In my field, language teaching, building student-centered classrooms is crucial in order to guarantee authentic opportunities for students to interact and communicate in the foreign language. However, with an extensive curriculum and the need to cover vocabulary, mechanics, learning strategies, grammar structures, interaction, etc., teachers might fall into the trap of the teacher-centered or teacher-controlled classroom. Thus, achieving student-centeredness and differentiation within the constraints of a traditional language classroom can be difficult. However, if you flip your language classroom, these goals are not only attainable, but natural to the method, thanks to the Learning Culture that you create. In this post, I’m going to share how I managed to turn my language classroom into a student-centered environment, where differentiation happens effortlessly, thanks to the first indicator in the Learning Culture Pillar:
L1. I create activities for students to practice without the teacher being central.
As I discuss my journey to move from teacher-centered to learner-centered, think about your own classroom and how what I learned might apply to your teaching context.
When I was invited to think about one of the pillars and one of the indicators in particular, I had a few options. However, when I looked back and analyzed how different my classrooms are now from what they used to be before flipping them, I could identify that the transformation took place both because of my own shift in mindset and because of the initial learning culture I managed to build.
The Flipped Learning Network (FLN, 2014), in their explanation of the Learning Culture pillar, states:
In the traditional teacher-centered model, the teacher is the primary source of information. By contrast, the Flipped Learning model deliberately shifts instruction to a learner-centered approach, where in-class time is dedicated to exploring topics in greater depth and creating rich learning opportunities. As a result, students are actively involved in knowledge construction as they participate in and evaluate their learning in a manner that is personally meaningful (Para. 2).
I initially decided to flip my classroom because I was tired of doing so much of the talking in my graduate level grammar courses. However, I soon found that this shift away from extensive teacher talk resulted in a multitude of benefits for my students. Morover, I discovered that this pedagogical approach could be applied to any course I was teaching. I had always thought my classrooms were student-centered to their fullest, but now that I have flipped them, I see in retrospect that I had been doing more talking than necessary because I had not been not completely willing to let go of control. However, once I adopted the flipped learning mindset, I realized that if I really wanted my students to achieve their full potential, I had to step aside and let them do most of the talking (and the learning). Thus, as the indicator I chose clearly states: I had to create activities “without the teacher being central” (FLN, 2014).
I started looking for and designing activities that promoted active learning, such as simulations, case studies, and hands-on activities. I started to explore sketchnoting with students for them to visualize and show their thinking. I explored the in-class flip and carefully developed materials and lessons in which students’ conscious hands-on work on meaningful activities became the main pursuit. I also became more attentive to the outcome, in the form of a tangible product, for every class. Graphic organizers became a part of nearly every lesson’s outcome as they are easy to manage and assess. Thinking about this indicator really made my flipped mindset govern my teaching style. If you are thinking about flipping your class, this indicator is central to make it happen because, after all, flipped learning is not about the videos students watch in the individual learning space, but about what students can do now in the group learning space. Here are a few tips to get you started. These four ideas have worked very well for me and my students.
1. Use backward design when lesson planning: thinking where you want to take students every lesson can help you create meaningful activities that build a path to get to the destination. Therefore, first think of the last part of the lesson. In a language class, it would be a communicative event, but in other subjects, you can have laboratories, debates, discussions, poster making, etc.
2. Plan your class with Bloom’s taxonomy at hand: think about your class goal using Bloom’s verbs. Then, think of your Low-Order thinking Skills (LOTS) activities for the individual learning space and your High-Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) for the group learning space where students have you as support. Make sure all activities are fruitful and contribute to the main class goal, avoiding busy work at all costs. Also, try to tier activities so you provide differentiation. Having Bloom’s taxonomy in mind can really help you provide different levels of difficulty to students, making differentiation possible
3. Implement in-class flip: If you really want to get your students to be at the center of the class, in-class flipping can help you achieve this goal. In an in-class flip you will have flipped content and practice activities within the group space (Ramírez, 2017). You can organize stations or pairs and groups and have different activities going on at the same time, providing multiple opportunities for students to practice and go in-depth into what they are learning. Throughout the lesson, make yourself available for students to ask you questions and to talk to you while others are doing assigned tasks.
4. Promote peer-instruction: It is often noted that teaching is the best way to learn. I have found this to be true for my language students. When I gave my students the task of teaching each other the grammar of the course and preparing peer-instruction videos based on Mazur’s (1997) ideas, I evidenced a much deeper understanding of the grammar structures on their part, as well as a stronger appropriation of these in communication. Students were purposeful and careful about preparing accurate, detailed videos because they were going to teach their peers. Thus, this extra preparation made them go deeper in their learning helping them achieve a more thorough mastery of the topics covered in the course.
Creating activities that place students at the center is one of the best ways to guarantee an effective flip. In my case, stepping aside and relinquishing control have definitely transformed my classrooms. I invite you to do the same. When students are at the center of their learning process, magical things happen! Students’ perception of their learning and their role in their learning process also changes dramatically when you create activities for students to practice without the teacher being central (FLN, Para 2. L1, 2014) Trust me!
Flipped Learning Network. (2014). What is flipped learning? The four pillars of F-L-I-P. Retrieved from http://www.flippedlearning.org/domain/46
Mazur, E. (1997, March). Peer instruction: getting students to think in class. In AIP Conference Proceedings, 399 (1), 981-988. AIP.
Ramirez, M. (2017, May 30). What’s an in-class flip? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://martharamirez.com.co/blog/whats-an-in-class-flip/