A “Flipped-Classroom” Approach to Religious Education

gymnastics flip

One of the challenges we face as catechists is never having enough time in our classes. We want to do so many creative and meaningful things, especially related to prayer experiences, but we have barely enough time to cover the basic doctrine.

One approach that is gaining traction in faith formation is the “flipped-classroom.” This concept comes from the world of education and boils down to “flipping” the approach to teaching. Typically, content is delivered in the classroom and then students are given homework to expound upon and apply the knowledge. In the “flipped classroom” approach, instruction is delivered online (completed at home) and class time is used for creative and prayerful concept engagement and interactive activities to illustrate the concepts and build on their meaning.

Here’s how it works using the Finding God program as an example.

The catechist…

  • films a brief video outlining the major concepts to be covered in the session.
  • posts the video to YouTube on a channel set up by the parish RE program.
  • sends an e-mail to the parents with a link to the video along with attachments, if desired, such as blackline masters and session assessments that they wish to assign.

Links may also include the Finding God Interactive Session Review and the Finding God At-Home Edition, should parents wish to work more closely with their child at home.

The student works at home with his or her Finding God children’s book (and possibly parents) to complete the assignment.

When students come to the next session, they bring their completed work (BLMs, assessments) as “proof” of completing the assignment at home, and the catechist uses the class time to reinforce the concepts and to expand on them through creative interactive activities and prayerful reflection—all provided in the Finding God catechist manual.

To demonstrate how simply this can be done, I filmed a sample video (with no assistance from technical staff at Loyola Press and no teleprompters—just me and my smartphone, so that the average catechist can replicate what I’ve done) for a chapter of Finding God (Grade 6, Chapter 14). I posted it to YouTube and created the following sample e-mail for parents. Take a look and share your thoughts, comments, suggestions, and questions.


Dear Parents,

I’m happy to pass along a brief video for you to view with your child to have him or her prepare for our next session of religious education. You can view this together by clicking here.

As I describe in the video, in addition to reading the assigned Finding God pages, your child will also need to do the following:

  • complete the attached Blackline Master (Session 14)
  • complete an assessment by either
    • completing the attached session assessment (and returning to me at the next session)
    • going online to complete the Interactive Review on the Finding God Web site (and e-mailing the results to me). For the Interactive Review, click here.

If you would like to work more closely with your child on the lesson, here is the link to the At-Home Guide for Chapter 14 (see pages 8–9).

As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. Blessings.

Mr. Joe Paprocki
Grade 6 Catechist

About Joe Paprocki 2646 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

16 Comments on A “Flipped-Classroom” Approach to Religious Education

  1. I think this is an amazing idea! Especially with the winter we have had, it could be used to keep children on target with their religious ed lessons.
    How do you use your cell phone to record your presentation? I don’t know how to get that distance and steadiness from my iphone.
    Thanks again, for another approach to teaching our faith!

  2. I didn’t know this approach even had a name! I’ve been using this approach with tremendous success in our parish for the last 12 years. I love how it re-directs the teaching role towards the parents and places it in the context of the family life, where life-long faith formation belongs!

  3. Joe, I love the idea of incorporating technology in this way, because it can work for catechists who don’t have access to tech during their sessions. I’d like to challenge catechists to send more than a paper-based “homework” project, though. We don’t need to reinforce the impression that faith formation is like another school class instead of a process that fosters discipleship/conversion.

    What if, instead, the catechist sent a family prayer or discussion-starter, or, during Lent, a suggestion for a charitable act they could do as a family, to reinforce that faith is not something we only do at church or in a classroom? Would that not do more to form families and to assist them to learn how to practice Catholic faith at home?

    • I agree, Joyce, and appreciate your suggestion. I guess I’m trying to “take it slow” for catechists who might already be overwhelmed at the idea of a flipped classroom approach!

  4. Diane writes:

    Interesting concept. What do you do when a child comes to class without having done that work at home? The student may read and speak English, but what about those non-English speaking/reading adults in the home who won’t understand what you are asking the student to do. You make it look easy but realistically speaking some volunteer catechists will not have the time or skills or desire to do what you did. It is hard enough to recruit volunteers for traditional formats let alone ask the to ‘flip’. Does it matter if some catechists ‘flip’ and other catechists don’t in a program? Are there technological limitations to this concept that need to be considered? I don’t own a cell phone (and don’t want one) so I couldn’t video myself.
    I admit to being skeptical but I do see a need to better engage families in faith formation. Thanks for demonstrating a new way of approach.

    • Thanks Diane and I appreciate your apprehension about this approach. It is not for everybody, however, for those catechists who have even minimal skills with their iPhone and YouTube, it is a viable approach. I would say that it is very possible to have some catechists “flip” while others don’t…it does not have to be an all-or-nothing switch. As for how to deal with a child who comes to class without having done the work at home, I asked Eric (above) if he could share how he handles that and I would appreciate it if anyone else can chime in from their experience.

  5. In response to Joe’s question regarding kids not doing their homework:

    This question has been a constant thorn in my own ministry as a Catechist for years, as I’m sure it is for most of us! It is a little different in my Canadian context. We operate with a publicly funded Catholic School system that oversees all academics, including religious education (whther or not it does so effectively is an entirely different question). The administering of an academic program would require a very different approach to incomplete homework. If it’s part of an academic grade, you would really have to make sure requirements are being met.

    That is not my situation. Although religious education is done in publicly funded Catholic Schools, faith formation and more specifically sacramental preparations are looked after entirely by the parish. When I began my ministry (with what had been done previously in the parish as a starting point) families were given workbooks, weekly expectations were given, and the workbooks were handed in to be checked by volunteers. The session ran very much like things might in a classroom with lectures and questions and answer times based on the workbook content.

    As I grew in my ministry I became increasingly concerned at the lack of parental involvment in the children’s preparations. Thats when I began to ‘flip’ things. I began to off-load much of the teaching of the faith onto the parents. The necessitated a very different appraoch to ‘homework’ and ‘class time’. As you mention in your article, ‘class time’ does not get used to review what has been done at home by way of workbook material, but becomes a space where we zero in on one or two key concepts (this past week it was ‘Meals at home vs the Mass’) as well as providing prayerful space for encountering Jesus Christ. More even than teaching, what I focus on is modeling for the families the kinds of things they are to be paying attention to, discussing, and how to be praying together at home – That then becomes their ‘homework’ very much like Joyce suggested in her comment. ‘homework’ for these next few weeks will consist of two table prayers they took home that focus on the Gathering and Story-Telling and Service aspects of the Mass. Each one ends with questions they can discuss during the meal itself as a fmaily (What is your favorite family story and why? What is your favorite Bible Story and why? How hard is it to serve others? How hard is it to be served? etc) As well as longer rituals they can use for evening prayers or Sunday prayers that have even more opportunity to discuss aspects of the faith and challenges to put it into action. I might get them to share some of their familiy discussion at our sessions, or soe of the action plans they have developed, but that’s as far as I go in ‘checking’ homework.

    Essentially, my approach to faith formation and Catechetics in the parish has been to work at providing space for individuals and families to encounter the mercy and love of God and the real person of Jesus Christ, and coaching or mentoring moms and dads in ways to better incorporate faith traditions into their regular family routines, traditions that will serve them in the long-term. These are things that are hard to grade and really almost impossible to know for sure if they are actually doing but I’ve had to realize that I’m called to sow the seed and let our families and Christ work together to foster its growth.

    I hope that makes some sense.

    (NB – One thing I haven’t thought to do it try the whole video recording of myself and sending to families between sessions. I’m going to have to look at giving that a try!)

  6. It may be worthwhile to also check with families, not just about computer/smart phone/tablet access for viewing the videos, but also about home access to printing if you will be emailing assessments or other BLMs to be completed at home. A small percentage of our program’s families still do not have or use email (most of whom have parents whose preferred language is not English, relating to Diane’s comment above), so it is worth checking.

    I find that as our world makes more of an effort to go paperless, families do not invest in printers (or the expensive ink/toner that goes with them). Many high school students print homework assignments for their regular schools at their school’s computer lab in the morning before classes because they do not have printers at home. What are the avenues for creating your own online assessments (such as through Survey Monkey or a similar service) or for publishers providing fillable PDFs of BLMs which could be emailed back without the need to print?

  7. I love the flipped classroom. The same concerns brought here are ones schools who use a flipped classroom are like kids not doing the homework/watching the videos.

    In a school classroom, I like to think of it kind of like the Montessori approach. Every kid needs something different and the teacher responds to that. Some kids will do the homework and can use the time to extend their learning, for the teacher to guide them on points they don’t understand, or hands on activities. The kids who don’t do the homework/don’t watch the teaching video end up having to do it in class (some parents don’t believe in homework so they won’t let their kids do it)… they are in a different place.

    Even in a regular traditional classroom a teacher always has an approaching level, on level, and beyond level students. The flipped classroom uses this.

    Ultimately, it ends up being some kids go a lot further than other kids (what’s new though?). The time we put into work is what we get out. So kids who do homework put in more time, are in theory further ahead, have the potential to get better grades, etc.

    It’s a different way of thinking. We are used to everyone getting the same thing in America. In this approach they have the same opportunities. I think we need to go back to encouraging kids to be motivated instead of it being acceptable to be passive.

  8. How did your parents react when this was first initiated? I would love to spend even half of our classes this way so we can offer more experiential activities in the classroom setting. I’d probably start this in sixth grade as a trial run but I’m concerned that parents won’t buy into the whole “do this at home thing.” What also happens if a child comes to class not prepared? And, I see the comments about printing homework for students who don’t have printers… 🙂

    • Lisa, I did not personally switch to a flipped-classroom approach but wanted to show folks who are interested how relatively simple it is. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges along the way, particularly selling the idea to parents. I agree that it would be good to start this with one sample grade and take it from there as you iron out the bumps.

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