How to Flip Your Classroom to Promote Discussions and Learner Autonomy

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Flipped learning has not only been gaining popularity rapidly in recent years, but it has also become one of the biggest trends in classroom teaching. While having students be actively involved in their own learning, flipped learning can also lead to dramatic improvements in students’ academic performance (Talbert, 2017). Moreover, flipped learning can be an effective approach to engage students in deeper discussions. In this blog, I will introduce what flipped learning is and how to flip a classroom to enhance learner autonomy and students’ speaking skills.

What is flipped learning?

Before knowing how to implement the flipped learning approach, it is essential to understand what flipping learning is. In a traditional classroom, students first gain exposure to new concepts in class through lectures. However, in a flipped classroom, students have first contact with new concepts in an individual learning space prior to class. Therefore, during class, teachers can focus on the concepts students need the most help with or activities which require the application of higher-order thinking skills (Talbert, 2017). Unlike the traditional learning environment, students shift their roles from passive learners to active learners in a flipped learning environment. As a result, students learn to take on more responsibility for their work and become self-regulating learners. (For more benefits of a flipped classroom approach, please refer to Alex Warren’s post: Flipped Learning in the ELT Classroom.)

How can a classroom be flipped?

There are four key elements to consider when instructors flip their classrooms.

First of all, instructors need to provide students with an opportunity to gain first exposure to new concepts before class (Brame, 2013). The first exposure could be lecture videos, readings or a structured activity. Then, instructors can utilize tasks such as online practice, worksheets or writing assignments to assess students’ understanding of the new concepts. Secondly, instructors are encouraged to offer an incentive, such as points for students to prepare for class (Brame, 2013). Thirdly, instructors need to provide higher-level cognitive activities in class. If students have gained a basic understanding of new materials outside of class, then instructors should focus on targeted questions and high-level tasks such as deeper discussions or application of newly-learned concepts (Talbert, 2017). Therefore, in-class time is spent promoting deeper learning. Lastly, instructors should assess students’ understanding based on their in-class performance and provide them with feedback.

An example of a flipped classroom with a TED talk and technology 

            Let’s use my ESL class as an example; my students needed the most help improving their speaking skills. Hence, after we finished the unit, Free Time, featured in Life, I assigned them the TED talk, “Try something new for 30 days,” as homework. The TED talk was used as the first exposure to help my students dive deeper into the topic we were discussing. Moreover, the TED talk provided good modeling of communication skills and powerful ideas to motivate my students to speak in class. Since my students were at the beginner level, I used the supplemental classroom resource, Learn English with TED Talks, which offers scaffolding to help comprehend the talk and activities to practice English. As a result, my students were well-prepared and ready to discuss the content of the talk in the next class.

During class, I assigned my students higher-order thinking questions and discussion tasks to have them practice their speaking as much as possible. One of the discussion tasks that I used is called picture sequencing (Gibbons, 2009). First, I screenshotted the key moments of the TED talk and printed them out as a set of pictures in a predictable sequence. Next, after each student got one or more picture cards, the students worked in small groups. Then, the students took turns describing their cards without revealing them to their groupmates. Finally, the whole group discussed and decided on the correct sequence of the talk (Figure 1). While students were discussing, I circulated around the class and jotted down their speaking errors. At the end of the class, I went through the errors and gave them corrective feedback.

If you are seeking an effective approach to promote in-depth discussions and learner autonomy, why not try to flip your classroom by providing students with pre-class exposure, an incentive to prepare for class, and higher-level activities in class? For more concrete ideas to flip a classroom or to design engaging discussion tasks, please check out the recording of my webinar: “Flipping the Classroom: The Role TED and Technology Can Play to Get Students Speaking.”

References:

Brame, C. (2013). Flipping the classroom. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Retrieved from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/.

Gibbons, P. (2009). English learners, academic literacy, and thinking: Learning in the

challenge zone. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Talbert, R. (2017). Flipped learning: A guide for higher education faculty. Sterling, VA:

Stylus Publishing.

Author: Hsu-Ping Tuan

Hsu-Ping Tuan received her M.A. in TESOL through the PK-12 program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She also holds an M.S. in Brain Science from National Yang-Ming University, Taiwan. She was awarded the Teachers College, Columbia University John F. Fanselow Award for developing outstanding ESL materials. She is a certified ESL/ENL teacher in New York State, and has extensive teaching experience in the US and Taiwan. She dedicates herself to adapting ESL curriculum for students in EFL contexts so that students can achieve better learning outcomes. She is also interested in integrating the latest research findings of neuroscience and English teaching to facilitate students’ learning. Currently, she trains teachers for publishers and delivers talks on flipped learning for universities in Asia.

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