Last year, I was approached by a deputy director of a chain of schools, quite popular in Delhi, who wanted me to deliver a webinar on flipped approach (henceforth FA), also called ‘flipped learning’, to their teachers pan-India because they had observed me deliver a webinar on ‘communication-rich lessons using the flipped approach’ with the British Council. They even scheduled me for a call with their head of HR, which got me really excited. Unfortunately, it never took off, however, now that I have decided to pen down my thoughts more regularly, this is a good opportunity to share my learning and success using the FA.
Let’s start with how some of us perceive the FA.
I found this on Lesley University’s homepage. It’s simple, to the point and has ‘active learning’ included, though I would not restrict the assignment(s) to just viewing, but add in a couple of quick activities too post-viewing.
For an ELT enthusiast, The Flipped Institute‘s description would resonate better.
“Less ‘sit and listen’ equals more ‘do and learn’ — and the flipped model is making class time more enjoyable, productive and engaging for students and teachers.”
From my experience, in a few words, it is a technique to make my synchronous live lessons genuinely communicative (using the language for real conversations).
How I do it
It starts right from filling out the needs analysis and GTKY forms. These filled out forms form the basis of selecting and/or creating content for the course. As our courses are co-constructed with the learners (henceforth Ls/L), I don’t usually have a fixed road map. It’s quite fluid that way. As we progress, we may adapt, skip and/or add topics as per our Ls needs, wants and areas of challenges found on the way.
I use a lot of YouTube video content as a pre-lesson activity which is followed by one or more tasks to check their comprehension or to highlight an important concept. I rarely need to screencast myself to introduce a new topic. Why reinvent the wheel when your fellow ‘teachers’ on YouTube have done the favour for you? They get the views and you can concentrate on creating pathways to facilitate the content instead of spending time creating it. It’s a win-win situation.
My first couple of business English or ESP lessons almost always deal with writing smart goals, and discussing the way people, especially polyglots, learn languages. In preparation for the lesson, they have to watch a short tutorial on SMART goals and Lÿdiá Machová’s TED talk and complete a short task(s) (writing their own goals/gap-fill/MCQs/etc.). In the lesson, we discuss (Ls are encouraged to use L1) how they (Ls) have been learning English so far, what they find interesting and challenging, what they think about polyglots’s approach to learning a language and how different it is to theirs. To let them know I understand the frustrations and triumphs of learning a language, I share my ongoing experience of learning their L1 (Thai).
For my IELTS learners, almost all of my lessons have an element of FA. For instance, the other day, I shared a video of a YouTuber cum online IELTS teacher (IELTS Jacky), explaining the different types of writing task II essay and their basic structures. My Ls had to find out the different types, then had to read through a few sample IELTS writing task II questions and guess the type. During our live synchronous session, we discussed, confirmed and clarified the different types of essay. Later, we even discussed the typical essay structure. Just imagine how much time we saved by covering the factual content pre-lesson.
On another occasion, Ls had to watch a video (IELTS Liz) explaining the type of questions to expect in speaking part I. Later, they had to choose three topics from a list of common IELTS speaking topics and create five part I questions from their understanding of the video. During our live synchronous session, we role played part I using those same questions they had created. This not only saves an abundance of our time but fosters autonomy, a sense of ownership and co-construction of content. Furthermore, it adds to my ever-expanding materials treasure trove, as I recycle these questions with other sets of Ls too.
For Ls with limited language abilities and competency, I create customised lessons based on Dr Gianfranco Conti’s sentence builders’ (SB) approach. SBs are a great tool to ensure Ls come to the lesson with a strong awareness of the meaning, pronunciation and structure of the target language, which creates room for a genuine communication-rich live synchronous lesson.
‘Post-lesson screencasting’ is something I picked up from Scott Thornbury on our GMILE course. On a couple of occasions, he wasn’t able to complete his planned input session, hence instead of going into extra time, he used screencasting to talk through the remaining part and shared the video post the session. We were more than welcome to raise any doubts or questions about the content in our shared forum or ask him personally in the next session. I have found this strategy quite useful especially on days when my learners and I spend time clarifying their doubts or discussing something more important to them than the lesson plan (LP). 😅
A month and a half ago, I had to submit a LP to the British Council (corporate division) in order to get shortlisted for a position. The lesson’s main objective was to help Ls identify the differences between past simple and present perfect. We had the liberty to choose any material we preferred. I could have played safe by selecting a typical content from a typical course book and writing a standard CELTA LP but that would have made me look like a hypocritical preacher of FA. After an hour or two of planning, I screen-casted a short video (two and a half minutes), wrote an audio script and asked my friend to record, created a couple of quick personalised controlled practice activities to highlight the language structure and pronunciation features et voilà! Two weeks later, I was called for an interview and just today, the contract was forwarded (What timing!). Here is the video for your entertainment 🤣
In my opinion, these are some of the top benefits of the FA
1. Because you have done your lead-in, context familiarisation, reading/listening sub-skills activities through pre-lesson tasks, you can now spend more time practicing the language and clarifying doubts. I believe that is what communicative classrooms should entail. Moreover, I get to cover so much more ground than a traditional CELTA lesson would have allowed me to.
2. It creates affordances for Ls to immerse themselves in the language outside the classroom. Additionally, it promotes L autonomy and encourages them to take responsibility for their learning.
3. I usually share the responsibility of finding relevant and interesting content among my pupils, which fosters a sense of community in the classroom. In the long run, L interdependence and trust enhances, as they are taking more responsibility of self-learning and sharing their knowledge.
4. Apart from online and self-created, my learners are my next-best source of materials. Their video/audio recordings, their written work, their life stories and situations turn into a bank of resources. This boosts their intrinsic motivation (Self-determination theory) and they realise their own potential while simultaneously observing their natural progress and enhanced competency level.
5. As I don’t use published course books, YouTube videos, podcast excerpts, song lyrics, poems, blog posts, etc. turn into my materials. You don’t need to screencast every time or create your own content. Introduce your Ls to a variety of teachers and sources of knowledge. There is so much authentic content out there on the web, plus you don’t need to spend time reinventing the wheel.
6. As a teacher, I get to observe and learn how other online content creators cum ‘teachers’ are using various ways to share their knowledge. They actually save my TTT 😉
A few drawbacks
1. There are times when one of my Ls doesn’t complete the pre-lesson task(s) and enters the synchronous lesson as a blank slate. Being inclusive, I would want everyone to move forward together and participate in the lesson. I don’t want the L to feel isolated and disconnected. Now if I know the L has a genuine reason to not complete the assignment, I request others to summarise the information followed by a couple of CCQs to the L, the blank slate one, to ensure everyone is, almost, on the same page. If this happens repeatedly, I try to talk with the L and extract the real cause. However, if most of them are coming to the lesson unprepared then it’s time to introspect. Is the material not interesting/relevant/appropriate/etc? Are Ls not feeling motivated? Have I lost their trust?
2. Due to the fear of them not completing the pre-lesson tasks, I have to keep a plan B handy. Additionally, if they find the pre-lesson tasks challenging then we might have to spend much longer time on clarifying and comprehending the concepts than initially planned. In other words, I might have to throw my planned lesson out of the window and follow the Ls lead.
3. Something common between my learners and I is that we are a by-product of a jug-and-mug method of the education system. In other words, the teacher is the bearer of all knowledge and shall bestow all of it upon me, the mere mortal i.e. the L. Couple of my learners, in an anonymous feedback form, highlighted that the teacher’s job is to teach, not just make us do a lot of activities. It took me by surprise, but I realised that not all Ls are primed for L-centred approaches. From my experience, this situation could occur among Ls with limited language resources, consequently I have learnt to start the course with employing only a few L-centric activities and initiate sharing the responsibility of learning one step at a time. We also discuss our expectations from each other more openly right at the beginning of the course. It is a part of understanding my Ls better.
4. Selecting authentic online content can be time-consuming especially when I am looking for something exact; matching the interests, context, needs, proficiency level of my Ls to the online content and the lesson objectives. As a last resort, when the frustration level peaks, I screencast and completely personalise the content.
To conclude, on account of the fact that all my Ls are ambitious young working adults who want to boost their career in limited time available, it feels like a huge loss of resources to spend synchronous live lesson time on lead-ins, context building, listening for gist/detail/etc. stages. At the end of the day, what I am simply trying to achieve is to create opportunities to do what my Ls deeply desire; to be able to speak fluently, confidently and accurately (sometimes not even in that order). I couldn’t have summarised it better than Leamson when he says,
“The really difficult part of teaching is not organizing and presenting the content, but rather doing something that inspires students to focus on that content to become engaged.”
Robert Leamson (2000) (Learning as Biological Brain Change)
Lesley University’s homepage: https://lesley.edu/article/an-introduction-to-flipped-learning
SMART gaols video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0QfCZjASX8
Lydiá Machová’s TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/lydia_machova_the_secrets_of_learning_a_new_language#t-3087
IETLS Jacky’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbE3l7LT1cs
IELTS Liz’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0jCDsWoM1A
Gianfranco Conti’s SB: https://gianfrancoconti.com/2020/05/04/the-art-and-science-of-creating-sentence-builders-key-factors-to-consider-in-creating-your-sentence-builder/
GMILE course: https://itdi.pro/community/course/gmile-scott-thornbury/
Self-determination theory: https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2000_RyanDeci_SDT.pdf
Leamson, R. (2000). Learning as Biological Brain Change. Change, 34-40.