“Flipping” the TESOL classroom

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Classroom ‘flipping’ is all the rage in mainstream education, and though the term is already nearly passe with overuse, it points to a fundamental truth that educators of all stripes likely feel: if we could move some of the ‘busy work’ to outside of class, our classroom time could be rich, interactive and meaningfully effective.

This TESOL Journal article by Christine Bauer-Ramazani, John M. Graney, Helaine W. Marshall, and Christine Sabieh outlines some of the basic tenets of flipped learning and briefly discusses an example of classroom flipping in a blended, project-based ESOL activity.

For those new to the concept, classroom flipping is commonly thought of as moving ‘busy work’ to homework so that teachers can spend classroom time evaluating students’ grasp of concepts and building on their learning. The authors of this article, however, caution readers that flipping “cannot simply be achieved by exchanging what was done in class with what was done at home,” (Bauer-Ramazani, et al., 2016, p. 430). Doing this effectively requires a particular hands-on approach to planning and facilitating in-class portions of the learning.

Conditions for effective class flipping

In this article, Bauer-Ramazani, et. al. introduce the excellent online resource flippedlearning.org, tied to a network of educators committed to this approach. They share the site’s ‘four pillars of flipped learning’ — detailed in this handy guide. These include:

“Flexible environment”: a rearrangeable physical environment that facilitates group work and discussion activities.

“Learning culture”: buy-in from all stakeholders — students, teachers, administrators, etc. — to the idea that class time will deviate from the traditional teacher-fronted lecture. (Pretty doable in CLT-minded cultures!)

“Intentional content”: out-of-class content designed for self-study, and in-class experiences designed to maximize class time. This is where the heavy lifting comes in — and why it’s not as simple as ‘doing more stuff at home’!

“Professional educator”: reflective, pedagogically aware teachers willing to embrace a highly diagnostic, facilitative approach.

This article explore the affordances of classroom flipping: most obviously, that it allows teachers to really teach. Echoing John Field and his diagnostic approach, the authors emphasize the value and importance of constant formative assessment — an integral part of the flipped-class model.

A brief case study

The authors tie their article together with a brief overview of how class flipping has worked in action at a U.S. university IEP. The organizers used flipping alongside blended and project-based approaches to have students produce short role-play videos of themselves pretending to be news announcers. Research and filming were done out side of class, allowing class time to be spent on brainstorming, scaffolding, support and — at the end — celebration and evaluation. All in all, a nice snapshot of how effective flipped learning can be!

The researchers’ takeaway was that the model worked well at opening up the affordances expected: particularly in freeing up class time for meaningful interaction. However, they noted the drawback that is an important reminder for all of us considering next steps for introducing these activities: student motivation and responsibility is a major factor in flipped learning’s success:

“In general, flipped learning works best with students who are motivated and able to spend additional time completing online activities at home,” (Bauer-Ramazani, et al., 2016, p. 435.)

While this shouldn’t rule out class-flipping for the interested, it’s a good reminder to keep in mind. Finding ways to foster that motivation is part of the solution!

Worth a read for: 

  • Teachers interested in exploring class flipping (or its diagnostic elements).
  • Curriculum developers and educational leaders. 
  • Classroom researchers (more research is needed in this area!).

Discussed in this post:

Bauer-Ramazani, C., Graney, J. M., Marshall, H. W., & Sabieh, C. (2016). Flipped Learning in TESOL: Definitions, Approaches, and Implementation.TESOL Journal, 7(2), 429-437. Retrieved from http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/tesj.250

Have YOU experimented with classroom flipping? Tell us about it in the comments!