A useful introduction to the Flipped Classroom in English Language teaching

Just found an article which is a useful introduction to flipping English language instruction. In this article, the writer introduces 4 useful tools for flipped classrooms, and coincidentally, they are among the ones that I have chosen to cover in my MA Computer Assisted Language Learning course! (There are just too many tools out there, so that the headache for e-learning teachers is not a lack of applications, but how to choose the ones that suit their teaching situations. Note, though, that although Flipped Teaching often makes use of technology, it is really a teaching approach and can be implemented with no technology at all.)


PD events conducted by teachers, for other teachers

I witnessed something awesome a few days ago in a WhatsApp group. This group is comprised of teachers who are keen about e-learning. One day, one of the members, Ha Sir, a leading figure in Flipped Classroom in Hong Kong, polled members on their interest in presenting something in a sharing session on various LMSs (Learning Management System). Immediately, one member after another volunteered to take part. Within 24 hours, Ha Sir had got a full line-up of presenters for the event, which would take place on November 26, at CUHK.

This is the professional spirit that I’ve been dreaming to see in decades. PD events conducted by teachers for other teachers have an indispensable role to play in teachers’ professional development. The sharing teachers, and the teachers attending, will both benefit enormously from such exchanges. It will strengthen a culture of professionalism in our field. This vignette has also confirmed again my observation that e-learning teachers are generous in sharing.

What makes a good lesson?

In yesterday’s flipped speaking lesson, the main activity was for the students to edit a problem script, and then produce, in groups, a captioned video of an improved conversation using Adobe Spark Video. On top of the proper subtitles produced by the students, the video contained their oral recording and the pictures they took of each other speaking. When everything was done, they had to upload their group video to the class blog. So, there were quite a few things the children needed to do.

For the entire 25 minutes, these P4 children were highly motivated and totally engaged. Every group worked as a cohesive team. Not a single discipline problem popped up. Again, this didn’t happen by chance: the fact they loved English lessons (and their teacher); the task design which had appropriate cognitive and linguistic challenge; the fun of producing their own group video; and the good classroom management skills that Zoe Chan possessed.

Another seasoned e-learning teacher, Fiona Yung, has pointed out the importance of classroom routines, especially for e-learning lessons, where students will be given iPads to ‘play’ with. They can be doing things they are not supposed to do. They may be fighting with each other over the task. Or they may be so engrossed that the teacher is unable to regain their attention. So, some training in e-learning lesson routines is necessary. Fiona uses a set of short and sharp instructions such as ‘iPads up’, ‘iPads down’, to manage the lesson procedure. She is now even developing a set of such standard commands for all the teachers to use, so that the students would follow easily, no matter who the teacher is.

So, as I’ve been saying again and again, good lessons don’t happen by chance. They are the result of sustained classroom culture building, thorough and creative lesson planning, effective classroom teaching strategies, and proficient classroom management skills. Behind all this is also a wealth of professional knowledge and a rich pedagogical repertoire. Teaching is one of the jobs in the world that require the most professional competencies.

A flipped classroom project that has taught me many things

At the risk of seeming conceited, I would say that the small-scale Flipped Classroom project that Zoe Chan and I tried out was a big success. We chose 3 segments of a unit from the P4 coursebook, and turned them into 3 flipped lessons: a vocabulary lesson, a grammar lesson, and a speaking lesson. For each lesson, we flipped the content presentation part which was normally done in the classroom, and turned it into a short video and a student-self-check task (Quizlet; Edpuzzle). We experimented with 3 different ways of producing the pre-class videos: (a) turning a PPT into a video; (b) simulated classroom teaching using a blackboard-size touch screen, and (c) filming a group of students role-playing a conversation that incorporated the target expressions.

On the next day after the students had done the pre-class task, we started the lesson with a quick review, and we then immediately moved on to the practice or application activities. In all the three flipped lessons, we had plenty of time for the practical student activities, which are essential to effective language acquisition. We also took the opportunity to try out various e-learning activities during the 3 lessons.The students were kept busy throughout; they were highly engaged, and they learned happily throughout the lessons. The 3 lessons were testimony that school lessons can be effective and enjoyable at the same time.
But good teaching does not just happen by chance. It is the result of adequate and creative planning. The screen-captured picture below shows only part of the preparation we made. (There were other materials we used but which could not be put in Google Drive.) Again, this points to the importance of giving teachers adequate time for lesson planning, if we really care about quality teaching and learning, rather than depleting all their energy with endless marking and non-teaching duties.

This project has also been a valuable experience for me in terms of how to collaborate with other people on a project that requires creativity. Both Zoe and I are highly creative people. We have never run short of ideas. Rather, we have had to learn how to respect, and accommodate, each other’s ideas. This process often involved give and take. Another thing is that each of us could be changing our own ideas all the time. This required patience, and a willingness to understand the other person’s line of thinking.

Lastly, my salutes to Zoe Chan, for her colossal enthusiasm, her supreme professionalism, her total dedication to teaching, and her boundless love for her students.

The privilege of being a teacher of young children

On top of the valuable experience I have gained from trying out a series of e-learning activities with Zoe Chan in a real classroom, a big bonus from the collaborative small-scale flipped classroom project is gaining the affection of these lovely P4 students. I understand that occasionally, there will be difficult kids, but all in all, children are truthful and will relate to you in the most genuine manner. If they like you, they will let you know. And then you will be able to exert a great influence on them, as they will go the extra mile to win your acknowledgment, appreciation, and love. Hence, let those of us who work with children remember that this is in fact a privilege – the opportunity to make a difference in their journey of growing up. (Of course, I understand Zoe must have said quite a few nice words about me to the kids behind the scenes.)


A meeting of minds

Yesterday evening, I had an unusual and interesting experience. A group of 7 educators met for dinner, and some of them were meeting some of the others for the very first time. We were from different education sectors: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary. What brought us together was a shared passion for e-learning in English language teaching. We didn’t need more than 10 seconds to warm up to the occasion, and we gleefully exchanged ideas, experiences, and aspirations in applying e-learning in teaching English. Most of the time we were talking about matters that were either pedagogical, professional, or technological. Yet, the atmosphere was jovial and convivial. The evening once again confirmed my previous characterisation of people who are e-learning fanatics: They are cheerful, fun-loving, creative, conscientious, and generous in sharing. 


Teachers who have made all my preparation worthwhile

Honestly, preparing a lecture and a PPT filled with bullet points is not that hard to do. But it sometimes takes more than 10 hours to design and prepare for a three-hour workshop: thinking up task and activity ideas that really achieve the learning objectives; planning the lead-in and debriefing that help participants see the purpose of the activities and the learning points; allowing for team building and critical reflection and sustaining interest and motivation, and actually producing the task materials. The whole process requires pedagogical knowledge, experience, and creativity. And a bit of luck – when inspiration visits you at the right time.

But when you have participants like these teachers in Macao who take the various workshop activities so seriously and who participate so actively, it more than compensates for the hours I have put in.

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