Don’t get stuck in a rut, flip that coursebook now

It is generally accepted that most of our students are never at the same readiness level. As is the fact that we can never rely on a coursebook to be used as a one-size-fits-all student course guide. So what do we do to save ourselves from getting stuck in a rut where you might have students that are just not interested in the topics of your coursebook and even worse still, have students struggle with the level of English you are expected to teach for that year? Well, that is the easy part, how about flipping your class instruction, making sure you have plenty of extra material that can help you differentiate your teaching instruction to reach every student and of course, have plenty of more class time to concentrate on actively building those much-needed fluency skills?

By Dr Mike Kenteris, FLS owner

As teachers, we are constantly trying to tap into students’ strengths, multiple intelligences and the range of learning styles. So, it is safe to say, to do this, one of the first things we need to do when we start a new class is to document the profiles of each student. Students come to our classes with different readiness levels, different interests and they have different learning preferences, strengths and challenges. This might mean that they could have some learning gaps from their previous year or it could even mean that they are at a different developmental stage and their levels of growth in any of the developmental domains are not the same. It could also mean that your students have different hobbies and interests and that some students like learning in a different way, finding the coursebook more challenging than other students. Not only is it generally recommended to use ice-breaker activities and fillers in the first lessons of the year to build that much-needed rapport but it will also help you document your students’ initial readiness levels. Indeed, it will be easy enough to document this through the use of activities to find out their interests and just by varying the medium of your fillers; you could have them write sentences on paper, or draw answers on the board, use oral activities and even physical activities using music and multimedia. This step will help you probe out their learning preferences, strengths and challenges and by having this documented, it will be your guide to differentiate the content you teach by making it more meaningful and relevant to your students’ interests; it will also help you differentiate your teaching process blending in different ways of teaching to reach every student.

At this stage, now that you know about your students’ learning profiles, we should move on to talk about flipped classrooms. It is widely known that before the pandemic the traditional way of teaching was mostly based on the notion that information is scarce and teachers are mostly the divine source of knowledge, access to technology was limited and not sought out, students come to our classes as empty vessels, and lastly students don’t have the capacity to self-teach and self-regulate their own learning and, therefore, they need our complete guidance all the time. Yet, during the pandemic, all teachers found themselves using extra resources abundantly, they used technology as a tool for learning and assessment, they relied on student-bonding, rapport and peer group teaching to help all students learn so they placed reliance on students’ prior knowledge and also, they placed trust on students doing digital or non-digital work in their own time which meant they relied on students to organise their own learning. And these are the basic assumptions of the flipped learning approach. The assumption that flipped learning approach makes is that information is abundant (and freely available!), technology is a tool for learning and assessment, students have ideas and should be prompted to bring them to class at all times, and yes, even though it is true that when students come to class they are not capable of self-regulating and self-teaching, they can be taught these skills gradually. 

To flip a session, I first suggest looking at what students must know, what you want them to understand and what you want them to be able to do from that session. Write these down as learning outcomes, in a language that your students will understand. Make sure you communicate these learning outcomes with your students. Next, think about what success looks like, this means think about how you will know that they did learn, understand and are able to do the things you thought about. Simply put, design the assessment that will show student success. Finally, think about all the teaching you can take out of your lesson and either find free resources like videos, and infographics or create your own videos and graphics using tools that are easy to use. Do not forget to add accountability to the learning you are sending home. A short summary of learning, a quiz, something that will show you that they did the work. Why not send home material that is different for some struggling students and more challenging for some other students? By doing these steps, you will find that you have a lot more class time to do all those fun and useful activities you have always wanted to do and that will help build those much sought after fluency skills in all students. 

What does this all mean to us in the post-pandemic? It simply means that now the idea of overcoming a coursebook that does not work or finding ways to increase student interest is at your fingertips and all we have to do is blend in the flipped learning approach in our teaching. Just remember, move away from the idea of class curriculum and what I have to teach and go closer to the idea of looking at what it is in for the students, what they have to know, understand or be able to do. In class provide opportunities for students to self-monitor, rehearse, practise, and receive feedback that will help them move their own learning forward. Closing, I would suggest, start small. Start by flipping a session or part of your class. 


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