Elgazette Logo newtrans  The magazine for English language teaching and English medium education

Have you flipped yet?

Loren Kerns jump

The term ‘flipping the classroom’ has been flapping around for a while, but maybe it’s now time to give it some thought. Richard Bradford explores how and why you should try turning lessons upside down

Flipped learning turns the traditional format of ‘lesson + homework’ on its head. Rather than being introduced to new topics and concepts during lessons by the teacher, students first encounter them at home, watching videos and completing online tasks. The consolidation tasks and activities that might have been done as homework are then done in the lesson. 

  • What are the benefits of flipped learning?

Flipped learning allows students to get to grips with subject matter in their own time, helping them arrive at the lesson with greater awareness and understanding. In ELT, it could mean pre-teaching difficult points of language or topic-specific vocabulary, functional language or anything else which may prove time-consuming or difficult to absorb quickly.

The biggest gain is that those learners requiring a little more time to understand certain points can go through the work repeatedly until they get it.

This can lead to more homogenous class levels, says Andy Johnson, director of London School Online, the digital branch of London School of English. ‘It also helps to boost confidence particularly amongst the weaker students who may otherwise fear they’re holding up the class’, he adds.

At Wimbledon School of English, part of the TEN group, elements of flipped learning ‘tend to be employed as a way of saving time, [improving the way] learners collaborate, or as a way of promoting and facilitating independent learning’ says director of studies, Shanel Summers.

  • What are the potential pitfalls of flipped learning?

Any students who do not complete the pre-lesson flipped learning task may find themselves at a significant disadvantage. Rather than feeling more confident in class, they may actually be at a loss as to what is going on and there may be little time available to go back through the presentation stage that other students completed ahead of the lesson.

Students’ ability to understand the teaching point and conduct background research will only be as good as the quality of the materials available to them. For self-study of the ‘presentation stage’ to be effective, students may need richer learning resources, such as video clips, engaging online tasks and generally compelling content.

This in turn throws up another issue in that students need to be online to complete most flipped learning tasks. Whilst WiFi access might not be a problem these days, you do need everyone in your class to have access to a suitable device, which may not be a given.

  • Sourcing flipped learning content

Some schools will leave it entirely to their teachers to source appropriate materials to flip, or simply provide teacher development around the principles of flipped learning. Others will implement their flipped learning strategy by signing up to pre-existing online resources.
It seems that with flipped learning, as in other aspects of ELT, some teachers prefer to use their own secret stash of online clips, tips and tricks, whilst others will be happy to follow a school-designated approach.

At Wimbledon School of English, flipped learning is used in Cambridge exam classes. Students might be asked to watch YouTube videos of other candidates answering speaking test questions. This content ensures Wimbledon’s students ‘can look at what other candidates do well or not so well on, make notes on timings, and give their own score on candidates’ performance’, says Summers.

  • How to get it right in your school.

It is important that schools work closely with teachers to co-develop a flipped learning approach, rather than insist on the use of a complex or costly system. Whichever approaches are adopted it seems vital that the flipped content is in kilter with the course programme and desired learning outcomes.

  • The longer-term opportunities of flipped content.

Most good online systems allow for real-time tracking of individual student progress. Progress reporting can provide an opportunity for fine-tuning flipped content to meet the emerging and differentiated needs of the class.

Moreover, with Generation Z students starting to fill schools, expectations are for ever-richer, more integrated content which can be accessed on any device at any time to support learning.
Flipped learning is also on-message in terms of how the workforce of the future needs to think – being more self-reliant and able to work and learn more autonomously.

Richard Bradford is managing director of Disquiet Dog – a digital education and marketing consultancy working predominantly with the ELT sector. For more information go to www.disquietdog.com or follow him on @disquietdog.

How schools can help with flipped learning

  • Provide teacher development on flipped learning and seek out and celebrate examples of its use. Encourage practising teachers to share their experiences.
  • Allow time and resources for teachers to create their own videos and other digital media.
  • When selecting an off-the-shelf flipped learning resource – e.g. a subscription to an online platform – collaborate with teachers from an early stage.
  • Always focus more on the needs of learners and their desired outcomes (which may be quite specific to your school), than on the technical platform or the supposed unique selling points of a given solution (which is likely to be more generic).
  • Don’t worry how any other school is doing flipped learning. Your culture, students and teachers might lead you to a very different and unique outcome.


How to flip your classroom as a teacher

  • If this is new, start small. For example, dig out YouTube clips for students to watch which will warm up their knowledge ahead of a new teaching point.
  • Allow extra time in class to concept check the content that was flipped.
  • If you’ve been doing this for years already, share your experience with others.
  • Consult with students and see what they think of the approaches you’re using.
  • Be aware of confidence levels in class, and explore the extent to which flipped learning may be contributing positively or negatively.
  • Try using flipped learning to pre-teach language which frequently trips students up or causes different rates of understanding in class.

Pic courtesy: Loren Kerns