Can Be Individualized

According to a report by the Flipped Learning Network, one of the core principles of the flipped classroom is the idea of student-centered instruction, where teaching is driven more by the learning styles of individual students rather than a curriculum timeline. “The greatest benefit is the teacher being able to spend time with each student every day to address individual learning needs,” Sams says. While students use the knowledge gained from video instruction to work together in the classroom, the teacher has more freedom to help each student individually.

College Prep Begins Earlier

While the Common Core Standards were designed to teach skills that prepare students for college and beyond, the flipped classroom model actually resembles the collegiate learning approach. Students in flipped classes read at home and discuss what they’ve learned in class, much like college courses. The flipped model equips students early on with the skills they’ll need to succeed later in life, both in higher education and in the working world. 

High-Stakes Testing Takes a Backseat

While mainstream education reform revolves around high-stakes standardized testing, the flipped model encourages intellectual “feeling out” of important concepts rather than academic performance. This contrast surely fuels the fire of academic-centered debates. Flipped learning opponents argue that schools need to stay on track now more than ever; many supporters, on the other hand, say flipped learning provides a more stimulating alternative to the rote learning and anxiety involved in high-stakes testing.

There’s no rule book for a flipped classroom—but there are guiding principles. Teachers, schools and districts may interpret and implement these principles differently. If the flipped model is coming to your child’s school, use this article as a jumping off point to ask questions and offer suggestions about how this new educational style can benefit your child. And if it has already come to your child’s school, be patient during the transition to this very different style of teaching—it may take time for students and teachers to adjust.