The Flipped Classroom is not as new as you would think. Teachers had previously spoken about something called the Inverted Classroom  which was based on the same principles. What changed is that with the huge expansion in the use of digital technology, the possibilities and ways that the inverted/flipped classroom could be delivered massively increased.
The Flipped Classroom is simply a form of blended learning. The difference though is that it is based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. There are various stages to learning something, but basically, we can say that first, we need to understand and remember it. At this stage, the new information is not really part of our long term memory; it is not really knowledge as such. Once we begin to process and use this new information and link it to other knowledge, it becomes assimilated, it becomes part of our body of knowledge that we can recall and use at any time. So first we are presented with new information and when we process and use that information, it becomes knowledge.
In my experience, Bloom’s taxonomy fits well with language learning. We might learn a new grammar rule, or a new phrase or language chunk but that doesn’t mean we can easily recall and use it. This is the stage known as ‘Lower Order Thinking’. It is only after processing, using and working with that new piece of language that it becomes ours. This requires more ‘Higher Order Thinking Skills.’ I am currently in the middle of learning Polish and I see this all the time. I am introduced to new language but I can’t recall and use it easily. However, if I continually hear, read and see that new piece of language, eventually, it becomes part of my body of knowledge.
Flipped Classroom and Language Teaching
We can apply the principles of the Flipped Classroom to language teaching. We can get our students to do activities at home that deliver the basic lower order thinking skills and then make greater use of the classroom time to process and use the language; therefore encouraging more higher order thinking. A simple example might be that: for homework the students watch a short video at home about writing an introduction to a discursive essay and then answer some questions. In class, the students do more higher order thinking activities. For example, they might be given some essays with the introductions missing and be asked in groups to read the essays and then write the introductions. After that, they might present their work to the rest of the class. In this way, they move from lower order thinking type activities to higher order thinking.
One important point to keep in mind is that we are not suddenly asking our students to do lots more homework. The video might only be 2-3 minutes long and then the questions might only take 5-6 minutes to answer. The important thing is that the lower order thinking skills of learning something and remembering it are being covered at home so that more group work/pair work-based activities can be done in the classroom.
A second point to remember is that it doesn’t always have to be a video that the students watch at home. The homework could quite simply be an article to read, some audio to listen to, etc. The key point is that the lower order thinking, the basic information around a topic, is being learnt at home, freeing up more time in the class to process and use the new information so it can be internalised.
The Flipped Classroom is not a theory of learning. It is simply a way of organising and delivering the learning material based on Blooms Taxonomy. It actually encompasses two theories of learning. At home, students tend to work alone, they engage with certain material and then do exercises. They learn something. This is a behaviourist theory of learning. In class, students work in groups and pairs. They discuss, apply and share ideas. This is a more constructivist approach to learning or in language learning terms a more ‘communicative’ approach to language learning.
Books can easily be adapted to the Flipped Classroom. Often the reading texts, videos or listening material present new language and ideas to the students. These types of activities can be done at home. Remember though, it shouldn’t be passive, so the students will perhaps read something and then answer some questions. We are trying to help them to learn and remember the new information. In class, students then build on this new information. So we process and use this new information and in this way help the students to really internalise it.
To flip your learning, it is vital that you know your book well. You need to look at the material and ask yourself what content and activities are focusing more on lower order thinking and which activities focus on higher order thinking. For example, I sometimes end up using the course book for the homework (perhaps the students have to read an article) but then use the workbook in the class because there is an activity that encourages the students to process and use their new information. So keep an open mind and make sure you are aware of all the material the book offers. For example, there are often additional videos and content provided online and these can be very useful in the Flipped Classroom.
I have been training teachers to use the Flipped Classroom since 2010. One of the biggest mistakes I see is that teachers don’t link the homework and the classroom part effectively. It is not always easy to do but if you can set of piece of homework that you then use in the classroom, this can be a very good way of linking the two parts. For example, in On Screen B1+ there is a great article about ‘Ways to live to 100’. For homework, students read the article and complete the exercises. They also have to find two more additional ideas for living to 100. They can think of ideas, search on the internet or read articles to find their additional ideas. In class, we quickly go through the answers to the exercises and then put the students into groups of 5 and then ask them to share their 2 additional ideas. Together they then decide on the best 3 ideas in their group and present them to the rest of the class.
In doing this, I am linking what the students do at home with what they do in the classroom. It is not always easy to do this but it is a good way of building a nice flow between the two parts. One thing I really like about the approach is that it makes much better use of the teacher’s time. Students often need more support when they are doing higher order thinking. They often have questions, need more guidance and clarification. They often need help with the task itself too since higher order tasks are generally more complex. Lower order activities tend to be simpler since students might, for example, read an article and answer some questions, so the help they need tends to more focused on the checking the answers and less about actually doing the activity. Therefore, the Flipped Classroom makes better use of the teacher as the teacher is present when the students do the higher order thinking type activities in class.
One final point, you don’t have to apply the Flipped Classroom all the time. Remember it is just a way of organising the delivery of your learning. I find it works very well with preparation for exams (ie learning about the exams) and with study skills. I have seen teachers that use it as a way of learning grammar and vocabulary too. My feeling, after 10 years of experimenting with the Flipped Classroom is that it is an approach that is here to stay. It makes total sense in an age where students have so much access to learning material outside the class. I suspect we will see these ideas grow and develop over the next years and become the mainstream way that blended learning develops.
This article was posted on ELT Teacher's Corner - Express Publishing. Reprinted with permission