Ms Susan Garson, Director of International Studies
Originally published March 2017
‘What a great idea!’, ‘That’s interesting!’, ‘I wonder what’s going on here?’—We’ve all had these thoughts. Our brains are at work all the time—learning does not take place in a vacuum and has a presence beyond schools and universities. It’s time to recognise and address the challenges facing contemporary educational institutions to enable students to be informed and life-long learners in a world defined by unprecedented scientific, social, technological and cultural change. The International Studies Faculty is engaging with these challenges by trialing the Flipped Classroom, a learner-centred approach to pedagogy, which frees-up class-time for teachers and students to reinforce subject knowledge and develop their higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills.
The Flipped Classroom is widely used in teaching Languages in universities and schools around the globe. It uses a range of technologies—podcasts, videos, webpages—and textbook materials to provide students with relevant course content before they attend classes. Accordingly, ‘first exposure learning’ (Spino & Trego, 2015) takes place outside of the classroom. Short videos either made by teachers or from the web are commonly utilised in delivering ‘flipped’ course content. Many contemporary Language textbooks include videos or online content that are suitable for this purpose. Students at Brisbane Girls Grammar School are well-placed to access and learn with this coursework. Pre-class content provided to students includes worksheets and quizzes that not only help to clarify students’ thinking on relevant coursework, but also pinpoint areas where they may need help or clarification.
Flipping the classroom, therefore, means more than students simply accessing new coursework via technology in their out-of-school hours. It constitutes an incentive for students to be prepared for their classwork that can be specifically geared to their needs and promote deeper learning in the relevant target Language (Brame, 2013). This is an effective use of teacher-student classroom time and allows teachers to facilitate dialogue and peer group collaboration (Vygotsky, 1987 cited in Pan, 2014) and provide feedback more readily. ‘The key purpose of the flipped classroom is to engage students in active learning where there is a greater focus on students’ application of conceptual knowledge rather than factual recall’ (University of Queensland, 2017). Class-time is freed up to do the harder work of assimilating knowledge through strategies such as problem-solving, discussion, debates and role-plays (Brame, 2013).
Teachers have, and will continue to have, the greatest impact on student achievement (Masters, 2016; Timperley, 2009). Flipped Classrooms constitute a powerful catalyst for teachers and students to collaborate in new learning (Timperley, 2009) without compromising the importance of levels of achievement; girls in Year 12 German have been engaging with this attractive innovation (DuFour & Fullan, 2013). Working in groups, the students reviewed video and online materials relating to Present Tense, Present Perfect Tense, Imperfect Tense and Prepositions. In class-time, members of each student group were allowed ten minutes to collaborate, plan and then teach a specific point of grammar to the whole class. Girls effectively led the lesson and shared their understanding of the relevant grammar and how to utilise it in common language contexts. Students reflected positively on their participation in this strategy, which they noted allowed them a more thorough understanding of the grammar function and, as a result, enhanced the likelihood of it being used in a relevant context sometime in the future. All girls were engaged in this group work and enjoyed having their peers teach them. Some groups creatively integrated online clips into their teaching to reinforce their grammar point or highlighted the use of catchy acronyms as a strategy for remembering the case-specific prepositions.
Girls in Year 10 Chinese have also successfully used the Flipped approach in the learning of directions. In their ‘first exposure learning’, the students viewed a Language point audio file prior to class. During class-time, various groups were assigned another set of audio files to repeat and review the content. After listening to the second suite of audio files, each group ventured into the school grounds, adhering to the specific directions they had heard in Chinese. They were instructed to reach five locations around the School and at each of these they had to write down a new Chinese character, which was positioned at that found location. Girls returned to class having collected all five characters and were clearly able to follow the directions in Chinese. Students supported each other to utilise the Language in a relevant context and were completely engaged in the task.
In a Flipped Classroom students use a range of learning skills and technological tools. A great deal of emphasis is placed on quality note-taking and writing up accurate summaries. The skill of note-taking while listening and watching is important, and is relevant to all academic pursuits. If students need to refine their notes, they are also able to re-watch the material. In addition, Flipped Classrooms facilitate differentiated instruction. This allows for extension work and more clearly structured projects to be simultaneously undertaken. Differentiated activities ensure that students ‘get what they need to learn from the material’ (Muldrow, 2013). When students are absent or miss a class, the pre-recorded content can be easily accessed or used for revision at a later date. The technology used to record the content is also very important. The development of mobile devices and better laptop technology places a rich new set of resources in the hands of students. They will increasingly be familiar with podcasts, broadcasts as well as audio and video content, which may be created using Wikis, YouTube, Edmodo, TED or Glow. In Flipped Classrooms, students develop their social and linguistic competencies, as they interact with their teacher(s) and peers in the target Language during class-time. The potential for flipping Language learning in this way may also enhance student achievement in the skills of Speaking and Listening in the Modern Languages. Indeed, the proof of a quality Language program in a school is the extent to which students are able to communicate accurately and confidently in the target Language in authentic contexts.
Key findings regarding the science of learning note that to develop mastery in an area of inquiry, students must: have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, understand ideas in a context, and organise knowledge in different ways to enable retrieval and application of that knowledge (Bransford et al., 2000, cited in Brame, 2013). In a technology rich culture such as Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Flipped Classrooms enable students to have greater control over their learning and greater access to coursework materials. In Language classes, the Flipped approach promotes the ‘expression, interpretation and negotiation of meaning’ with a focus on ‘using’ the Language instead of just learning ‘about’ the Language being studied (Spino & Trego, 2015). This also has implications for the building of relationships between teachers and students. Higher levels of student engagement promote a positive classroom culture characterised by inquiry, collaboration and constructivist pedagogy. Further, a ‘Flipped’ classroom can be accessed by parents either with a view to pursuing a personal interest or following the progress of their daughter(s). A ‘flipped approach to learning’ also gives students the opportunity to plan their out-of-school study schedules—a worthwhile skill for all those students who will be furthering their studies at university.
Contemporary schooling in Language classes at Brisbane Girls Grammar School is characterised by a balance between expert teachers explaining concepts and girls furthering their knowledge and skills through independent and group work. A Flipped Classroom offers opportunities for both teachers and students to add to the suite of learning strategies in Languages, which break from more traditional, structured notions of learning. Our girls become leaders in the pursuit and construction of their knowledge. A fresh approach to Language teaching at Brisbane Girls Grammar School? What a great idea!
DuFour, R. & Fullan, M. (2013) Cultures Built to Last: Systematic PLCs at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Masters, G., (2016) How to get the high-performance teachers we so clearly need. The Australian Financial Review, 13 December, p. 39.
Muldrow, K., (2013). A New Approach to Language Instruction – Flipping the Classroom. The Language Educator. Nov 2013, pp. 28-31.
Pan, W. H. L. (2014). School Practices of Leading Learning in Taiwan. Leading and Managing, 20(2), pp. 27-42.
Spino, L., Trego., D. (2015). Strategies for Flipping Communicative Language Classes. Centre for Language Education and Research, Michigan State University. Vol. 19, Spring, pp. 1-5.
Timperley, H. (2009). Using Assessment Data for Improving Teaching Practice. Retrieved [January 24, 2017] from http://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1036&context=research_conference.
The University of Queensland, What is the flipped classroom? Retrieved [8 March, 2017] from www.uq.edu.au/teach/flipped-classroom/what-is-fc.html.
Read reflective commentary from Director of International Studies, Ms Susan Garson, on her article, ‘Flipped or not?’.
A flipped classroom approach is a learner-centred pedagogy that reinforces subject knowledge and inspires higher level thinking. Reflecting on my article inspired me to think about the opportunities I provide students to engage in the process of learning, thinking and understanding. The flipped classroom approach still features in my pedagogical ‘toolbox’, but I have also added a number of new tools.
Learning is a social endeavour. The flipped classroom invites teachers and students to engage in dialogue, and collaborate and focus on the application of conceptual knowledge during class time. It was affirming to recognise that I still use this approach with my German classes to ensure a focus on ‘using’ the language instead of simply learning ‘about’ the language studied (Spino & Trego, 2015).
But what other approaches can be used? What practices might shape, promote and advance thinking in the classroom? My interest in developing a Culture of Thinking in the International Studies Faculty has guided me in a new direction. The central tenet of our School Wide Pedagogy Model continues to transform. I no longer see opportunities for learning in my classroom as tasks or activities but as avenues for students to challenge misconceptions, push for clarification of a position and consider different perspectives in greater depth (Ritchhart, 2015).
According to Ritchhart, students need to learn to ‘apply their skills and knowledge in novel contexts even as they acquire new understanding’ (p.9). In addition to focusing on independent inquiry and flipped approaches, I use a Thinking Routines method to engage students. This process prioritises visible thinking and collating of ideas from the group, allowing me to be the facilitator rather than the leading voice. Routines are content-free scaffolds that structure students’ thinking. They can be adapted to suit different contexts, but effectively direct activity (Ritchhart, 2015).
The flipped classroom approach and Thinking Routines are great tools to have in my pedagogical toolbox. It is important to note that teachers’ work is not a fixed suite of learning strategies, as our pedagogy is constantly evolving. We want girls to be independent thinkers who are interested in the pursuit of knowledge, skills and deeper understanding, and as teachers, we need to also model these expectations.
Ritchhart, R., (2015). Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 forces We Must Master to Truly Transform our Schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Spino, L., Trego, D., (2015). Strategies for Flipping Communicative Language Classes. Centre for Language Education and Research, Michigan State University, Vol. 19, Spring, pp. 1-5