Some Thoughts on Reverse Instruction and Game-Based Learning

According to K. Walsh, in Is Reverse Instruction Education Technology’s Perfect Storm?, “reverse instruction is the idea of having students consume learning content (i.e. ‘the lecture’) outside of the classroom, usually as homework, thereby freeing up valuable face-to-face classroom time to reinforce materials and work on assigned work (work that may have been homework in the traditional classroom).”

Teachers are finding a lot of success with this approach.  Recently, at a “Try It On Monday Workshop” at ASIJ, our middle school technology facilitator, who also happens to be a math teacher, presented what he has been doing with reverse education in his math classes.  He is finding great success in preparing YouTube videos and vodcasts for students to view at home and then practice the skill that was introduced before coming to class.  This frees up class time so that students can participate in other more engaging, authentic activities that require them to draw on several skills which they have learned and apply these to situations which require higher levels of thinking; resulting in a greater level of understanding.  I’ve embedded his presentation below as it contains some great information on the benefits of the “flipped classroom” and what we all need to get started.

This is a compelling movement and, the benefits are clear to me, especially in a class with very discrete skill level outcomes, such as math.  I also believe that it can be effective within an integrated humanities class.  For instance, there are four core required novels in our 6th grade Language Arts/Social Studies block class.  For each novel, there is contextual information about the novel that we teach prior to beginning the reading, which gives students a leg up in terms of comprehension.  Each of these “front-loading” activities take at least one class period.  We could easily create a YouTube video or vodcast of this information so that students could view it at home.  Additionally, they would have a reference source which they could continue to review as necessary throughout the novel study.

We also spend a fair amount of each class time on grammar, vocabulary, and geography skill development and review.  These exercises could be taught via YouTube or vodcasts as well, and could be completed at home, again freeing class time for more collaborative, authentic and engaging learning activities such as game-based learning and project-based learning.

There is a question that I have regarding reverse instruction:  How does it fit into current research and the debate over homework and the amount of time spent on it?  My students have a lengthy bus commute each day to and from school.  By the time they are home and have dinner, they usually work on homework and then go to bed.  This comes after a full-on day of instruction and, for most, after school sports and other co-curricular activities.  Reverse instruction is best suited, obviously, for older students.  Still, we should always consider the time commitment in the home activities that we assign and insure that our students have adequate time to turn off and just be kids.

Flickr by Caro’s Lines
Creative Commons
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Game-based Learning is not a new concept.  GBL, before the digital age, was any activity that was used to focus and motivate learners during lessons.  Now, GBL or DGBL (Digital Game-based Learning) is a learning approach that incorporates the use of computer games, serious games, commercial off -the-shelf computer games, and simulations to engage students in higher levels of thinking. Games engage students in ways that other approaches to learning cannot.  Serious games are presenting students with authentic situations.  These simulations require students to employ higher levels of thinking to create and generate solutions to real world problems.  Genuine learning takes place when students are engaged and motivated.

I have used many “game-like” activities with my students over the years; from bell-game question races to full blown simulations.  Interact is a great company offering simulations that cover a wide variety of curriculum areas.  In the past, my students have become crew members of a Spanish galleon and residents of a British colony in the New World.  Currently, I like to use a Jeopardy format to review for assessments.  Jeopardy Labs allows you to create a Jeopardy game template with content of your choosing, and its free.  Whether it be a simple review game, or a three-week simulation unit, my students have always been highly engaged in these types of activities.

We modified our curriculum over the course of this school year and are now teaching a non-fiction reading unit which dovetails with a  persuasive writing unit around the topic of refugees.  The UNHCR has released a simulation called Passages which “is designed to help create awareness, arouse emotions and encourage participants to take action on the behalf of refugees.”  This simulation, which could also be categorized as PBL, can be tailored to fit any age group and it connects perfectly with our current units.  The simulation requires students to:

  • discover the concrete problems which confront refugees
  • feel the psychological anguish caused by separation and flight
  • see what forces people into refugee situations and the train of events that brings them to refugee camps and beyond
  • think about possible solutions to refugee problems, particularly with regards to integration within the country of asylum and repatriation to the country of origin

This simulation, along with other GBL activities, require chunks of classroom time to be most effective.  A flexible time-table is always beneficial.  Both reverse instruction and GBL deserve a chance in the 21st-century school experience.  Perhaps scheduling issues will be more easily resolved with time budgeted through the flipped classroom. 


About Jamie

I am currently a middle school Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at The American School in Japan.
This entry was posted in COETAIL, Projects-Based and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Some Thoughts on Reverse Instruction and Game-Based Learning

  1. esartguy says:

    Flipped or reverse instruction is an interesting way of teaching. I am just starting to try it out in a couple of my upper elementary art classes. I am trying it out as a way of saving time in my art classes. I often spend more time than I want demonstrating different techniques to my students. This takes away from their time to learn and work on their projects and techniques. It also takes away from direct one on one time that i could have working with each student.

    Homework is often used to reinforce what has been learned in the classroom. For the most part the homework is valid, but at times it is busy work. If the homework was serving a better purpose such as playing a part in teaching our students, does it not become more valid? If it frees up a teacher to give more time to individual students, does this also make it more valid?

    Homework can be a very tricky question. Long days with long bus rides only complicate the homework picture. As you said being sensitive to a student’s time commitments is very important. However, ensuring that both the students and teachers get the most out of the homework given can have a big impact on student learning. Maybe reverse/flipped learning can help with that. It will be interesting to see how it works out in my art class.

    • Jamie says:

      Perhaps so, Carl. I’m looking forward to exploring this more in my classes next year. Thanks for taking the time to read the post! It’s been great working together in CoETaIL with you…

  2. I also appreciated your point about homework and students who commute. I, too, am trying flipped lessons. I had thought that flipped lessons would be good for students who had to travel for sports or MUN. They could catch up on missed classes before they returned to school. I wonder if one disadvantage is that students may need the social or quiet time a bus ride provides. Also, do you have a sense of what other digital assignments other teachers are adding at your grade level? Is it possible that some of us are adding new forms of homework without talking with other teachers about the total number of hours of homework per week?

  3. Jamie says:

    We have an overall time limit that we set for kids in terms of homework, Garry. But, as you know, that time will vary from student to student based on their work rate. As you point out, we certainly need to be aware of the other homework responsibilities that are placed upon students in addition to our own. I’ve been thinking a lot about homework lately and I’m really concerned about the amount of time that students have to just be themselves. Thanks for reading the post! It’s been great working together with you in CoETaIL…

  4. “There is a question that I have regarding reverse instruction: How does it fit into current research and the debate over homework and the amount of time spent on it?”
    I am not the only one interested in the Homework issue! I know as a parent that the amount of time put in homework can be exponential when kids have research the internet or work with friends on presentation. Reading and reflecting before class is a good idea though…
    Thank you for all this thoughts and for the video about games. this one is helping being up to date with what educational games are today!

    I wish you anise summer!

  5. I struggle with the homework issue too, when thinking about Reverse Instruction. I also wonder is it just another way to lecture – sure it’s a video, but it’s the teacher sharing and the student listening – and it implies that there’s direct content delivery. I’ve mentioned it in class a few times, I’m not entirely “sold” on the idea. I’m still working on understanding how this would apply in a constructivist classroom where students build their own understanding through developmentally appropriate and engaging activities.

    I would also be interested to hear if students actually watch the videos on their bus rides home – when I had a long school bus commute I was always exhausted and the idea of watching a lecture would not have gone over well 🙂 Let me know what happens if/when you end up trying it!

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