How do I get my students to prepare before coming to a flipped class?


In 2 wildly popular blog posts 1 and 2 on the flipped classroom, “notable advocates of the flipped classroom” clarify what is meant by the term. They include Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, who are credited with developing the most prevalent implementation of the flip. In the first post, the 8 advocates write: “In most Flipped Classrooms, there is an active and intentional transfer of some of the information delivery to outside of the classroom with the goal of freeing up time to make better use of the face-to-face interaction in school.”

The eight flipped classroom gurus also write, “This can look very different from classroom to classroom and we recognize no two Flipped Classrooms look exactly the same, just as no two traditional classrooms look alike. The Flipped Classroom is a pedagogy-first approach that strives to meet the needs of the learners in our individual schools and communities. It is much more an ideology than it is a specific methodology…there is no prescribed set of rules to follow or model to fit…Practitioners of the various flipped classroom models are constantly tweaking, changing, rejecting, adding to, and generally trying to improve the model through direct experience with how effective it is for kids.”

We want to be clear, for ourselves and our readers, about what those most famous for the flip mean by the term. We think it’s a wonderful model and a great way to describe some of the core features of Peer Instruction, despite many differences.

Figure 1. Just-in-Time Teaching Flow Chart

A fundamental implementation of the flip however, is to engage students in coverage activities before they come to class (in Bergmann’s and Sams’ rendition, this is typically watching a lecture or an online video, and engaging with peers and instructors online before class).

In Peer Instruction, this also varies, but generally involves students doing readings before class and interacting with instructors by engaging in retrieval effort (a cognitive science term that refers to the activity used when students are required to pull information from their memories and then produce that information, an effort which is linked to memory improvement, see Karpicke and Roedeiger, 2008, The critical importance of retrieval for learning).

Peer Instruction Network member (PINm) James Lacey from Franklin Pierce University asks, “How do I make sure students do the pre-class readings and their homework?” And Emily Blue from Indiana University asks: “What strategies have been useful to persuade students to do the necessary pre-reading needed for Peer Instruction to work?”

For pre-class readings, which we distinguish from homework, we use a specific research-based method, called Just-in-Time Teaching, developed by Novak, Gavrin, Christian, and Patterson in 1999. You can read a specific article using JiTT with Peer Instruction here. The workflow for JiTT is depicted in Figure 1.

The 2 conceptual questions can be closed- or open-ended questions, but should not be questions that someone who hasn’t done the reading could answer. The conceptual questions should be appropriately challenging, and test students’ understanding of key concepts that represent the big ideas instructors want students to get out of the class (learning goals).

In our JiTT implementation, we sometimes ask students to tell us how confident they are in their answer, which gives cues to them and us about how deep we need to go into the concept during the following class period. The feedback question is generally something to the effect of “What did you find most confusing about what you read?”

We analyze the feedback responses before class starts, thematize them into general areas (according to those big ideas) and we spend the entire class period working with students using ConcepTests–conceptually based questions we ask using clickers. Those questions are always linked to the concepts as they have indicated through their feedback that they need the most help with.

When we get to class, we also anonymously display for all students a few representative student responses to the feedback question, so that students can see that they aren’t the only ones who are struggling with certain topics. In this way, students, not instructors, direct what happens in class, and instructors serve more as coaches than sages on a stage. This coaching is depicted in Picture 1 below. Students are motivated because they see their needs and effort recognized by the teacher during class time.

Of his experience implementing JiTT with Peer Instruction, PINm James Fraser of Queens University said “As a surprise, with JiTT and PI I had students saying positive things about the textbook, and they generally really appreciate the immediate feedback they sometimes get on reading assignments.”

Picture 1. On the left, Alexander the Great and Aristotle, on the right: Students and Eric Mazur in a Peer Instruction class from the 1990s.

In our experience, however, we learned that students need extra motivation, beyond seeing that the instructor is paying attention. For this reason, we always give students credit for responding to their reading questions. Eric gives enough points to move students from an A- to an A or a C+ to a B-, if they do most of their reading assignments. I give my students 33% of their final grade, instead of giving them credit for attendance or participating in the class (which they do anyway, using a clicker).

Watch a 2 min video here about JiTT and Peer Instruction, which includes some student reports about their feelings about doing their reading before class.


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  1. Scott Simkins

    Mark Maier and I began adapting JiTT for use in economics in 2000, shortly after finding out about the work of Novak, Gavrin, Christian, and Patterson in physics, initially through NSF-sponsored research that we led (CCLI-DUE 0088303, Developing and Implementing Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT) Techniques in the Principles of Economics Course). More recently we have collaborated (with Gregor Novak and others) to update the JiTT pedagogy module on the Science Education Resource Center’s (SERC) Pedagogy In Action site ( and worked with colleagues from across all disciplines to illustrate JiTT’s wide applicability in a variety of settings (including Eric Mazur and Jessica Watkins, chapter linked above): Just in Time Teaching: Across the Disciplines, and Across the Academy (

    Since the beginning of our work I have always thought that JiTT provided the perfect out-of-class companion to in-class Peer Instruction and was glad to see Eric and his colleagues adopt this approach in recent years. This kind of integrated out-of-class/in-class design is also consistent with Dee Fink’s “Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses” ( As Eric and Jessica have noted, JiTT provides an excellent tool for efficiently and effectively developing concept test questions that directly address *your* students’ learning challenges and mis/preconceptions.

    In workshops that I conduct on using JiTT, I emphasize the value of JiTT in promoting students’ out-of-class reading and engagement in course concepts and material. One of the keys is bringing students’ own work, in their own words, back into the classroom. Too often out-of-class work is just that, out-of-class, with little direct connection (in students’ minds) to what is going on inside the classroom. Such work quickly gets viewed as “busy-work” by students and is often ignored, even when there are points awarded for its completion. In my experience, when JiTT questions are closely tied to what is actually happening in the classroom and students’ responses are directly used to inform in-class activities (such as Peer Instruction, but it could include other types of cooperative learning activities, etc.) there is a high rate of student participation in out-of-class JiTT exercises. Not 100%, but 80-90% on average. Students respond when they see that their work is brought back into the class in meaningful ways that directly address their learning challenges.

    As for re-use of JiTT questions, I haven’t experienced the kind of issues raised by Joan Nix in her comment above, although this type of side-stepping could certainly occur. As Ed Nuhfer responds, including an opportunity for personal reflection reduces such concerns and also provides greater motivation for student engagement and feedback to the instructor on students’ learning challenges. Each JiTT exercise typically includes a question of the following type: “After completing this exercise, what is still unclear to you?” I have found that responses to this question are invaluable in designing activities for the next class period that directly address students’ concerns – and also help to make in-class instruction more efficient, focusing on concepts and ideas that students may be struggling with rather than material that they are already familiar with.

    For a wide variety of free information on JiTT, including its use with Peer Instruction, see:

  2. bcphysics

    What kind of tool do you use for the online feedback? Your school’s LMS?
    For my high school kids I have 90 students with 2-3 classes a week (ie 90 that would use peer instruction). I don’t think I could possibly track individual responses prior to class. Perhaps I could use an automated quiz feature in an LMS: 2 pre-reading questions and a short comment on what was difficult to understand. Any thoughts on this?

  3. Joan Nix

    If the conceptual questions remain basically the same from semester to semester, there are students who will share the questions and answers from semester to semester and avoid the readings. There is an active market in notes, exams, etc.

    • Ed Nuhfer

      Anytime we build personal reflection as a required part of any assignment–something that requires a person to relate/interpret the material in some way to their own personal life experiences, we remove the ability from marketers to supply “answers.” Marketers can provide generic content easily; selling personalized life experiences with that content isn’t practical. Students are unlikely to prefer parroting someone else’s experience to their classmates when they get the opportunity to share something about themselves and learn about each other.

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