I’ve recently read a very interesting article by Ollie Wood about the flipped classroom that sparked my curiosity and triggered fond memories. I had known about this approach for years and yet, I had never noticed the connection between the blended and the flipped classroom until then. So, intrigued by my discovery and determined to fill this gap in my knowledge, I decided to find out more. On a more personal note, reading Ollie’s article brought back memories of when I applied this method (minus the technology) while teaching a B2 First (FCE) preparation course a few years ago, with great results both for me and the students.
The (missing) link between the flipped classroom and technology
In short, the flipped classroom is a pedagogical approach in which the students are first exposed to the content of the lesson prior to class using the tools available to them - coursebooks and the internet, for example. Working independently and at their own pace, the students learn the basics of the topic assigned, which will be further developed and practised in the classroom under the teacher’s guidance.
Given this, I assumed that the use of technology would have been at the discretion of each student...you know, a Google search here and a YouTube video there, to support the coursebook materials and to clarify any grey areas. Little did I know that in the flipped classroom, the videos and Powerpoint presentations accessible to students outside the classroom are supposed to be created and provided by the teachers. That was the link I had missed, but now I know.
Here’s what I did instead!
I was teaching a multilingual group of young adults preparing for their B2 First (FCE) exam. Although they had been assessed at a B1 level, it immediately became apparent that some students were considerably weaker than others and had different areas of strength and weakness. Some confident speakers lacked vocabulary, while others had poor writing skills; those who had a wide range of vocabulary lacked basic grammar knowledge and struggled with listening comprehension. Because of this, it was quite difficult to design lessons that were equally beneficial for all and their progress was slow. They were very motivated and eager to learn, so I could easily understand their increasing frustration. I knew I had to do something about it, and fast.
Although I had never tried it, I was aware of the flipped classroom approach (but I didn’t know about the tech aspect) and decided to give it a go. I figured out that if the students worked independently on grammar and vocabulary, we could have used our time together in the classroom in a more effective way. With the teacher’s help and peer support, they would have applied their newly-acquired knowledge while improving their language skills and developing strategies to tackle their exam tasks. Not surprisingly, the students happily approved my suggestion to flip the classroom.
My flipped cycle
From then on, the structure of my lessons had to be changed considerably.
As the name suggests, the ‘Lead-in’ part is traditionally introduced at the beginning of the lesson, to maximise students’ engagement with the lesson to come. In the flipped classroom, however, this stage occurs towards the end of the lesson, where the teacher introduces not only a new topic and the target language, but also the materials (coursebook and supplements) and tools (web search and videos) to be used for self-study. It’s worth noting that, in my case, I didn’t prepare any videos or presentations for my students, but I relied on their ability to surf the internet and their motivation.
I was really pleased to see that my students took their independent work very seriously and followed my tips. In addition, they organised study groups for peer teaching, which proved to be a great idea. Considering the wide range of strengths and weaknesses among the students, it meant that each of them could contribute to everyone’s learning while reinforcing their own. Another advantage of working on the materials in advance is that the students can read texts at their own pace, watch videos and listen to recordings multiple times.
We would start each lesson with a Q&A session. This was important not only to dissipate doubts which had arisen while self-studying, but also to provide feedback on their work. The duration of this stage varied depending on the difficulty of the target language, the clarity of the materials given and the students’ pre-existing knowledge of the topic.
Aware of this, I planned flexible consolidation activities that could be extended or shortened as required. In this stage, the students’ goal was to combine practising their exam skills (understanding the questions, planning the written work etc.) and consolidating the language components (usually grammar and vocabulary) learnt independently, while developing the four skills assessed during their exam (reading, writing, listening and speaking). Needless to say, it wasn’t easy to design activities that would balance it all, it was definitely worth the effort. Here’s an example:
Lessons learnt on my flipping journey
Well, where should I start? First of all, I learnt that flipping the classroom is a very flexible approach. It’s up to the teacher (and the students) to decide how much technology needs to be involved. For this reason, a flipped classroom doesn’t require any extra work, just a different kind of lesson planning. In addition, the responsibility of the lesson outcome doesn’t fall solely on the teacher anymore, as it is now shared. The students knew that skipping their independent work would have prevented them from participating in class, making a negative impact on the lesson as well as on their learning. Ultimately, my students loved this version of the flipped classroom: they worked at their own pace and took charge of their own learning, while being motivated and engaged.
P.s. They did really well in their FCE exam!