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Flipping the classroom

Some teachers have been taking advantage of technology to experiment with the "flipped classroom" as it has become called. If you are not so familiar with the concept yet, it involves getting students to start the learning process at home, then reinforcing the work in class afterwards. The theory is that students do some preparation and thinking at home first, at their own pace, then practise what they have learned in class. In some subjects this might mean, for example, that students learn some basic information at home, start thinking about it, then use valuable classroom time for more reflection, analysis and discussion.

The concept is not really revolutionary. Teachers have often set reading to be done at home so that class time can be used for discussion. Typically, an A-level class might read some pages from a novel, guided by a worksheet, then class time is used for communicating in French (which is less easily done at home). What is new is the emphasis on technology and, in particular, the use of video.

Certain advantages of the flipped classroom occur to me: pupils can work at their own pace without distraction, they can review explanations as many times as they wish, they can easily catch up with any missed work. In addition, if the material is well chosen, it may be quite motivating.

So I can see that flipping can have its place, but it seems to me that in general, in the context of language teaching, that place need not be huge. There are certain obvious practical difficulties: what if a student does not have access to a computer or tablet? What if the student does not do the work in preparation for the lesson? What is the student wants to ask questions at the exposition stage and cannot do so at home?

To an extent, these arguments apply to the non-flipped context - students do fail to do traditional homework and their printer runs out of ink surprisingly often. More significantly, it seems to me to be harder to check that work has been done in the flipped model unless you provide a worksheet or other format to demonstrate something has actually been achieved. I spent my whole career assuming that students would sometimes not do their homework or cheat by copying ( I hated that and came down like a ton of bricks on cheats). My suspicious nature and meticulous checking usually led to homework being done.

Most of all, however, my feeling is that you can enthuse a pupil enough in class to set follow-up work which they will willingly and successfully do as reinforcement. This model works fine if done well and should remain the norm. Furthermore, the flipped model works less well in MFL as we rely less on explanations and conceptual thought than other subjects. Much of our work is about exposure to target language and structured practice. We can already listen and talk a lot in class, then leave reading and writing for the home. That's fine. Homework can be checked and/or marked and we can maximise exposure to the language.

For those who have not tried flipping, there are language teachers out there who blog about it. Try these:
(Samantha Broom writes about her experiments with the flipped classroom) (Flipping My Spanish Classroom)

The ACTFL has published this guide:


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