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Flipping the English Class: Here’s how to go about it

Flipping the English class may help us meet the needs of ALL the students in our classes and not just the “good” ones.

Not the only way, by all means

I’m fully aware that many teachers have been:

  • working in small groups for years,
  • using English in class and,
  • even if they may –or not- use Spanish for the grammar explanations they give opportunities to all the students to practise the new structures and use the language.

So, I’m not saying that the only way to help students learn and practise English is by flipping their classrooms. I believe that being eclectic in methods, approaches and techniques is essential, for what works in certain situations may not work in others, and what is effective for one person may not be for another.

But a good way, in my view, of

However, ever since I discovered the concept of flipping the classroom, back in November-December 2012, I’ve been attracted by the idea, because I saw it as a way of:

Collaborating with other teachers.

So that English is used in the classroom as a vehicle for communication, not “a subject of study”. We all know that, very often,  when we study “about the language”  we do not learn to use the language.

Giving students opportunities to use the language

By flipping our English class, we allow our students to have opportunities to practise the language in real situations and learn at their own pace.

Allowing teachers to cater for all students, good and bad

When we flip our English class, we can:

  • give opportunities to those who are more competent users of the language to develop further,
  • and focus on the specific needs of those who are less competent.

What I learnt  back in 2012-13 from Heather Witten

Who is she?

Heather teaches Spanish at a small school in Colorado. She has also taken part in various conferences dealing with flipping the classroom and she has flipped her Spanish class…so I thought her experiences would be enlightening.

In the book I mentioned in the previous posts  (“Flipping 2.0. Practical Strategies for Flipping your class“) there are different sections, each dealing with the core subjects. Mrs. Witten’s section is under “World languages” and, specifically Spanish.

Why she decided to flip her Spanish class

The reasons which led her to flip her class were, among others, that she wanted to cover not only the content related to the curriculum but also important cultural aspects.  At the same time, she wanted to give her students ample opportunities to practise the language.

Because she couldn’t cover everything and reach every student

She was finding what most of you find: it’s impossible to cover everything with the class time you have and the variety of students. Perhaps in the so-called “bilingual” schools this is more achievable…but in an ordinary class: If you cover all the content, there’s very little time to give them plenty of practice with the language and it’s almost impossible to cover cultural aspects on top of that.

What most teachers do when faced with this all too common situation

Of course, one solution is to focus on those students who are good and can follow without problems, ignoring the rest.

What do most teachers do in their classes? You will say that it varies, but I bet that most of you:

  • Teach grammar –perhaps in English but, very often, in Spanish because the students cannot follow otherwise.
  • Then, give them highly controlled, repetitive, written exercises such as filling the gaps, to practise.
  • Finally,  if there’s still time -but very often there isn’t-  you may give them not more than five-ten minutes freer practice.

Am I wrong?

If you turn your English class into a flipped class, you can:

  • Give them the grammar explanations, new vocabulary and even cultural aspects in videos, slides, .wmv files, etc., so that they can watch and consult them as many times as they want or need
  • Use the time in class to practise the new skills, vocabulary skits, conversations, presentations, and projects.

The drawback for you

Needless to say, the preparation is time-consuming.

can be reduced through collaboration

but if you get a group of teachers –not necessarily from the same school- collaborating, doing things together and exchanging materials,

the rewards will be worth the effort and time:

  • students will have opportunities to constantly practice the language in class,
  • those with a higher level can go faster,
  • lower-level ones can focus on those aspects they need most
  • while the ones in the middle can help those at the lower level and be helped by those at a higher level.
  • The system fosters collaboration and taking responsibility for their own learning.
  • The teacher can focus on the individual needs of the students:
  • Making suggestions.
  •  Asking higher-level thinking questions.
  • Correcting practice assignments.
  • Pushing students to achieve fluency
  • Helping students who are struggling

How to flip your English class

In order to implement it, Heather Witten gives us the following advice:

  1. Inform students, parents, the department and the school governing team and explain why you are doing it. Encourage them to ask any questions they may have.
  2. Choose one course at a time  —and I’ll add, even some units within a course, to start with— and this should be the one you think students will benefit most from.
  3. Focus on how you can give those students more time for listening & speaking practice and for project work.
  4. Students work individually, in pairs or small groups, and they help their friends and mates.
  5. Plan whole units rather than lessons, and in such a way that the unit objectives are in line with the general objectives of the Curriculum.
  6. The objectives MUST be clear and measurable.
  7. Make use of formative and learning-oriented assessment.
  8. The videos or *.wmv files MUST be meaningful: you may use Spanish for the grammar explanations, this is not important because the objective is to clarify and students will be using English in class.
  9. At the beginning of the unit, students receive a pack with the Unit outline.

Contents of the Unit outline pack:

  • Objectives for the unit.
    • Calendar with deadlines for assignments, tests, and projects.
      • Vocabulary.
        • Grammar, with short practice exercises.
          • Reading & listening assignments.
            • Project assignments.
              • Rubrics.

Students can work freely on assignments but:

  • Tests are done by all students on the same day.
    • Projects & final assessments are all due on the same date.

Have you noted how some of the aspects covered in the recommendation would also be very helpful for ADHD students?

It is true that some –perhaps even many teachers already use student-centered approaches, and make use of pair and group work for projects and the like. Indeed, flipping the classroom only adds more opportunities for practising the language during classroom time and draws on the theories and philosophies of experts such as Vygotsky, Bloom or Gardner, among others.

So, how do you feel about this approach to teaching? The teachers and school principals who have implemented it say that motivation among demotivated students has improved dramatically while those students who are high achievers are not slowed down by the sluggish pace of their mates.

I’d love to hear your views and experiences.

Apasionada de la lengua inglesa y sus múltiples matices, mi objetivo es ayudarte en la preparación de la oposición a profesores de inglés y contribuir a que la escuela pública ofrezca la enseñanza de calidad –de y en lengua inglesa– que nuestros alumnos necesitan en el s. XXI

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