Allowing students greater agency in their learning can be a liberating experience. Rather than the teacher as expert, inquiry-based learning allows learners to assume the responsibility of becoming experts of the knowledge they are constructing through a process self-discovery and trial and error, while the teacher’s role is to monitor their students’ process of constructing new meaning and step in when they need help. Continue reading
The Flipped Classroom Approach, what’s all the fuss about?
Many educators are familiar with the notion of a ‘Flipped Classroom Approach’: The Flipped Model has been adopted across a wide range of educational contexts, and English Language Teaching is no different.
So, what is it? Simply, it’s an approach that involves the reorganisation of what happens in class time and outside of class time. The traditional notion of classroom-based learning is turned on its head: One commonly-quoted definition is that homework becomes schoolwork, and schoolwork becomes homework.
In a conventional classroom, content delivery happens during the class, when learners are expected to acquire knowledge in the classroom with (from) their teacher. The time left for practice activities, assimilation and the application of new knowledge is squeezed, which means that learners are often left to do these activities as ‘follow up’ for homework by themselves – without the support of their teacher and peers.
The Flipped Classroom Approach tries to overcome these problems. It’s strongly associated with blended learning, and one basic way to flip your classroom involves putting content onto online videos (for example using screencasts), which students are invited to work through before they attend your classroom session. Proponents of the Flipped Classroom Approach argue that by inverting what happens in the classroom, in-class time can now focus on active learning and student-centred strategies, such as discussions and task-based learning, leading to an improvement in student engagement, motivation, attendance and performance.
Thus in the Flipped Classroom model, students are able to access content in their own time, at their own pace, reviewing it as many times as necessary before they come to class, armed with their own questions and ready to put their new learning into practice.
It’s clear to see that a key purpose of the flipped approach is to move students away from a passive learning experience towards active learning, with all the associated collaboration and peer learning that goes with it, coupled with a similar move away from a teacher-centred approach towards a more facilitative role.
We could argue that this is just good teaching. I’m a big fan of active learning. I’ve been involved in English language teaching since the 1990s, and even way back then, when I first set foot in the classroom, I knew that those learners who came to class having done some work in advance (“pre-reading”, anyone?), those who were happy to work collaboratively, and those that took ownership of their learning were far more likely to succeed than those that needed spoon-feeding. Surely we’ve come a long way across all educational sectors, in our move away from the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side’.
Nonetheless, an increasing number case studies are emerging where flipped learning as a pedagogy is being evaluated more rigorously, and it’s clear that increasing numbers of teachers are adopting (at least some of) the practices associated with the Flipped Classroom Approach. It also becomes ever easier to create, store and share online content and blended learning is a widely accepted teaching model in itself.
Angela Buckingham is an Academic Developer working in Higher Education in the UK with over twenty five years of experience in ELT as a classroom teacher, teacher trainer, and writer. Courses for OUP include the best selling Passport series for Japan, the third edition of Business Venture, level 5 and level 6 of Oxford Discover Grammar (primary) and the Beginner and Elementary levels of new edition International Express. Angela has an MA in TEFL.
I think we can all agree that while teaching is rewarding and most of us love what we do, it can also be challenging. At least it is for me! While I might be a Q: author, I am also a classroom teacher, and I know how difficult it can be to not only reach all of my students, but to also accomplish everything that the curriculum dictates. That’s why I love anything that provides a solution to some of the many challenges we instructors face on a given day. Content aligned video can be used to overcome many common class challenges while also helping you extend your students’ learning beyond the four walls of your classroom.
Challenge #1: There is never enough time.
I remember thinking when I first started teaching, “Wait, so you are telling me that I’m supposed to teach a target structure, provide opportunities for controlled and free practice, offer correction, develop students’ higher order cognitive skills, AND assess progress in a few short hours a week?” It never feels like there is enough time! Even though we know that students need time to practice the target language in class, it often seems that the time we spend teaching it far outweighs the time students actually spend using it.
One way of overcoming this challenge is to flip the classroom using skills or instructional videos, which present the learning points in easy-to-understand ways. Students can watch a video at home and then come to class ready with questions about the skill, and, even more importantly, prepared to use it to interact. With the instructional portion of the lesson completed before class, students will have more time to do meaningful practice and generate authentic language in the classroom.
You may be thinking, “This is a great idea, but what about those students who don’t watch the video at home?” One of my colleagues ran into this very problem when she flipped her classroom, and she came up with an ingenious solution. By assigning short quizzes that test the students not only on the content of the video but also on facts that only someone who watched the video would know (like what color the bird in the example was, or which mountain the video referred to), she holds her students accountable for doing the work before class.
Challenge #2: My students are at different levels.
Even under the best circumstances— for example, a multi-level program that carefully pre-tests students to ensure accurate placement— teachers are faced with a range of abilities in a class. Not all students will understand new concepts at the same pace, and some students will need more help than others. If you’ve ever found yourself holding up a lesson to answer the questions of one or two students while the rest of the class yawns and looks out the window, you’re familiar with this problem.
So, how can videos help? I have found it very useful to assign instructional videos to my struggling students as extra homework. Videos are extra helpful for weaker learners because, unlike a classroom lecture in which the information is delivered according to the teacher’s pace, videos enable students to rewind and re-watch any parts they don’t understand. They can also watch the material again and again at spaced intervals, which helps with retention. This gives students control over the information, and how empowering is that?
Challenge #3: My students aren’t autonomous learners.
You might find that, although your students memorize information really well, they haven’t necessarily become independent learners. They still expect the instructor to be the conveyor of all new information while they sit and passively receive it. While this is a very relaxing view of learning, it’s simply not the way language is acquired. Students have to assume responsibility for their own linguistic development and seek out learning opportunities beyond the walls of the classroom.
This can be a difficult skill to develop in learners, especially if they went to school in cultures where this kind of autonomy is not typically fostered. Giving students access to videos that align with the course content is one way of scaffolding this process for them. With some encouragement, they may choose to watch the videos if they don’t understand a concept completely or if they do poorly on an assessment. They might choose to watch the videos in preparation for upcoming lessons. They might watch some of the videos, but not all of them. All of these decisions help students to become more independent learners, and that benefits their linguistic development.
Challenge #4: Finding the right video content is a headache.
If you’ve spent hours online searching for the perfect video, you know how difficult it can be to find appropriate material to enrich your class. YouTube contains a plethora of videos to comb through, but finding one that matches the content of your class and is also high-quality, easy-to-understand, and engaging can take hours and hours.
When making decisions about new course adoptions, it’s always a good idea to consider whether the supporting materials will enable you to extend your students learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. Textbooks which are accompanied by videos that align with the course content can benefit your students, your lessons, AND save you time.
That’s why I was really excited when I heard that new, free Skills Videos for every unit of Q: Skills for Success were being added to the student and teacher resources available on iQ Online. These videos, as in the example here, were developed specifically to complement the curriculum of Q: Skills for Success and will be an invaluable resource for teachers and students who use Q: in and out of the classroom. Skills Videos save time. The work’s been done for me. The only question left is to figure out how I am going to spend the extra free time!
Having access to high-quality videos won’t solve all of your teaching problems, but it will go a long way in addressing these four common challenges we all face in our classrooms. Content aligned videos have been a great resource for me and my students. Do you use videos in your lessons? Do you find that they solve any other classroom problems? Please tell us about it in the comments below.
Get a sneak peek at the exciting free resources being made available for Q: Skills for Success from August, including new Skills Videos and a new Extensive Reading program.
Kate Adams teaches ESL to university students at the Illinois Institute of Technology and works with immigrants through the Chinese Mutual Aid Society in Chicago, Illinois. She is the co-author of Trio Reading and Inside Writing. In this article she describes the process of transitioning to a Flipped Learning classroom and how it has benefited her lessons and her students.
When the university where I teach recently switched to a flipped learning model, I was nervous. I’d had confidence in my lessons which revolved around the narrative of my presentation interspersed with activities to practice skills, but now I would have to adapt them to an entirely new approach. How would flipped teaching and learning affect my classes? I’d like to share some of the insights and tips I gained from making the switch.
What is flipped learning?
Our program’s new approach to flipped learning most closely matched that described by Cynthia Brame (2013) of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University:
In essence, “flipping the classroom” means that students gain first exposure to new material outside of class, usually via reading or lecture videos, and then use class time to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge, perhaps through problem-solving, discussion, or debates.
This doesn’t contradict the popular perception that the Flipped Classroom is one in which you are assigning videos to students to watch outside of class. Nor does it dictate that this is necessarily what you have to do. The fundamental idea is that students process new information at home on their own so that they can read, watch or listen at their own pace and repeat as needed. Then in class the focus won’t be on you, the teacher, explaining a new concept for the first time, but on working with students to deepen their understanding, correct misunderstandings, practice, and produce.
According to Brame, when we apply this model to Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy we can see that a flipped learning approach has students working on the lower levels of knowledge acquisition at home through autonomous understanding and retention of new material. This foundation prepares students to engage with new language and “do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge” at the higher levels with the teacher during class. In this way flipped learning enables teachers to focus on the areas where their guidance is most beneficial to students’ language acquisition.
What does flipped learning look like?
Different schools and different teachers will have their own unique approach to flipping the classroom. There is not one “right” way to go about it because learning outcomes and learners’ needs vary. The following is what my listening class looks like in our English Language Program since we have adopted a flipped learning approach:
- All materials are posted before each class. In addition to the learning materials, when I do have presentation slides, I post them for students to look through before class so that they’ve seen my questions and had time to contemplate the answers before the lesson. I also post all audio for students to listen to and take notes on at home.
- Understanding is checked at the beginning. Class begins with a “bell ringer”—sometimes a quiz completed individually, sometimes a task with a partner, but always an activity based on the work done before class to check comprehension.
- The whole class uses a shared document. In my class we now use a shared Google Doc which acts as a constantly evolving focal point and allows instant production and collaboration from students and ongoing feedback from me. For example, in class on the Google doc I’ll have students list tips for listening to a lecture, complete a KWL chart on a lecture topic, talk with a partner and then summarize thoughts on the document, etc.
- Work is “product” oriented. Students are engaged in activities, but they are now producing something too. I’ll have students create a graphic organizer to match notes they took, use a rubric to assess another student’s notes, etc. As they work, I am able to quickly evaluate learning/understanding. Products hold students accountable.
Why flip the classroom?
Transitioning to a flipped learning approach has changed my classes for the better in many observable and measurable ways. A few of the most significant are:
- Students talk more and present more. A lot more! I still present, but it’s now always targeted and based on students’ work.
- I see more student work and give more feedback. Because we use a shared Google Doc, I now have more written examples of students’ language use. I can give instant feedback and I gain more insight into students’ thought processes and progress.
- Students demonstrate more understanding. I see this in the quality of what they produce during class and in their increased output.
- Students do the work. In fact, I find that my students participate even more now. Quizzes, group work and partner activities in class motivate them to do the pre-work before class.
How to make the flip
So are you interested in making the flip? How can you start using flipped learning in your classroom? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Identify clear focus points for pre-class work. Expose students to the content at home and supply them with a targeted activity to check for understanding, which they then bring to class.
- Be consistent. Explain the routine to students and stick to it. Always have a pre-class assignment for the new content you’ll be focusing on.
- Mix it up. Flipped learning isn’t just about videos. Provide students with different ways to engage with new language and concepts before class. For example, if you are working on reading skills, you can have them not only read a passage before class, but also take notes on it, compare it to a related passage, research the topic and fill out a KWL chart, or work with key vocabulary to build background before class.
- Ensure accountability. Begin each class with an activity based on students’ pre-class work. I suggest grading the pre-class activities, especially in the beginning of the semester to establish the routine. Quizzes based on the pre-class learning are also a good option as research shows that students retain information better when they take frequent quizzes (Carey, 2013). And you don’t have to just make it an individual assignment— for example, I have students complete a quiz and then debate the answers with a partner. Whatever your approach, make sure to stress to students this is for the benefit of both them and you because it makes it possible for you to identify and address any misunderstandings in class.
- Integrate technology: I use Google docs, Blackboard (a Learning Management System), and Voice Thread in my classes. Blackboard is great for not only hosting learning materials, but also for having students check understanding by taking quizzes and submitting questions before class. Voice Thread allows collaborative voice recording so you can have class discussions outside of class. I’m sure there are many more ways and platforms that can be used to enhance your Flipped Learning classroom so don’t hesitate to explore and experiment to keep your lessons ever-evolving and relevant.
Is making the flip worth it?
I made the flip and I think my teaching is better for it. And my students? I won’t get evaluations until later this summer, but I recently ran into a student who said, “Excellent. Everything excellent.” He told me he’d been studying English for ten years and hadn’t thought he needed the class, but that it had really, really helped him. If his review is anything to go by, flipping my classroom has been worthwhile for my students as well.
Are you interested in trying the Flipped Classroom approach to teach reading skills? Find out more about Trio Reading and get a free sample chapter, overview, and see the complete syllabus.
Interested in hearing more from Kate about Flipped Classrooms? Join her at the International Convention of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages for a talk and discussion on “Strategies, Activities, and Reflections on Flipping a Language Classroom” this November.
Brame, C., (2013). Flipping the classroom. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved April 10, 2017 from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/
Carey, B. (2013, November 30). Frequent tests can enhance college learning, study finds. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com
Ken Wilson is the author of Smart Choice and in all has written more than 30 ELT titles. His first ELT publication was a collection of songs called Mister Monday, which was released when he was 23, making him at the time the youngest-ever published ELT author.
We asked teachers from around the world who have been using Smart Choice what one question they would like to ask Ken. He will answer three of these questions in a series of video blogs this month.
Today, Ken discusses the best ways to use a course book like Smart Choice in blended learning classes. Blended learning is a term increasingly used to describe traditional classroom tuition mixed with self-guided online learning. How can teachers integrate blended learning in to the classroom using a course book like Smart Choice? Ken suggests practical techniques – such as lesson flipping – and shares examples to demonstrate blended learning in practice.
What are the best ways to use Smart Choice in blended learning classes?
Harrison, Laurie (2013). The Flipped Classroom in ELT.
Oxford University Press (2016). Smart Choice Third Edition.