A Flipped Classroom? Or Should It Be Sideways?

The traditional model of teach we’re familiar with is that of the teacher in front of the class, lecturing and assigning homework for students to do once they leave the classroom. The teacher has full control over their learning process. Or do they?

Teachers who seem to have full control over their student’s learning often run against the wall of school-day ennui. So, here’s the concept that’s been making a buzz all through the education world these days: Why not flip it?

Put control over the classroom on the hands of the students, not the teachers. Utilize a variety of online teacher resources (many of which are free!) instead of paper printouts and repetitive lectures. The flipped classroom or sideways classroom promises to make the experience far less tiresome for both teachers and students.

flipped classroom

The Flipped Classroom

Named from the paper “Inverting the Classroom: A Gateway to Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment” published by Lage, Platt and Treglia 2000, a flipped classroom seeks to engage students via giving them access to lecture materials well before they enter the classroom and encourage them to learn by doing.

The core point of a flipped classroom is to reduce the repetitive tedium that teachers and students face in their traditional classroom environment. Instead of having to speak about the same subject repeatedly to different classes, the teacher makes use of video lectures and interactive learning modules for students to examine whether inside or outside the classroom. Time with the class is better spent with practical lessons and group-based activities.

The flip here is that students take in information at home, while spend their time at school performing applying concepts; aka ‘homework’, that’s meant to evaluate how well they’ve learned the lessons.

Does this work? Although schools are slow to adopt this method, those who have attempted have seen marked improvements passing grades and lessened dropout rates. One of the most notable examples is Clintondale High School in Michigan, which flipped its ninth grade classes and saw a decrease in student discipline cases by 74% in two years.

Refer to “A Review of Flipped Learning” for a deeper look at this new teaching strategy.

The Sideways Classroom

But no matter the charts and data, it may still seem a daunting task for you to flip your classroom. It asks that you behave in ways that feel counter-intuitive, and make extensive use of new technologies and expensive devices. So, why not just tilt it your classroom a bit?

The sideways classroom utilizes online interactive teacher resources like a flipped classroom, but melds group tutoring and typical classroom discussion with after-school learning. Since it is a less radical departure from what students and parents expect, there’s less stress and uncertainty. If you fear that students may not have access to video lectures or get distracted from learning while on their own time, then teacher resources and equipment available in most schools solve this logistics problem. Wealth and home situation do not become a barrier to learning.

Just as in the flipped classroom learning method, reusable video lessons remain an important tool. Rather than assign them as after-school homework, sideways learning put them in the form of mini-lectures and mediated lessons. A teacher freed from the need to stand in front and say the same lecture again and again to different classes is able to work with students individually, faces less work overload, and may better focus on practical demonstrations of the concepts they need to learn. Lessons missed from absences are no longer an issue, and in case students feel unsure they can always rewatch lectures for further study.

While flipped learning is about transferring control to students to make them more involved and more responsible for their learning experience, sideways learning is about making learning and study tools accessible to all students. The delay the lesson and feedback is minimized, and there is greater connection between students, study groups, and teachers.

Improve Learning Outcomes & Job Satisfaction

Teachers work hard in ways that aren’t readily visible to students and teachers. Specially when one has to teach different subjects, it’s a struggle daily to create lesson plans, to lecture, get students engaged, and to keep in mind how students learn at different rates. Students have to sit there, passively absorbing knowledge that she tries to impart. All this work is not very often valued by her students, most of whom would rather be doing something fun or chatting with their friends.

The distance between teachers and students are bridged by both flipped and sideways learning methods in the classroom. New internet-enabled technology help mitigate teacher exhaustion, find less expensive teacher resources, and fight the doldrums that have long characterized school days. Do you feel it may be worth taking the time to shift your classroom environment?

What are your strategies for making sure students remember the lesson you’ve taught? Please help out and share it with other educators by leaving comments below.


  1. Joe Larson

    September 1, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Huh, I thought a flipped classroom was one where homework was done in class where the teacher can monitor and help and the lecture was recorded and posted online to be watched at home. Lecture at home, homework in the class. Flipped. This is the firs time I’ve heard flipped used to describe student-in-charge learning.

  2. Richard Larson

    September 1, 2014 at 10:03 am

    You might consider our repository of interactive STEM videos as examples of shared lessons that can be used in a “Sideways Classroom.” See MIT BLOSSOMS http://blossoms.mit.edu.

  3. Rich Smith

    September 2, 2014 at 7:38 am

    This method is one that I have been using for about a year now. The school population that I work with is very difficult for a full flipped classroom, and as mentioned, is stressful for every party involved. I have found that this works perfectly, as the students are still in charge of their learning, I, the teacher, can work with the students more individually, and the students are not stressed with watching the extra material at home.

  4. Ragnhild aasgaard

    September 4, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Interesting post. I’m really interested in flipping my classroom, but I also see it as quite a leap. Tilting it, however, sounds a lot more manageable

  5. Susan Hyde

    September 7, 2014 at 1:33 am

    It seems to me that this only partly an example of how students can be in charge of their learning. The teacher is still directing the learning required rather than enabling students to explore what they already know and supporting them to build their own inquiry. The resources sound like teachers are still teaching as telling except that they are online, maybe the students can choose when they access that but can they decide to use another resource that will help? I suggest that we give up the idea of “making sure students remember the lesson you’ve taught”, rather outline what they need to know, help them explore what they already know about that, and then support them to learn what they need to know using resources that the teacher has curated or ones they can discover. An inquiry question would be helpful.