The Tension of Teaching in a Flipped Classroom: Yin and Yang

Preparing and facilitating learning experiences in the flipped classroom is different from preparing and delivering a lecture. Your role changes from organizing talking points and delivering content to organizing activities and facilitating the learning process. Often, it’s described as moving from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.”

If you’re already flipping your class or thinking about trying a few active learning strategies, it’s important to consider this shift. It changes the whole dynamic of the learning environment and introduces a new set of challenges you may not be prepared for.

When you FLIP, you step away from delivering lectures from the podium and move into the classroom with your students.  You stop talking at your students and start talking with them.

As you make this transition, you will probably feel some tension as you’re pulled in opposite directions. I call it the “yin and yang” phenomenon of the flipped classroom. You need to have a plan, yet you need to be flexible. You need to be organized, yet you need to accommodate the “messy” process of learning. You need to be in control, but you have to learn how to “let go” and step to the side.

These opposites are magnified in the flipped classroom and can create stress for both you and your students if it leads to an environment that is out of control. You don’t want to get too off balance or lean too far one way or the other. This can leave you, and your students, feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.

In this article, let’s focus on just one of the yin and yang concepts and discuss what you can do to so you and your students are successful:

Yin and Yang in the Flipped Classroom:  Have a plan, but be flexible!

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when implementing the flipped classroom model is to “wing it.” You need to take time to get organized before you FLIP.

Just as you would prepare talking points or develop an outline for a lecture, you must prepare the activities and materials students will need to engage in the learning experience. This is why it’s important to plan. Having a plan in place will help you clear your mind and focus on the students’ needs.

But within that plan, you need to build in flexibility so you don’t feel like you’re losing control or sinking into chaos when something unexpected happens. Here are three strategies to help you balance planning with flexibility:

1. Try “dogfooding.”

Recently, I read a post written by Jennifer Gonzalez, creator of Cult of Pedagogy, who shared the idea of “dogfooding.” Until I read her blog post, I’d never heard this term before. It’s a term borrowed from the tech world, but it is perfect for thinking about how to balance planning and being flexible in the flipped classroom.

Gonzalez explains, “[Dogfooding] refers to the act of using your own product as a consumer in order to work out its glitches, the metaphorical equivalent of 'eating your own dog food.'" In other words, put yourself into the shoes of your customers. Or, in our case, our learners.

When you are planning a flipped activity for the first time or trying a new assignment, do it yourself as if you are the student. Pay attention to places where the instructions aren’t clear. Take note of moments where students might be confused. Think about how the assignment can be completed if you didn’t prepare for class. And, be sure to track how long it takes you to do it since students will probably need twice as much time.

All of this preparation will help you think through each part of the activity, clarify the plan for each step, and figure out how to organize all the materials. It’ll also help you practice explaining the assignment to students and anticipate questions.

You’ll also see where students need additional help so you can allow extra time within the lesson. Which leads us to the next strategy…

2. Create margin.

I wrote an article a few summers ago about building margin into your flipped lesson plan. Margin is the space between being productive and being overwhelmed. When you create margin in your lesson, you are intentionally creating space for things that don’t go as planned.

Build in time for problems with technology, late students, or unexpected classroom management situations. By building in this “whitespace” during class, you also allow students time to pause, reflect, and think. Margin gives students extra time to do the task but also to venture away from it if they are curious and want to explore something that interests them.

Margin gives students the space they need examine many possible approaches before they arrive at the final solution. By creating this flexible space in your lesson, you’ll avoid getting stressed or overwhelmed when things don’t go according to the plan.

3. Practice becoming actively passive.

One of the most challenging parts of the flipped classroom is learning how to “let go” of the learning environment. You’re still in charge of the classroom, but you have to learn how to step the side and allow students to accomplish the learning outcomes at their own pace and using processes you might not have considered.

The flipped classroom is a dynamic learning environment with many moving pieces. Students are often working in groups. They are solving problems. They are discussing ideas. Some groups work faster than others. Some students have more questions. Some students will be prepared, and some will not. Some students need guidance. Some groups need a referee.

As the instructor, you will find yourself working hard as you try to meet with each group of students to answer questions. You’ll have to shift gears quickly as you move around the room to provide help, additional resources, or reassurance. Learning to become actively passive can help you manage the flipped learning experience without feeling like you are losing control.  

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to plan the flipped learning experience. If you don’t take the time to plan, then your flipped classroom will feel chaotic and unorganized, and this will only lead to an increase in student resistance and frustration.

However, within your plan, build in flexibility, and allow time for students to pause, reflect, and think. It’s a fine balance.

Let’s keep the conversation going. What advice do you have for balancing your “yin and yang” roles in the flipped classroom?


Learn more about creating successful flipped and active learning experiences, enroll in an online course or webinar today! See the list of FLIP It courses.

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