Whether you see your students for three hours a day or three hours a week, it’s vital that you make the most of your time in class. One idea that has been gaining in popularity is the “flipped classroom”, whereby teachers set instructional content for students to do at home, freeing up class time for tasks that might encourage more engagement with the concepts being taught.
It’s an interesting approach, one that shifts the responsibility for the acquisition of knowledge onto the learner and casts the teacher and classroom in the role of facilitator, with an emphasis on application.
As a big advocate of project classes and task-based learning, at face value the flipped classroom appeals to me. I’ve long believed that presenting lectures on different language points is not a great use of a teacher’s time. This is even more true in an era when we can find amazing talks about all manner of subjects from the world’s most eminent experts for free online.
So I’m going to try experimenting with some flipped classroom techniques with my learners in the coming weeks.
How does it work?
There are many different combinations that could be seen as “flipped learning”, but the basic idea goes a little like this:
1. The teacher sets a video or other input source to be competed in the students’ own free time. Typically this would introduce the concepts up for discussion that week, and provide a framework for the class task.
2. Students attend class. The teacher sets up a task for students to compete together, whereby they encourage students to engage with the concepts introduced outside of the classroom.
In an ESL context, this might mean putting a grammar/lexis presentation into a video for students to watch at home, along with some controlled practice exercises, and then when students are in class they complete a freer task. Or it could mean watching a video and then coming to class for an extended discussion or debate on the topic. Students could read a model answer at home then look at the writing process together in class.
In theory, this sounds like a win-win situation. Students get to spend more quality time with the teacher, leading to greater language improvement, and the teacher can use the extra available time to plan more personalised, engaging tasks.
So why aren’t we all flipping classrooms?
This approach does have its drawbacks. I suppose the biggest is that not all learners are motivated by this kind of autonomy or responsibility for their own learning. Even with the best will in the world, it’s extremely difficult to get 100% of students to do all their homework all the time, and this could lead to well-planned lessons falling down through a lack of student participation outside of the classroom.
Moreover, many students have come from a educational background that has conditioned them to thinking teachers are there to impart knowledge to them while they sit and listen – the “sage on the stage” idea. Flipping the classroom would come as such a culture shock that it would risk disengaging them from the learning process.
This might also risk a feeling among students that they aren’t really “learning” anything from their classes, so would require careful management from the teacher and academic management.
But does it even work?
The jury’s still out. Reading about others’ experimentation online, there’s a pretty mixed reception. Some have nothing but praise, others fume about wasted time all round.
For me, flipping the classroom is not a magic bullet. It’s not appropriate for every class and I don’t even think it’s possible to maintain it 100% of the time even when it is suitable.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something to offer ESL teachers and students. Finding time for extended practice of language and encouraging students to apply their learning is an important part of consolidating progress in the language classroom, and the flipped classroom complements task-based learning and other communicative methodologies.
Indeed, many ESL teachers might be reading this thinking “what’s new?” – this is the kind of thinking that has existed for a long time in most communicative approaches.
I think that one of the areas that this idea has great potential for application is in online teaching. This type of teaching is already outside of the traditional classroom paradigm, so students are probably more willing to move outside their comfort zone in terms of course structure.
It is also easy to integrate into an online course-building platform, and you can share lesson content via social media or email.
What are your thoughts on the flipped classroom? Have you tied this in your teaching? Let me know your ideas and opinions in the comments or on twitter @sharefl_blog