Blending Instruction through a Flipped Model

2014_CCavageChristina Cavage

In last month’s newsletter I wrote all about the increased level of engagement among students when a blended model is employed.  I touched briefly on the FLIPped model.  In this edition, I’d like to take a deeper look at the FLIPped model and what exactly it means for an ESL classroom. 

FLIP is a term that is thrown around a lot today.  It means different things to different people, just like blended learning.  However, FLIP is an acronym that was coined by its originators, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams.  There are four pillars of Flipped Learning:

F—Flexible Environments

L—Learning Culture

I—Intentional Content

P—Professional Educators.

These four pillars are the foundation of an effective flipped classroom, as well as successfully employing blended instruction in your class.  Let’s explore, the first pillar, Flexible Environments in relation to the ESL classroom.

As ESL educators, we know all too well the need to be flexible.  We understand that our plans must leave room for “on the spot” instruction, as well as the ‘outside forces’ that may require us to be flexible with assignments.  We know that some assignments are more successful in small groups, while others may fail in that setting.  So, flexibility is not new to us.  However, what may be new is how our lessons can be instructed both in and out of the classroom to enhance learning.

Flexible Environments in a flipped model not only refers to the physical learning spaces, ie. small groups, pair work, but also refers to the flexibility the instructor has with what content will be taught in the classroom and what content should be taught outside of the classroom.  This is especially critical in an ESL classroom.

Let’s take listening activity for example.  We may have only enough face-to-face class time to play this once. However, how many of our students will need to hear it again and again, and perhaps, again?  A great number.  In a Flipped model, we have the flexibility to offer that listening outside of the physical classroom. Students, especially those who require more cognitive work, are able to listen again and again, without classroom distractions.  This not only ensures that our learners will interact with the content, but they will do so in a much deeper way than if we were simply playing it once in class. This is what flexibility means in a flipped model.  I think of it this way—those language learning tasks or structures that require a greater cognitive load on a students part should be placed outside the classroom.  That flexibility allows me as the instructor greater flexibility in the classroom.  My classroom can become a place to apply newly learned structures and safely ‘try out’ new language.

Deciding what to do inside the classroom, and outside of the classroom is often referred to as loading.  There are two basic models of loading—Front Loading and Back Loading.  The chart below gives you an idea of each model.

Front Loading Back Loading
Content is assigned outside of the classroom Students receive in-class instruction on new structure
Student comes to class with understanding of content Students complete activity outside of class using new structure
Class time is used to apply new structures
Example: Video on grammar structure assigned outside of class.  In class students use the structure in roleplays, writing or other applicable activity. Example: Teacher explains new grammatical structure.  Students go home and post orally or written on discussion board using new structure.

Front and Back Loading offer ESL educators flexibility in how they design their course lessons.  And, that is the first pillar of a FLIPped classroom—flexible learning environments.  What is important to remember whether you plan to Front Load or Back Load, is understanding that in either environment—face-to-face or online, there are opportunities for learning to occur—not just reinforcement, but learning.