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Flipping the language classroom

Flipping the language classroom

Learning another language may represent a challenge that every student adjusts to differently. The flipped classroom approach may be the answer you’re looking for.

After the pandemic hit the world back in 2020, blending technology into the classroom was no longer a mere option, but an obligation. Schools and universities all over the world were suddenly forced to adapt their lessons to a virtual environment in a matter of weeks, and educators everywhere struggled to keep their lessons alive and their students engaged and motivated. This challenge, of course, was not the same for everyone, and the shift that ensued helped empower a more creative, collaborative and technologically-savvy type of educator. Many of the changes that happened then, such as the flipped classroom approach, have stayed beyond those critical times, as more and more teachers realized the transformative power they carry.

What is a flipped classroom and how can you apply it to a language learning setting? If you have never heard of it before, read on, but beware – it may just turn your teaching career upside down.

In just a few words, a flipped classroom approach consists of presenting the students with strategically curated content that they must read, watch, analyze or interact with independently before class. Then, during the actual lesson (which may happen virtually or in-person), the teacher uses the time together to guide the learners in the application of the new skills. This synchronous time is used more productively; solving problems, detecting gaps, helping each other, discussing doubts or working on hands-on projects with real-life implications. The shift is clear, as it moves the focus from the teacher to the students, who take on a much bigger responsibility for their own learning. Not only will they have to work independently, but they will also help each other whenever necessary.

Personalized instruction

You may be wondering why you should embark on such a radical change in your classroom. The answer is easy, and it comes in the shape of a question: from everything they study, how much can we honestly expect them to remember in the long run? The answer, sadly, is equally easy: very little. As students, we listen, read, take notes, memorize and regurgitate everything in exams, but forget most of it shortly afterwards. “At the beginning of my teaching career, I realized my students were not really learning anything in my classes. They just took notes to memorize for the exam, but were unable to apply that knowledge later on in any other field. If I presented them with a problem they had not previously seen, they could not solve it, and that was because I had focused on simply transferring the knowledge, instead of ensuring it made sense”, says Eric Mazur, professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University, and creator of the Peer Instruction method.

In the 21st Century, where information is so abundant and ubiquitous, Mazur decided to pass on the easy part, which is the knowledge transfer, to the students. Instead he began to teach his lessons through questions and projects, empowering his students to learn collaboratively. Working with multimedia content that every student can use at their convenience allows them to set their own pace and to stop, pause and play it as much as they need whenever they can. Such an approach facilitates everyone’s learning and increases the engagement of those students that may occasionally struggle.

Flipping the language learning classroom

If I have managed to get you interested in flipping your world, start by doing your own homework. Make sure you’re also aware of a few challenges that may lie ahead, like increased prep time alongside the responsibility you are placing on the students. These obstacles won’t be hard to overcome once you familiarize yourself with this approach and get everyone (parents, students and school administrators) on board. You can then carefully curate the online resources you will use (listening exercises, YouTube videos, vocabulary learning tools like Quizlet, interaction with native speakers...). Don’t forget about classroom management, which will still be essential. Share these new expectations and processes with your students and make sure all of them can access the required technology. And before you jump in, remember not every language lesson needs to be flipped. It could just be used at the beginning of the unit or before introducing new vocabulary or grammar content.

Whatever resources you use, there is one thing you must never forget: an online lesson (or the digital tools blended in your flipped classroom) can never consist of the same old face-to-face practices used on a newer, shinier platform. If the channels change, so must the methodology, the strategies and the interactions between teachers and students and even among the students themselves. Ready to flip?