Engaging Students: Essays in Music Pedagogy

Table of Contents

The Basic Flip

Kris Shaffer, University of Colorado–Boulder

The basic flip is what most people think of when they think of the “inverted” or “flipped” class. It is the simplest form of the inverted class for an instructor accustomed to lecture courses to adopt, and is often the first flipped model an instructor attempts. It also often serves as a gateway to other, more complex or customized approaches to student-centered learning.

In a basic flip, information transfer is handled outside of class through readings or video (micro)lectures, so that class time can be devoted to active student work. This flipping, or inverting, of the spaces in which information transfer and active work take place is the source of the term “flipped” or “inverted” class. This flip is often explained in reference to Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains, putting the elements lower in the taxonomy—which require lower-level cognitive engagement—outside of class, and putting elements higher in the taxonomy—which demand higher-level cognitive engagement—in class, where peers and instructors are present to assist in handling the cognitive workload. The basic flip is the model advocated by early K–12 pioneers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams in Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.

The basic flip seeks to make the best use of in-class and out-of-class time with minimal changes to other pedagogical structures. For example, the standard progression of information transfer (or explanation) followed by active student work in assimilating concepts or applying skills is maintained. The first stage of a unit in a basic-flip setting would be the same as a traditional lecture course: information transfer. Instead of an in-class lecture, though, students will either read a passage in a textbook or watch a video. If an instructor uses a video, it is often created by the instructor (though materials from other instructors abound online and are freely usable), and is typically shorter than a regular lecture. Just as textbook chapters often have mid-reading exercises to break the stream of new information and to provide students with an opportunity to check if they have understood what they have just read, some instructors embed basic questions or exercises in the video, instructing students to pause, try it out, view the answer, and rewind if necessary. It is important to note that though video lectures are common in a basic flip, and though videos are included in many instructors’ or administrators’ definitions of the flipped or inverted classroom, information transfer in a basic flip can also be accomplished with a standard textbook, making it an easy first step in flipping a class. (Philip Duker demonstrated this approach to video creation at FlipCamp Music Theory 2013.)

In-class activities in a basic flip range from exercises reminiscent of homework in a typical lecture class to collaborative student projects to peer instruction tasks. Not all active student work need take place during class meetings for a class to be considered “flipped,” but it is key that the students’ first engagement with a task high in Bloom’s taxonomy take place in the presence of the instructor and peers.

There are several advantages to a basic-flip model. Audrey McLaren McGoldrick outlines these in the following slideshow:

Flip o Graphic by amcsquared

First, the basic flip allows students to absorb information at their own pace and in settings they find to be optimal. Both the optimal pace and the optimal settings are different for each student. Replacing the one-pace-fits-all lecture with self-paced information transfer outside of class allows most students to engage raw information in ways that are better fit to their learning styles and strategies. Second, as McLaren McGoldrick illustrates, students are no longer left on their own for their initial attempts at tasks that require high-level cognitive work. Instead, they do that work in the presence of peers and their instructor whom they can consult with questions and confusions. Related to this advantage is the instructor’s ability to discern student difficulty much earlier in the learning process than in a traditional lecture–homework model. The instructor can redirect students, or adjust pedagogical plans, before the class moves on to the next topic of study. Lastly, though not illustrated by McLaren McGoldrick, the basic flip allows for a degree of self-pacing in the class. That is, if student work is individualized enough, students (or groups of students) can progress through topics at different paces. This may not always be desirable, but when it is, the flipped model affords this possibility more readily than a lecture–homework model.

The flipped class can work rather well for traditional music topics. Take the example of species counterpoint, a staple in undergraduate music theory courses. A topic of study would begin with a reading or a video. In the case of species counterpoint, a short reading (a chapter from Salzer and Schachter’s Counterpoint in Composition, for example, or simply a one- or two-page list of rules and techniques) combined with a short video demonstration of the instructor working out an exercise is a helpful combination. Students would read and watch these materials before class. A short information-retention quiz could be given online or at the beginning of class, to motivate and/or direct student engagement with the material. The bulk of class time is devoted to students working out exercises, revisiting the explanatory materials as necessary, with the instructor moving about the classroom, observing and directing student work. (I recommend having students do this work with a single partner at the keyboard, with the instructor making changes in student partnerships when necessary.) This practice work, which would not be graded, could be followed by a high-stakes, in-class or take-home assessment at the end of the unit. Alternatively, in a self-paced environment, instructors can assess this work informally; when students demonstrate sufficient mastery of a species to satisfy the instructor, the instructor then gives them permission to move on to the next species.

Note one additional advantage of this model, at least for a voice-leading unit: the flipped model drastically reduces the out-of-class workload for an instructor. Readings and videos, like lecture materials, are created once and revised (or not) in each iteration of the course. However, grading is greatly minimized, as a significant amount of instructor and peer feedback is given during class. In fact, the second assessment method (passing students from one species to the next based on in-class assessment) takes virtually no out-of-class time.

In many music topics, moving from lecture–homework to the “basic flip” is a simple transition, particularly if written and video resources do not need to be created. However, as mentioned above, the basic flip is often a gateway to more complex and customized versions of the inverted class. The following two essays provide two such models.

(Part 2: Just-in-Time Teaching and Peer Instruction)
(Part 3: Inquiry-Based Learning)

Creative Commons License
This work is copyright 2013 Kris Shaffer and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.