Can’t flip? What’s a teacher to do?

I avoid giving homework – like the plague.

I’m an ESL teacher and I know my students have enough on their plate just keeping up with the homework given by their classroom teachers. This is why I don’t give homework on top of their regular homework. In fact, I spend the first quarter of each year offering my ESL student ‘homework help’ three times a week – an after school option –  just to make sure they can understand the language used in their normal homework so that they can do the homework.

Ok, you get the point.

Photo by Glideric

To flip your classroom, you need to assign work outside the class. The  idea behind reverse instruction is great. I wholeheartedly agree with freeing up class time for interacting with students instead of having them watch a video silently, or read a passage from a book during valuable class time.

If you haven’t heard of ‘reverse instruction’ or flipped classrooms, here is the best description I have found:

Sams and Bergman were the first people, to my knowledge, to suggest the idea of “reverse instruction.” Together they began to record their lectures and post them on iTunes. The students downloaded them to their computers and mobile devices and watched them at home, at their convenience. When in the classroom Sams and Bergsma spent their time interacting with the students individually on “homework” assignments. When a student got stuck, they were there to help. They flipped the classroom to make it more flexible and dynamic, matching it with the needs of the students.

How can an ESL teacher, who refuses to give extra homework, use this method? Ah ha! Focus on the language of the content: get them ready for units by introducing background knowledge and vocabulary gaps; give them a preview of the text their classroom teachers will be presenting; give them an opportunity to practice and review what they’ve learned.

How would this look? Wikis are a great tool for this idea. In a wiki page (which every student at SSIS has access to automatically through our MOODLE. Our wikis are unfortunately private), a teacher can make text with audio recording available 24-7. I can also link new words to my favorite ESL learner dictionary by Merriam-Webster (which I just can’t recommend enough since it has the best kid-friendly definitions out there, the option to hear the pronunciation, an image (if it’s appropriate) and often examples of how to use the word in context) . Back to the wiki – you can an embed images and videos related to the topic students are studying. You can include questions related to the topic and ask students to contribute to a collaborative definition or understanding of the answer. Wikis are great!

But, you are thinking – didn’t you say you don’t give homework? Yes, that’s true. I don’t give homework in isolation. I wouldn’t, for example, give grammar practice pages – especially grammar practice not related to the course content that students are required to learn. (I do teach grammar concepts, but they are on a ‘just-in-time’ basis, and directly related to writing students are doing for their regular classes – like writer’s workshop or social studies projects.) However, giving them text/videos/practice on language they need to understand the concepts in the text and to do the assignments and assessments, well, that’s another story. I could get away with that.



5 comments for “Can’t flip? What’s a teacher to do?

  1. Avatar of Jessica A Hale
    January 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Great insight here Josee! I love the idea of giving the students ‘helps’ for what they are already studying. Particularly ESL students, if they know exactly where to go to get the supplemental help that the need for the homework that already takes them twice the time as a native English speaker, they are less likely to wast time surfing the internet and use less credible sources. You have vetted the information for them. And, honestly, in the end making all of our jobs easier!

    • Avatar of Josee Marshall
      January 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      Thanks Jessica. I do envy classroom teachers sometimes because I feel they have this steady group to work with. As an ESL teacher who supports upper elementary and needs to work with a sheltered immersion, I usually need to support students in whatever project they are doing for their core subjects – and whatever technology they are required to use. The good news is that as I get to work with the teachers in the planning stage of the units, and work with such a great group that they’re always willing to hear some suggestions.

  2. Avatar of Wayne Hodgkinson
    February 7, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Hi Josee

    I love what you outline here, and that you are involved in the planning stages of your kids units. At my school (this academic year), I am yet to have a face to face meeting with our ESL support yet, or have them in my classroom. Sure, I get a few requests for the Assessments (with grading criteria) but no more. My initial thought was that you are dong last minute preparation for the kids but after sitting back and thinking, no, you are the fence at the top of the cliff, and the guys I work with are the ambulance at the bottom. From what I am reading here, I need to be asking (no demanding) a lot more to support my struggling kids.

    • Avatar of Josee Marshall
      February 7, 2012 at 9:49 pm

      Hi Wayne,
      I must admit that even among ESL teachers, how to give support is sometimes hotly debated. My first year at SSIS, I had to fight tooth and nail to get accepted into the team meeting. But it was worth it. I can’t imagine doing my job without knowing what would be expected of my students. Having said this, I’ve been told that it’s harder to do at the MS/HS level because of scheduling.

  3. February 10, 2012 at 5:34 am

    Great adaption of a flipped classroom to best suit the needs of your students! You are so thoughtful in your response to new ideas and always ready to implement a new process or strategy to help your students – it really comes through in your posts!

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