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Flipped Classroom in ELL – What, Why & How?

  • Flipped Classroom in ELL – What, Why & How?

The following blog post was written by Dara MacKay, a faculty member at the School of Global Access.

One of the most current buzzwords in instructional professional development these days is “flipped classroom.” This idea is not a new technique but has been made more widely accessible by the use of technology by learners in and out of the classroom. The basic tenets of the flipped classroom are these:

  • Students are given content to learn prior to class via created or curated videos of direct instruction or topical content.
  • It uses blended delivery: independent study using technology and face to face interaction in class. Learners have constant access to the lesson to review as needed.
  • Basic concepts are learned at home and then practiced in the classroom. Learners come to class with background knowledge and questions, and they have the chance to practice and master a skill or concept with the instructor present.

There are definitely pros and cons to this approach, and I would say that it shouldn’t be used exclusively. However, for certain aspects of learning, it can work very well.

I took a look at my current teaching practice and realized that I was already doing this to some extent. My students use D2L Brightspace as a learning platform already, where they access homework and assignments during the weekend, when they are expected to supplement the learning that has taken place in the classroom. I will often post videos for listening practice that are linked to the topic or theme which will be covered the following week.  When analyzing this practice, though useful, I thought I could take it a little further.

I decided to create my own simple videos. My reasons were also simple: I wanted my students to be able to see mini-lessons of content that is often taught through direct instruction and come to class able to work on the skill instead of spending time introducing it. I could also control the level of language and pace of the speaking, as well as the vocabulary I wanted to reinforce for my learners. I did this for two topics. The first was the parts of plot in fiction, and the second was a short series that broke down some common figurative language and literary devices. These are two reading outcomes in my program, and I often find we spend a great deal of time learning them in class, and not enough time really practicing and exploring the topics. 

This video on Plot Structure was made on my iPhone with the simplest materials. I used the iMovie app, headphones with a mic, some sharpie pens, and paper.  It was the first video I created.  I asked my students to watch the video for homework and told them to come to class prepared to answer a brief questionnaire about the content.

This video on Figurative Language  was my second, and the materials were the app, my headphones, and an empty classroom with a whiteboard and markers. The rest I did in the iMovie app.  

The students were also asked to come prepared to answer questions. I call these ‘entry slips’. The entry slips determine whether or not the students understood the content, remembered the important vocabulary, and if they actually did the assignment to begin with.  Students who had not completed were asked to do so before they could move forward with the practice assignments.

Overall, the exercises worked very well, and I came away with some strategies for success.

  1. Creating my own videos was better than curating because I completely control the content.
  2. Make access to the videos easy and clear. I created a YouTube channel.
  3. When creating videos, simpler is better. Don’t get too complicated or fancy.
  4. Videos should be short and direct – a mini-lesson of 5 minutes or less.
  5. Content should introduce topics you will spend a good amount of time exploring together, so students are able to gain clarity through face to face interaction.
  6. Students should understand that this is step 1 to the learning, and if it is not completed at home, they may not move forward with the next parts in class.p;

So far, I have created three videos, and I plan to include more, perhaps on various grammar points or writing techniques, such as how to write effective introductions.

I would recommend this approach for learners who have access to mobile devices and wifi and appreciate access to a lesson over and over again if needed.