This is my third post on my experiences experiment with the “flipped classroom” approach, and so far I’ve been fairly pleased with the response I’ve had from students. I’m even thinking of ways I could extend learner autonomy with my class moving forward.
Last week, the coursebook I use with my C1 class called for relative clauses. The majority of students had been in my class at B2, and therefore I knew had been given a fairly good grounding in the grammar point relatively recently (how I wish coursebooks flowed better from one level to another!). I didn’t know exactly what covering it again in detail during class time would offer, beyond a review.
So, I decided not to spend any class time directly on the grammar point. At the beginning of the week, I introduced relative clauses as one of the aims of the week, but I made it clear that I wouldn’t be covering it in a lesson. I then prompted students to tell me how they could review relative clauses if we didn’t cover it in class, and we had a very good discussion about self-studying grammar. The students committed to reviewing the grammar point by themselves and we moved on with the week.
The proof here would be in the production. I wanted to see if the students would show their understanding in their written work, and in speaking activities. So I set up a speaking activity based on the game “Taboo”, with students having to describe things without using certain important vocabulary. In addition, the students had to write an article about social problems affecting young people, and a paragraph describing a famous person (on different occasions, I wasn’t torturing the students with writing!). I monitored by collecting good and bad examples of relative clause use from both the speaking and writing tasks, and on Friday ran a grammar auction in lieu of our weekly test.
The results were so-so. Students kept making lazy errors, especially over subject or object pronouns, and one student seemed incapable of linking his relative clause to an appropriate noun. It was clear that the students hadn’t spent the time reviewing the grammar (which was their homework for the week) and many of them admitted as much to me follwing the grammar auction task.
Anyway, fast forward to Wednesday of this week, and I decided to spring a surprise relative clause test on the class. This was much more successful, and afterwards the class told me that the previous week had motivated them to put a bit of extra work in at home.
So, what conclusions am I drawing from this episode of the Great Flipped Classroom Experiment? That my students are getting lazier and need a kick up the backside? Well, maybe.
However, I’m more convinced that the main problem is that the students don’t really have a lot of learner training. They don’t really know how to be autonomous. Sure, they can do homework and come in and check the answers or complete a task; but it’s the process of learning when they are outside of the classroom without a teacher to guide them, or a framework to keep them on task. So, going forward, I’m going to try to incorporate some learner autonomy “skills” into my teaching. I’m going to review a bit of the literature (helpfully this is coming up on my DipTESOL course imminently!) and work out what I can put into practice in the classroom.
What do you do to encourage learner autonomy among your students? Let me know in the comments.