It has been almost two years since COVID-19 turned the world upside down, and its effects will still reverberate for years to come. In the world of education, the sudden change to online classes and stronger emphasis on asynchronous tasks are two of the aspects that are more easily identifiable. One presentation of such tasks is with the increasingly more prevalent instances of Flipped Classrooms. In this article, we will explore this concept and how it has shown to be a powerful tool during these testing times.
What do we mean by Flipped Learning?
In its core, Flipped Learning seems simple enough. In a traditional class, teachers give input and new information in class. Students, now armed with this knowledge, practice with the new content in their own time. This traditional structure is applicable to most, if not all, areas of knowledge. A Math teacher can show students how a mathematical formula can be applied and assign them some exercises just as an EFL teacher may show how the third person singular in Simple Present behaves and let students work with it for homework.
Flipped Learning, then, turns this order around. Instead of spending most (if not all) of the time of the class itself on explanations and modelling, this instruction is done beforehand. Students are then able to practice in class, where they can seek help from the teacher and their classmates. Again, this can be applied to both Math classes and EFL courses.
A fancier way to express this is given to us by the Flipped Learning Network:
‘Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.’
The definition above gives us a lot to ponder, but right off the bat it allows us to dispel a persistent myth that stems from incomplete information.
When you mention Flipped Learning (FL) to a lot of people, including educators, they may immediately think of courses in which there is simply a lot of asynchronous information. More recently, with the advances we have had in technology and applications to education, videos have become extremely easy to share . This is worth pointing out since education is quite a unique field in the sense that it mixes older, more experienced professionals, and novice teachers who might have only just started college. To the latter, the puzzles we needed to solve in order to play a short Friends clip in class might sound a quaint concern An effect of this is that a lot of instruction can be provided with pre-recorded videos, that can then be shared to a virtually infinite number of students.
Because of this ease and the push from society to include these technological advances in the classrooms, there are cases in which classes are “flipped” this way: there are a lot of videos to watch and texts to read before class, but crucially, there is still a lot of explaining going on in class, i.e., there is more content being presented, but not necessarily being better dealt with.
In a Flipped Class, we flip the content to optimize the time in class. We use the time in class to do the things that can only (or better) be done in a synchronous class and move things that can be done individually to the pre-class task.
As it may be clear by now, flipped learning does not make our lives easier. It is, in my opinion, a powerful way to make classes more effective for our students, but it is a lot of work. It involves planning in advance, making agreements with the group, helping students learn to learn, selecting content carefully, constantly checking for online adjustments… In essence, it is a lesson we need to plan for, with the added aspect of not being completely in control of the information-giving part of it.
Why is Flipped Learning useful?
An important change in the role of teachers is the shift from “holder of all knowledge” to “facilitator in the learning process”. Flipped classes force teachers to go deeper into the role of a facilitator for them to be successful.
A parallel I like to draw is between FL and Test-Teach-Test (TTT), a not-as-popular teaching format for English as a Foreign Language. To explain it briefly, it involves testing students’ knowledge of some vocabulary or grammar structure, and then only teaching what students do not know. It requires a lot of flexibility, since you may need to expand or reduce your input depending on what students already know, and good prediction, since if you are teaching something students have no idea about the class becomes almost undistinguishable from a PPP lesson, defying the purpose, and if you are teaching something students mostly know you are left with very little in terms of a lesson.
What I think TTT and FL have in common is a key aspect: the ‘not teaching’. A very common mistake when implementing TTT is over teaching – explaining something your tests have shown your students master. This, in my opinion, is also a common pitfall of FL. Since our input was (ideally) all covered in the pre-class tasks, there is no need to spend too much time re-explaining things. Obviously, we will want a robust way to test if students have actually acquired the information (another similarity with TTT), but the whole point of flipping instruction is to be able to spend time in class practicing.
The Pandemic push – and the associated risks
The revolution in education caused by COVID-19 showed a lot of us how unprepared we were for a total shift to online classes. On the bright side, though, it also showed how flexible we were able to be and how quickly we were able to make adjustments using all the technology in our hands. It has become clear that we have the technological resources to go fully digital – it seems unlikely we will shift all education to digital solutions for a variety of reasons, not least of all due to the fact that a lot of us have been craving face-to-face interaction with other humans.
It has become clear, though, how flipped learning can be more easily implemented in classes around the world. For one, a lot of content has already been created. In a hurry, obviously, since there was not much time available, but the groundwork has been lain. But perhaps more importantly, with greater or smaller success, it has worked. The discussion has started, and this is the first step towards making flipped learning more mainstream and better understood.
Of course, there is also the risk that there will be resistance to change. A lot of the hastily implemented actions, back when we thought the pandemic would last a little more than a month, three at worst, may have reinforced the feeling from a lot of students and parents that this is just a patchwork solution, a way to make teachers’ lives easier while parents and students work harder, when in truth a lot of teachers have probably never worked as hard as in the past couple of years. The biggest obstacle I see for Flipped Learning to become more widespread is that it changes so many aspects seen as unchangeable that it requires tremendous efforts in the adjustment of expectations, not only from students and parents, but also teachers. Once we become better able, as a society, to deal with this, I am sure the many benefits of flipping a classroom will be more evident to all.
References and further reading
Abu Safiyeh, H. & Farrah, M. (2020). Investigating the effectiveness of flipped learning on enhancing students’ English language skills. English Review: Journal of English Education, 9(1), 193-204. https://doi.org/10.25134/erjee.v9i1.3799
Kırmızı, Ö., &Kömeç, F. (2019). The impact of the flipped classroom on receptive and productive vocabulary learning. Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies, 15(2), 437-449.
Warden, Alexandra. (2016). Investigating the use of a Flipped Approach to Grammar Input in an English as a Foreign Language Classroom. Dissertation: University of Chichester.
Gabriel Ribeiro's Bio:
Gabriel has a degree in Linguistics from the University of Sao Paulo. He is also a CPE and CELTA holder, and a postgraduate student of English as a Second Language. Gabriel has been working with education for over ten years, teaching English as a Foreign Language at CELLEP and Red Balloon, Portuguese as a Second Language at CCBT, and proofreading materials for Somos. He is currently an academic consultant at Troika, focusing on teacher development, educational management and materials design.