The generally accepted definition of reverse instruction (or flipped classroom) is to have the students watch a video lecture at home and then do the homework in class. The idea is that students will now have more class time to actively work, rather than passively sit and watch the teacher work. This infographic by Daniel Grafton outlines the pros and cons of the flipped classroom. While supporters make a compelling argument for the advantages of flipping (more one-to-one teacher/student time, self-paced learning, content and skill mastery, socio-economic equality, addressing absenteeism, student diagnostics, peer teaching, parent support), I wonder how well this method works in an international school’s Beginner ESL class for Year 6 primary students?
Jerry Overmeyer writes in his blog post, Vodcasting and the Flipped Classroom, “Thus far, teachers and students using the Flipped Class model have been very successful in mastering science, mathematics and foreign language.” Although there are some similarities in instruction between learning a foreign language and learning a second language, the learning goals and language targets are often different.
For example, at my school, English is the language of instruction, and although we have very few native English-speaking students, our students need grade-level English proficiency in order to fully succeed in the classroom. Yet when these students step out onto the street they are exposed to Chinese. Often the only exposure they have to English is at school. So in this sense, many of the learning goals for my ESL students would be the same as learning a foreign language – lots of practice using English, especially oral in the beginning, and lots of exposure to authentic language. However with this, I have to balance the immediate needs of developing academic content language, learning strategies, and explicit cultural instruction in a multicultural context, all in the target language, not the students’ mother language.
So, given these needs, where do I even begin to start in figuring out how to flip my ESL
class? Doing a Google search on “flipped classroom ESL” only returns a lot of blog posts and comments saying pretty much what I already know – “a flipped classroom is using video lectures at home ……blah, blah, blah, blah” – but not a lot of actual suggestions or strategies how to flip an ESL class. Larry Ferlazzo, who I follow on Twitter, and has been blogging and writing books about teaching ELL, ESL, and EFL for years, seems undecided on its merits and echos comments on his blog about students doing the least engaging form of learning, i.e.the lecture, at home and alone. Even Khan Academy, the greatest flipped classroom of all, with a library over 3000 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and hundreds of skills to practice (or so the website says), does not even have English Language Arts as a subject – let alone something specifically for second language learning!
I had better luck searching for strategies on flipping the elementary classroom. At least now I have some suggestions on what to do and not do. Some of the better advice is to flip a lesson, not a class; keep the videos under ten minutes (a good rule of thumb: 1-2 minutes per grade level); and make a video only for those lessons that students seem to struggle with or need a lot of repetition on.
Another thing to consider is how my students will access these video lessons, especially in China where YouTube and Vimeo are blocked. To answer that, I came across a transcript of a March 6, 2010 web-chat on The Flipped Classroom for EFL. While participants did discuss whether or not flipping was better suited for science and math than language learning, they also gave some good suggestions on using technologies other than video, such as pod-casting and PowerPoint presentations that students could access prior to coming to class. They also discussed how doing introductions to culture, language use, grammar points, and project-based communication activities were all good areas for flipping that would allow more time for in-class participation and targeted language activities.
To be honest, the thought of having to flip my entire class was daunting. But I now know I can focus on a lesson at a time and only when really needed. Plus I don’t have to think “in the box” that flipping is only available in video format. Heck, I don’t even have to think of it as homework. I can use these same strategies and technologies in my class if I keep the “flipped” part to under 10 minutes and then students can review the lessons again at home for reinforcement. Wow! I feel a lot better know and will give Flippin’ for ESL a try