Reverse Instruction

This week I decided to take a shot at reverse instruction.  I know for some, this is a controversial idea; after all, if I’m not lecturing my students, what am I doing?  Personally, I think it’s beautiful.

Reverse instruction is the concept that lectures and other information can be delivered on-line, at home, leaving class time freed up for collaboration, problem solving and other hands-on activities. Lectures at home, problems at school. Flip.  Why didn’t somebody think of this sooner?

I decided to use it to teach my students the basic concepts of neurons.  For homework, I posted to our wiki a Khan Academy video, as well as, a couple of TED talks from leading neurologists to explain some of the purposes neurons have and cutting edge research that’s being done in the field.  In total, maybe about 25 minutes of work.

I love the idea that my students are now being taught by leading neurologists.  Shouldn’t all of our biology students be able to say that?

One of the things that I love about this idea, is the versatility and flexibility of it. Students can watch, pause and re-watch portions of the lecture.  This way they can tailor the speed of instruction to their needs.  They can also cross-check terms they are not familiar with using a source like Wikipedia or Not something you can always do in a classroom.

The next day, I checked my student’s learning.  They seemed to get it, and they loved the Khan Academy video.  I’d like to get my students to the point, where they actively pursue learning more on their own and seek to find resources to contribute, so that our wiki becomes a collaborative effort.

However, I’m  also waiting for the day when a student says they didn’t get it. My question will be, “What did you do about it?”

I want my students to get away from the idea that I’m the all-knowing guru or fount of all-wisdom, a model our current education system seems to perpetuate.

Instead, I want my students to realize they have the resources they need for their own learning. As Stephen Downes stated,  “We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves. It is time, in other words, that we change our attitude toward learning and the educational system in general.”  I think reverse instruction reinforces the volitionality of my students.  Now instead of having one teacher, they have many.

There are a few things I plan to do differently next time.  I plan to have the basic section that all students must complete for homework.  But in the future, I also plan to have additional resources for students who wish to extend their learning in the area.

I like the idea of keeping kids accountable for the notes they create for the lectures. One of the things that I continually need to reiterate is the importance of creating good notes, and building in accountability for this part. Their notes will be considered their “assignment” for each lecture.  And since the next days activities will be based on the information gleaned from the previous nights lecture, this also provides accountability.

However, I don’t see reverse instruction as an educational panacea. There are problems inherent to the model.  The most obvious, kids may not watch the lectures. Although, I don’t know about you, but I have kids in class, at times, who don’t do the work either. Shocker, I know.

So what am I going to do with my classroom time instead?  Teach the 21st Century skills they need me for.  As Jonathon Martin states, “We know that collaboration is a critical skill set which can’t be developed easily either on-line or at home alone– let’s have students learn it with us in our classrooms.   Let every classroom be a collaborative problem solving laboratory or studio.”

I like that idea.  I no longer have a classroom; I have a collaborative problem solving studio. How great is that?

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons by mag3737

About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. Furthermore, I am Buck Institute for Education National Faculty member
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32 Responses to Reverse Instruction

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Reverse Instruction | Wright'sRoom --

  2. P.Mo says:

    Well done! That reads like a very successful first attempt. You were wise to use Khan Academy–very easy to follow and understand. Your phrases “What did you do about it?” and ” I no longer have a classroom; I have a collaborative problem solving studio” are marvellous. Keep me posted on further observations. I’ve just started a blog and my first two posts are on reverse instruction. My students and I love it!

  3. P.Mo says:

    I forgot to add this link which your students might find useful regarding the brain:

  4. I love the philosophy behind this, but I am always one who likes to find possible problems ahead of time, not because I am playing devil’s advocate, but so that I can be prepared for any eventuality. My first problem is: what do you do for the students who do not have the technological means to access these videos at home? I teach in a community where at least a third of my students this year do not have computers in their homes. Can I expect them to have the same chance at learning as the others in my class if I don’t provide alternative forms of learning? My second question/problem is about time. If each teacher assigned 25 minutes if videos to watch, which could conceivably extend beyond that with the watching and rewatching of videos, looking things up, further learning, does this become too much “required” learning outside of school? At 2.5 hours of required work (which I know many are already doing) does this take time away from informal learning opportunities? I just want to say again that I am not against this idea in any way… Just trying to wrap my head around it a little more. Thanks for the post Shelley.

    • Thanks, Jamie, I think you pose some really valid questions. I’m fortunate this semester to have a class that all have computer access. However, I do have one student without internet access, so she downloads the videos at school onto a USB, and takes it home to watch.

      I think you could also use it in your classroom, which wouldn’t be considered reverse instruction, per se, but could add a wide variety of experience and “voices” to your student’s learning. If I had much younger students, or a large group without computer access, I would likely use it this way.

      I also think this method of teaching wouldn’t be used every night, at least I wouldn’t. I think you can overdo a good thing.

  5. Great post, thanks! I’ve been teaching using reverse instruction for a couple of years now for college-level physics. I certainly wouldn’t go back, though I’m still having to put a lot of effort in to convince some students that it’s a good way to go. I prepare most of my own videos using Jing and a pen tablet but I like how you’re making use of expertise from all over. I really like your idea of having a core they have to watch and then extras beyond that. One of the things I’m planning in the future is to use Google Moderator to have the students’ questions about the material be cloud-sourced, meaning that the questions thought most deserving will get the most attention in class. Thanks again!

  6. byrnesa says:

    “So what am I going to do with my classroom time instead? Teach the 21st Century skills they need me for.” I love this idea and am thinking of ways I could implement it within my classroom, however, like Jamie, I also have some concerns. I have students who do not have Internet access at home and have some who have dial-up and downloading a video could take hours. I thought about having them stay at the school to watch the videos, but most of my students are bus students who have to catch the bus at the end of the day. I am sure there are ways around this? Do you provide opportunities for the students to watch the videos during the school day? How do you make it work for those who want to do the work but do not have the technological access.

    Thanks for the post Shelley, you have given me a lot to think about 🙂

    • I think there are a couple of ways to deal with this. I do have a student who has a computer at home, but no internet access. So she downloads the videos at school onto a USB, and then takes them home to watch. You could also burn them onto a disk. Any notes that are on the wiki she prints off at school.

      You could use it in your classroom, as well, which wouldn’t quite be reverse instruction, but would add new teaching voices, other than your own, to their learning. I think I would use it like this at first, if I had younger learners, or many students without computer access.

      • byrnesa says:

        I had never thought of downloading the videos or information at school.

        I think we are moving to a time when all students have computer access and Internet access in their homes. I have a few more to go before I have that… so ideas like burning a CD and using a USB drive are helpful.

        In my own world, for now, I see the benefits of maybe allowing a period to watch videos like these, and then working up to the reverse instruction. That might help you out as well because by the time students get to you, they will already have a good idea about what reverse instruction is and how it works? Just a thought…


      • Great idea. I think kids do need to work up to stuff like this. They don’t necessarily need, or should, be doing what my students are in grade 12. But, as teachers, if we’re working together in this way, our students will be better skilled when they graduate.

  7. Alan Stange says:

    I should take the time to respond but I write this late at night. On the face of it the idea has merit but I have a concern. First, it extends the learning day — creating homework. As a senior English teacher I frequently told students to read material and come prepared to address the content in school. The results were not always impressive. The added work aside, so much would depend on how the learning material was presented to the students. It sounds like passive absorption with little opportunity for student centered learning. There is not much interaction between lecturer and learner. Just a thought.

    • Alan, you bring up some good points about the extended learning day – always a concern of mine. I wonder about your comment regarding “passive absorption” – would a VoiceThread make this more interactive? Also, would the intent be to build background knowledge using this design. I could see this as a way to introduce the basics to promote inquiry – thereby giving the “student centered learning” more chance to develop in the classroom, which I believe needs more intervention than background knowledge does (Vygosky’s Zone of Intervention)? This is the first time I have come across this concept, so just asking some basic fact finding questions. Thanks.

  8. courosa says:

    Really great stuff, Shelley. I’m so glad you’ve picked up on this model. And you’re right, it’s not an educational panacea, but it is certainly a powerful new strategy that has been enabled by the increasing amounts of good, educational content on the web – another reason why Youtube should *not* be blocked.

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Karen B says:

    I reallylike the idea of reverse instruction. If students are highly motivated, this will work very well but some classes…..I am not too sure. One could always start small to build some student buy-in.

  10. shalinim says:

    Great post Shelly! I have been a silent reader of your work and applaud you on taking brave steps to changing the way you teach. I wish I had teachers like you in my school days! 🙂

  11. Scott Ferg says:

    Thanks Shelley. That was really well put and I’ve forwarded your blog to one of my peers. I first heard this concept at the ATLE conference last week from Dean Shareski last week and I thought it was a great idea. I’m glad to have a term for it now, “Reverse Instruction”. I’m at a 1:1 school, so even if students don’t have internet at home they can download the videos at school to watch at home and take notes.

    and thanks again, you explained it much better than I could have.

  12. tcomfort says:

    thanks for this, I have been pursuing this idea for quite some time now, would be good to talk about our challenges, one of which is the structure of the school day! I was inspired by your enthusiasm and it will reinvigorate me to get where I want to go

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  14. Tammy Sillers says:

    Amazing stuff, Shelley…and I applaud your efforts at handing over the reins to the kids. It’s the most empowering thing! First day of school I always told my students that I don’t know everything – which resulted in a shocked look and the comment, “But you’re the teacher!”. We create this culture where that is the expectation – that we are experts and know everything. Ridiculous! I told them instead that I could find out anything I needed to because I had the skills to do so – and that was my goal for them. But it is a challenge, no doubt – because sometimes they like to be passive little vessels that have their heads filled up! Considering your next post I’d say you’re curbing that mentality for the most part…continued success on the endeavour!

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