Monday, 1 July 2013

Flip the Classroom

Two nations divided by a common language

This year at BETT, one of the most interesting talks I attended was given by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, pioneers of the flipped classroom movement.
Enthusiastic and passionate educators, I was struck by Sams and Bergmann’s focus on the educational theory that led them to develop the technique of flipping the classroom. 
As I sat listening to them dropping in casual references to Bloom’s taxonomy and the Universal Design for Learning, I was struck, not for the first time, by the difference in the way UK and US educators talk about the ideas behind their methods. In the US, everything has a formalised, theoretical grounding; in the UK we talk in slightly more prosaic terms about what we do.
Recognising this, here’s my guide to the educational theories that lie at the heart of the flipped classroom movement.
Bloom’s taxonomy
Starting with a classic, this educational model defines the stages a student needs to progress through before you can assess whether they’ve mastered a topic or not. 
In the flipped classroom, the stages of ‘remembering’ and ‘understanding’ are moved outside of the classroom. At home, students access instructional materials (videos, presentations, etc.) that introduce new topics; in class, students should be able to recall and demonstrate understanding.
Taking these first two stages out of the classroom allows you to spend less time instructing and more time working on the higher-level skills of application, analysis, evaluation and creation. 
Mastery learning
Belying the jargon, this is a pretty straightforward concept: students begin a unit together, a formative assessment is taken, students who’ve achieved the necessary understanding move on to enrichment activities, students who haven’t are given greater support to get them to the mastery level. 
The flipped classroom is an effective supporter of the mastery learning model because it makes differentiation possible, earlier in the learning process. 
In the traditional classroom, one way students differentiate themselves is by their level of engagement. Delivering the same information in the same way to students of different abilities, you run the risk of boring higher-ability students, confusing lower-ability students, and only really engaging those at the mid-level.
In the flipped model, such issues are removed because every student learns at their own pace, outside of the classroom. Higher-ability students can steam through material, whilst lower-abilities can work through things more slowly, aided by support materials. 
Then, when students come into the classroom, you can assess their level of understanding and address it accordingly; differentiated groups can be doing different things, or you can employ greater intervention to get all students to the mastery level.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
The new kid on the block, this concept is steadily gaining ground in the States. 
Essentially, the UDL is based on the idea that each learner is unique and therefore must have access to: different ways of acquiring information, different opportunities to demonstrate their understanding, different forms of stimulation to maintain engagement.
Implementing the UDL means taking the idea of flipped learning to another level. Having tasked students with taking responsibility for the instructive phase, the UDL gives students further freedom; encouraging them to figure out what helps them to learn and finding the resources they need to do this.
With the theory dealt with, let’s look at the practicalities of flipping the classroom. Key points to remember are:
Availability – make sure the material you want students to access is available to them all; locating it in a central place online is a good way of doing this.
Visibility – come up with a way of checking that students have done the work. Using an online automatic markbook is a really effective way of doing this.
Variety – make sure your students have access to a wide range of different resources.
Ultimately, the benefits of flipping the classroom are clear: it helps you make the most of your face-to-face teaching time, which in turn helps students remain motivated and engaged by what they’re learning.
Happy flipping!

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