Wednesday / April 24

Differentiated Flipped Instruction: A Purpose-Driven Approach

Each time we present on the topic of differentiated, flipped instruction, we begin with the caveat that neither of us is a technology expert. To be fair, we’re also not technologically inept. We’re fast learners, but like many, we often feel overwhelmed by the vast expanse of educational resources available. How do educators determine which technology tool is best for the job?

To address this question, we have adopted the lens of “purpose” to consistently guide our examination and presentation of resources. For our new book The Differentiated Flipped Classroom, we conducted extensive research to compile resources for teachers seeking to unlock the power of technology to flexibly meet the needs of their students—both at home and at school. To present these tools, however, we divided them into categories based on their instructional purpose. As we’ve maintained for years now, it isn’t simply using technology that leads to meaningful, differentiated instruction, but rather how we purposefully select and utilize these tools. While our expertise is certainly not rooted in educational technology, it is grounded in how teachers can employ best practices in curriculum, instruction, and assessment to proactively meet the diverse needs of students (i.e., differentiation).

Accordingly, our discussion of flipped instruction goes much deeper than simply sending videos home with students for them to passively watch, pause, and rewind if necessary. It is our belief that sending content home with students and creating a more student-centered approach to learning (both at home and at school) is predicated on the principles that support a differentiated classroom (Tomlinson, 2014). Below, we describe each principle—or instructional purpose—along with several potential tools and an example of how differentiated, flipped instruction can be used to proactively meet the diverse needs of students in any classroom.

  • Purpose 1: Establishing a positive, community-centered classroom, which builds trust and facilitates social processing.
    • Sample Tools:,, (or other various backchannel sites)
    • Example 1: To help facilitate an open line of communication, a teacher asks students to maintain a weekly blog using or to share their thoughts on how the flipped experience is working for them. The teacher uses these short responses to create a more effective learning environment that values the needs of students.
    • Example 2: A biology teacher places students in small “discussion groups” before they leave class. At home, students watch a brief video on plant vs. animal cells. During the video, students are asked to open and maintain a backchannel chat with their discussion group members using After the video those groups will chat about questions such as, “What would animals look like if they had plant cells? What about plants with animal cells?” Groups’ responses to these discussions will be used to begin class the next day.
  • Purpose 2: Utilizing ongoing, formative assessment, both at home and at school, to monitor student understanding
    • Sample Tools:,,, Plickers
    • Example: After viewing content at home on writing that “shows” versus “tells,” students post original examples of both types of writing on or Before class the next day, the teacher scans these responses to determine which students are prepared for the activity planned, and which will need additional assistance or review based on what they took away from the at-home viewing.
  • Purpose 3: Fostering student growth, with the primary goal of moving all students “+1 forward” in their learning as they grapple with increasingly complex ideas (Hattie, 2012).
    • Sample Tools: tiered videos (e.g.,,, tiered articles (e.g.,,, tiered processing questions, tiered graphic organizers
    • Example: After administering a formative assessment (like those mentioned in Purpose 2) to monitor students’ grasp of an introductory lesson on the causes of WWI, a social studies teacher selects two brief videos with different levels of complexity for students to view as preparation for the next day’s lesson. Students who struggled to identify causes of the war are provided with a teacher-created overview using that includes pauses for summary and questions at several key points. Students who demonstrated a solid understanding of the origins of WWI are asked to view a brief video from the History Channel that takes a more in-depth look at the beginning of WWI. These students are provided with the same questions as the first group so that the start of class the following day can involve all students in a communal discussion.
  • Purpose 4: Boosting students’ intrinsic motivation by connecting content to students’ lives as well as to how they prefer to learn (Sousa & Tomlinson, 2011).
    • Sample Tools: Student choice of processing prompts (learning profile or interest-based) which they can bring to class the next day or post via a formative assessment tool (see Purpose 2 above)
    • Example: A math teacher sends a Khan Academy video on measures of central tendency home for students to watch and process. At the end of the video, students choose to answer one of several word problems. Although all problems require students to analyze a data set to determine the best measures of central tendency for reporting the data, the problems are set in different contexts (Carbaugh & Doubet, 2015). For example, one problem asks students to analyze a data set representing player fouls from the team’s basketball season, while another looks at a data set capturing the frequency of social media posts over a certain period of time. Regardless of the problem selected, all students examine the same data set (the numbers stay the same, but the setting changes). Students bring their answers to class the next day and work in mixed prompt groups to examine their use of similar mathematical processes.

Once teachers establish their instructional purpose, the overwhelming array of available technology is winnowed to a manageable set of choices, each of which can aid in better tailoring instruction to meet the diverse learning needs of students.  With purpose as the compass, differentiation and flipping can work together to provide a variety of meaningful instructional routes to help students efficiently and authentically arrive at their curricular destinations.


Carbaugh, E. M., & Doubet, K. J. (2015). The differentiated flipped classroom: A practical guide to digital learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sousa, D., & Tomlinson, C. A. (2011). Differentiation and the brain. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2014). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

*For more detailed examples using these tools and many more, check out The Differentiated Flipped Classroom: A Practical Guide to Digital Learning  (2015), now available through Corwin Press!

Written by

Eric M. Carbaugh, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary, and Mathematics Education at James Madison University, where he has received the College of Education’s “Distinguished Service Award” and been twice nominated for the College’s “Distinguished Teacher Award.” Eric is an international education consultant as well ASCD Faculty member. To date, he has worked with over 65 schools and districts on differentiated instruction, the Understanding by Design curriculum framework, quality formative and summative assessment design, and other various educational best practices. Eric has authored numerous articles and book chapters and is also journal editor and board member for the Virginia ASCD chapter. Eric taught secondary school social studies as well as elementary language arts and history. He currently lives outside of Charlottesville, Virginia and can be reached at

Kristina J. Doubet, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary, and Mathematics Education at James Madison University, where she has received the College of Education’s “Distinguished Teacher Award” and “Madison Scholar Award.” As a consultant and ASCD Faculty Member, Kristi has partnered with over 80 schools, districts, and organizations – both nationally and abroad – around initiatives related to differentiated instruction, Understanding by Design, and classroom assessment. In addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters, she co-authored the AMLE book Smart in the Middle: Classrooms that work for Bright Middle-Schoolers (with Carol Tomlinson) and the ASCD book Differentiation in Middle and High School: Strategies to Engage ALL Learners (with Jessica Hockett). Kristi taught secondary English and language arts for ten years, and has also served as an instructional coach in elementary and middle school classrooms. She can be reached at

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