Flipping the Classroom Propels Learning
Launching a flipped classroom demands creativity and initiative. The payoff is cumulative. (Flickr/rowanbank)
Steve Jobs described computers as “the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” Borrowing the Apple, Inc. founder and former CEO’s analogy, flipped learning is like a bicycle for the class: it applies simple mechanisms to take students and teachers further with less effort.
In flipped learning, students acquaint themselves with new content and practice skills ahead of class via activities developed by their teacher and posted online. When class convenes, time that once was consumed explaining fresh concepts can instead be used engaging in project-based activities. Wenping Chen, a Chinese teacher and teacher-educator, is a convert to the format, and so are her students. “The first year, I did not believe they [students] would do the preview,” she says. “They did. Some prefer it to a group setting. It does help me a lot.”
Chen’s endeavors are part of a larger initiative at her school, the Mandarin Language and Cultural Center (MLCC) in San Jose, California. Over the past three years, MLCC educators have made a concerted effort to flip their classrooms using three components: asynchronous online sessions, synchronous online sessions, and classroom sessions. “Kids can learn any time and at their own pace,” says MLCC principal, Jane Chen, describing asynchronous learning, where students log on and learn at their leisure.
MLCC teachers create the online programs for each unit of their Chinese Wonderland textbook. They use Weebly, a web-hosting service featuring a drag-and-drop builder for audio, pictures, and videos; and Quizlet, which facilitates making online flashcards. The resulting materials are suitable and simple to fabricate for entry-level classes where content focuses on daily life. Teachers also design language-based hot potato and other games to help students practice sentence patterns and prepare for a synchronous session, in which the teacher and students log on at a pre-set time and interact online.
“They are so into it,” says Yuchin Ho, describing both parent and student interest in synchronous sessions. Ho, a MLCC senior teacher and teacher-educator, uses AccuLive and Google Hangouts as platforms for her synchronous sessions, which are scheduled in consultation with parents. At a pre-set time, three or four students log on using their computer or tablet, and Ho drills them in a conversational style, giving instant feedback with respect to sentence structure, tone, pronunciation, and communication. Ho, who generally schedules a ten-minute preview and fifteen-minute review session each week, finds that her students respond best when she smiles at the camera on her computer instead of looking at the slides on the screen. She calls students by name and encourages them with praise, saying, “Even in the online class, the students still have interactions with you.”
The benefits of the online sessions are evident in class, when students arrive ready to practice and apply new learning. “Because of flipped learning, my class has high impact,” professes Wenping Chen, who used to feel frustrated because she spent most of the class time introducing vocabulary and sentence patterns. “But,” she maintains, now I do have more time.” She needs only 25–30 minutes to review, and then she is free to act as a coach while the students perform tasks and use language to communicate.
In one unit, her class focuses on going shopping. During the synchronous lesson she prepares students by pointing the cursor at pictures of common items, prompting them to ask to buy them. In class, students take turns assuming the role of the clerk and the customer, and use sticker rewards to buy items at various stations. Afterward, they interview one another, asking: 『你买了什么?』 (“What did you buy?”) They analyze the results to make conclusions about purchasing patterns and, in the course of the activity, use the three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational. Ultimately, contends Wenping Chen, this helps students “carry what they learn in the target language into real life.”
Launching a flipped classroom demands creativity, time, and initiative, and MLCC educators admit that they are fortunate to take part in a school-wide effort. They suggest that teachers wishing to implement a flipped classroom team-up with colleagues and share the load. The payoff is cumulative and the same online resources can be re-used or adapted year after year. Flipped learning also helps fulfill the Common Core State Standards and its goal of a 21st-century classroom where technology supports mastering high level thinking skills. “It’s time consuming, but once you have it, you do feel it’s very convenient,” promises Wenping Chen. “You do feel the kids learn a lot. You see that they perform and it’s worth it.”
Don't miss Part II of this article: "Flipped Learning"