Flipped learning – limited class time is used for complex tasks that require teacher support and expertise. Homework is used for basic tasks such as reading and simple practice questions.
In a typical class-based learning environment, students are first introduced to new topics and concepts at the beginning of the lesson. The teacher then has students engage in individual practice or cooperative learning activities such as think-pair-share. For homework, students tackle more challenging questions to extend their understanding. This has been the modus operandi since the beginning of the teaching profession. Recently however, people have begun wondering about whether this is the most effective strategy – shouldn’t students do simple tasks at home and more complex tasks when they have the support of the teacher? It seems logical to flip or invert this structure and hence the terms flipped learning (or flipped classroom) and inverted learning (or inverted classroom) soon took hold.i
In theory, this means that homework is now done during class time and classwork is now completed at home. In practice however, it is much more complicated. One issue is the need for teachers to introduce and support students via explicit instruction, modelling, scaffolding, whole-part-whole learning and the usual follow-up consolidation activities such as pair and group work. If students are to manage the introduction phase themselves, what if they don’t know where to begin or get stuck? They will arrive to class confused and frustrated. The solution to this problem is technology (and hence why flipped learning is a very recent phenomenon). Teachers can now record what they would have previously presented in class to introduce and explain a topic. They can use explicit teaching methods in the video such as presenting, modelling, worked examples, questions and think-aloud. Recording a high-quality video is now easy and cheap, and there are plenty of guides and blogs freely available.
Once recorded, students can watch lectures at home without feeling like they are even doing homework. This can lead to an increase in the number of students who consistently do their homework and an overall improvement in performance. Advanced students can move forward at their own pace and struggling students can listen to lectures multiple times. Recorded lectures are also great for revision in preparation for exams and tests. The biggest advantage for teachers is that lectures can be used for multiple classes and for years to come. However, flipped learning does not necessarily need to involve webinars or lectures. Students can simply read a chapter from a textbook or watch part of a film at home – watching an entire film at school is a huge waste of teacher expertise (assuming the film is available online for consumption at home).
With the basics covered at home, the class lesson begins with a quick revision activity, a few questions and some worked examples to consolidate learning.
With the basics covered at home, the class lesson begins with a quick revision activity, a few questions and some worked examples to consolidate learning. The teacher covers known problem areas and emphasises metacognitive skills such as using processes to solve problems. With the teacher satisfied that the class has a reasonable grasp of the topic, students move to more challenging and advanced tasks. Teachers work one-on-one or with small groups who need targeted support. For the truly differentiated classroom, advanced students can be challenged with even more difficult problems and struggling students can work through tasks with a higher degree of chunking and scaffolding. Teachers undertake ongoing formative assessment, provide feedback and make adjustments as needed in order to maximise the learning of each individual.
Consider for example students who are learning about short stories. Normally the teacher would have students read the story 2 or 3 times (silently, to a partner or as a class). Students might then be asked to write a summary and to complete a worksheet describing the main characters. These 2 activities may take upwards of 40-50 minutes – the entire lesson. The teacher’s role is simply to coordinate activities and manage behaviour – no expertise is required. In the flipped classroom however, all these activities are completed the night before. The teacher then spends valuable class time on activities that push students’ understanding and knowledge to new levels – activities that students could not undertake without teacher support.
This strategy becomes particularly useful for older students who do more reading and research. For example, students who are studying history can read a chapter the night before and then discuss and learn about the finer points in class. The teacher will still ‘go over’ the chapter, but it only takes a fraction of the time. For students vying for a position in a sought-after university or trade course, every percentage improvement in their exam scores counts – more class time dedicated to more challenging areas means a better understanding, more knowledge and a higher score. Most students attend classes for 4 hours per week per subject. That equates to 120-160 hours per year of class time (assuming no absences or time-wasting). Maximising how that that time is used is essential.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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