Are educational paradigms beginning to shift? The digital age has meant the way in which we access information has changed immeasurably. The answer to pretty much any question is now at our fingertips or at the end of a mouse or the tap of a tablet screen. This seemingly limitless access of information has irrevocably changed the way in which students approach their learning and will continue to so in the future – we teachers must simply endeavour to keep up!
With this in mind perhaps it is time for us to re-evaluate the role of the classroom in the learning dynamic? Schools continue to employ an instruction based model of education which involves the teacher delivering information to their students. “Today we are going to learn about oligopolistic market structures” routinely translates as… “Today I am going to spend the limited time we have together as teacher and student telling you about the features of an oligopoly market – I expect you to process and make sense of this information in your own time, although I will make some time towards the end of the lesson to support you with this”. Sound familiar?
Teachers will endeavour to support students in their learning and, for the most part, do a pretty fine job working within the limitations of time and students numbers. It seems unlikely that class numbers or the amount of time we get with our students will change in the near future so the question is …. Is there a better way?
Fig. 1 – the ‘Traditional’ model vs. the ‘Flipped’ classroom model
American college’s have begun to adopt the flipped classroom approach and a way of circumventing these restrictions. The flipped classroom model involves the teacher delivering the ‘taught’ element outside of the classroom. Students complete this element of their learning prior to attending the lesson. This allows the teacher to spend more 1:1 time with students in lessons consolidating their learning and allowing them to progress to more challenging tasks quicker. Doubtless many of you who are reading this will ask what is so new about this idea? Indeed many of us have been employing a ‘flipped classroom’ model for years, setting reading or research homework’s prior to the delivery of a topic (although without the snazzy Americanised name).
It is the variety and accessibility of modern technology that has made ‘flipping’ the classroom a more exciting experience for both teachers and students alike. Video clips, podcasts and blogging are just three tools that can be effectively used to deliver a flipped classroom. Students will often be more enthusiastic about learning through these technologies than through reading a traditional textbook and taking notes (although I believe these methods still maintain significant value). Moreover, these technologies can often be effectively delivered via those annoying little gadgets that seem permanently attached to the students palms and have little white wires that snake up from the uniform towards the ear, meaning that these learning resource can be stored more conveniently and accessed at will.
Where to begin?
My advice is to start small. Select one lesson from your scheme of work to try out before even thinking about delivering an entire topic. Next select a method of delivery. There is no ‘best method’ of delivery – only what’s best for you. Some will be familiar with recording their own voice or themselves teaching on video. Many of us will have written blogs for students. However, the good news is that there is a wealth of resource material available through sites such as YouTube (the excellent pajholden is highly recommended for economics). Textbook pages can be easily scanned and made available to students as PDF’s, as can lesson notes. Powerpoint still works perfectly well despite the programme being increasingly viewed as the perfect cure for insomnia. If you really want to push the boundaries programmes such as Go Animate!, Storify, Camstudio and Jing allow you to create video that can be used to the lesson content. The point is to use whatever works best for you and your students. The most important thing is that whatever resource you provide allows them to learn independently.
Now for the delivery…..
Now that you’ve created your resource it’s time to give it to your students. This should be done before you attempt to cover the topic in a lesson – in other words the information should be new. Make it clear that they are expected to watch/listen/read the resource and make sense of the information themselves. Now to plan the lesson itself. Ideally all students will have engaged with the materials, processed what they can and arrive at your lesson with questions. You may want to ease them into this at first by providing a 5-10 minute recap at the beginning of the lesson. The important thing is not to teach them the topic over again. This defeats the purpose of flipping the classroom in the first place. I would recommend some scaffold questions that will support their progress and act as an effective AFL tool for you to see how much they have understood. You should find yourself presented with a highly differentiated classroom (fingers crossed). Those that either didn’t access the materials or didn’t fully understand the content can get additional support from the teacher, whilst those that fully understood the content can quickly make progress in term of accessing higher level questions from pretty much the beginning of the lesson and don’t have to spend the first 15 or 20 minutes of precious lesson time listening to the teacher explain a topic which they already fully understand. I could dredge up that ominous phrase ‘outstanding progress’ at this point but I’ll leave that to the reader!
The beauty of the flipped classroom is that it allows the teacher to move away from the traditional role of instructor and become more of a ‘coach’ moving from student to student providing support or guidance where it is needed. This can happen for pretty much the entire lesson – not just the last 20-30 minutes, maximising the time we get to spend working with our students directly. The other great thing about flipping your classroom is that students have permanent access to these resources and so can go back to review them after the lesson or as part of their revision.