There are few professions where you get to start afresh every year, every semester, or every term. It’s a wonderful thing and is one of the best aspects of teaching. As we begin anew, it gives us an opportunity to try new techniques and materials, and to employ those innovative strategies on a fresh group of learners. It was nearly a decade ago that I decided to try something new – blended learning. While new technologies were emerging, there was pressure to incorporate them into instruction. As a language educator I struggled with how to do this effectively. I decided I wanted the technology to work for me, and not to work for the technology. Integrating technology effectively – rather than simply utilising it – became my goal. I did this by extending the classroom walls; offering learners instruction out of the classroom. Extending my students’ learning experiences has not only proved valuable to their learning, it has also allowed me to become the kind of classroom teacher I’ve always wanted to be.

What is blended learning? I like to think of it as ‘brick and click’. The brick is the traditional classroom setting, which promotes a social and cooperative learning environment. It motivates learners through peer interactions and immediate teacher feedback, which allowing both teachers and students to address questions and confusions as they arise. The click is the autonomous learning environment, which is available through a powerful digital tool or learning management system (LMS). Web-based tools allow learners to practise and acquire new language skills without classroom distractions, as well as self-direct their learning. Merging these two worlds creates an environment that meets a variety of learning styles, as well as a variety of both student and teacher needs. This is blended learning, which combines the social nature of the classroom with a digital environment available through an LMS. Blended learning does not mean a reduction in face-to-face class time. Conversely, it requires greater participation from learners, greater interaction with content and an overall higher level of engagement. Blended learning has evolved, as have our students. From blended learning FLIP was born.

FLIP is a term that is thrown around a lot today. It means different things to different people. However, FLIP is an acronym that was coined by its originators, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. There are four pillars of Flipped Learning:

  • F – Flexible Environments
  • L – Learning Culture
  • I – Intentional Content
  • P – Professional Educators

These pillars are the foundation of an effective flipped classroom. For many of us, the challenge lies in Intentional Content, which is all about choosing the best content to be delivered, both inside and outside of the classroom. In a typical classroom today, we often teach new language structures or functions and then assign homework, to which students have to apply, evaluate or create with the new language. However, flipping is all about taking the learning and content outside of the classroom. Consider Bloom’s Taxonomy for a moment.

We often work on the lower levels of Bloom’s in class: ‘remembering’ and ‘understanding’ while we leave the ‘applying’, ‘analysing’ and ‘creating’ for outside of class. In a Flipped Classroom, remembering and understanding are moved outside of the classroom – leaving room for creating, analysing and applying in the classroom. You may be thinking: ‘Don’t students need instructors to explain new structures and concepts?’ Absolutely. However, many digital tools allow us to do this quite easily. So, what content should be moved outside of the classroom?

When choosing what to flip, there are three factors that need consideration. First, cognitive load. What are those concepts or skills that some students need more time to process? Several structures and concepts need to be worked through at a student’s pace rather than our syllabus’s pace. Concepts that require a greater and deeper understanding are ideal to flip.

Second, what am I expecting my students to do with their new knowledge in the classroom?  How will I assess their understanding and can this be done in the classroom? For students to take an active role in the learning process, the tasks in and out of the classroom, need to be practical, yet measurable. Creating in-class activities that measure students’ understanding of the concept, but are also reasonable for the class time and achievable based on the learning that takes place outside of the classroom. is a critical component of selecting content to flip.

Lastly, the content must be approachable and meaningful for learners. Students need to see that the instruction done outside of the classroom is meaningful for what will be expected of them to do inside the classroom. I often see teachers giving online tasks to students that have no connection to what happens in the classroom. Tasks, like all tasks in language instruction, need to have meaning for our students, who need to be able to see the connections. If your students are ‘learning’ outside of class, your class time now becomes about applying that new knowledge, or creating with it. This allows our classrooms to go back to social, collaborative language learning environments.

To successfully integrate technology to FLIP your classroom, consider phasing in rather than jumping in. Start small. Narrate a presentation. Load it to an LMS or email the presentation. Ask students to watch the narrated presentation. Have your students come to class and applied that new knowledge. You will be surprised at how often students access the instruction, and how well prepared they are for a classroom activity.  Making that learning culture shift takes time for both you and your students.

It can be a challenge for both you, the instructor, and your students, who are not accustomed to learning outside of the classroom. However, making that shift brings great benefits to you and your students. First, it develops learner autonomy; learners take responsibility for their learning. Second, the classroom becomes about facilitating those higher-level skills on Bloom’s taxonomy, like create and apply. The classroom also becomes more communicative, a place where language is used, rather than just taught.  Additionally, integration of technology outside of the classroom appeals to digital natives; they expect and anticipate the use of technology as a tool for learning. Lastly, it allows you to measure learning in a flexible way. If students are learning outside the classroom, assessments can be both project-based and competency-based.

References

Brinks-Lockwood, R. (2014). Flip it! Strategies for the ESL classroom. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Flipped Learning Network (FLN). (2014) What is Flipped Learning?


Share your innovation for a chance to win the Pearson ELT Teacher Award
We’ve launched a new Pearson ELT Teacher Award! Aiming to recognise and celebrate teachers, the Award is open for any English teacher who has developed innovative ways of teaching in their classrooms. You may have used technology or digital tools in unique ways or re-invented traditional tasks. The Award encourages teachers to enter who can show that their ideas are not only unique but have improved learner engagement, motivation and success.

Prizes include all-expenses paid trips to IATEL or TESOL. Deadline for entries is 1st January, 2017 so enter or nominate a teacher today!

In this article