I’m getting really into the whole idea of the flipped classroom, and even better, my students are too. Most of them are grown-ups and pretty autonomous learners anyway so tech is part of their everyday lives and it’s no big deal really. By using online resources and letting them prepare classes in advance we free up a lot of classroom time for more communicative activities and to date I’m very pleased with the results.
I have however been a bit hesitant about introducing a flipped classroom approach with the younger ones as I really don’t know if it’s appropriate or not. They all have mobiles and bring them to class anyway so it does seem logical that I should make use of this resource in some way. To date I’ve been a bit old-fashioned about mobile use and have more or less banned it, even to look up words or translate unknown terms. I do think however that this approach is getting harder and harder to justify so it’s now time to introduce tech.
Anyway, I thought I would start small and simple and have a go with Quizlet. The idea was a simple one, to take some of the vocab we had been studying recently, create a study set of flash cards with definitions, then share the link by e-mail to their phones so they could have a look. I didn’t have high hopes for the idea but decided to give it a go. I’d asked for their e-mails the week before so I knew that everyone had one and that no-one would be left out.
My approach was simple. I opened up Quizlet on the iPad and went round asking them to give me their definitions of our most recent vocabulary set for the game we were about to play. All of the words were verbs like “remember” or “complain”, so I really didn’t expect their definitions to be up to much. If you ask a 12 year old to define “include” in English what you normally get are shrugs or L1 translations. That was the first surprise. As they knew we were going to play a game on their phones, they put much more effort into explaining the word than they normally do. I would go so far as to say they were enthusiastic! There’s a subtle but important difference here. When I normally ask them to define a word I’m looking for a “right answer”, checking or testing them on what they know. This time I was asking for suggestions as to the best way to define the word for the game. I wasn’t testing them on what they knew but asking for their ideas for the definitions. Suggestions were creative and helpful within a spirit of collaboration. My function was the scribe, taking note of their ideas. The spirit was that we were working with the language on a shared purpose, setting up the game. It’s different when English is the means rather than the end.
So I created the study set with the students’ definitions then shared to their e-mails. They needed a little help with the e-mails as it seems that e-mail is a little old school for them. Why bother when you have realtime instant gratification with What’sApp? I had to go round helping them to copy the link from mails and open up the study set, then get them started on the different options. As I only use English with the class all of this explaining was actually a valuable activity in itself. Copy, paste, click, open, go here, go there… a great way to learn.
Once they got inside the app and I got them started that was basically the end of my role. They explored the different options themselves, worked together without any prompting to do so, asked each other questions and compared the results. The game element with performance stats turned out to be highly motivating. All in all it was an extremely positive experience so I’ve decided to take things a bit further and gradually work towards a flipped classroom over the coming months. Let’s see what happens.