Flipping the EFL Classroom? An analysis of the Flipped Classroom model by Giuseppe Balirano
Soon after the first academic experiments in the US, interest in the Flipped Classroom model is growing rapidly in both schools and universities all over Europe. Flipping the classroom is a teaching strategy which reverses (or ‘flips’) the traditional learning environment by delivering instructional content outside of the classroom, often online.
In terms of Bloom’s revised taxonomy (2001), this means that students are doing the lower levels of cognitive work (gaining knowledge and comprehension) outside of class, and focusing on the higher forms of cognitive work (application, analysis, synthesis, and/or evaluation) in class, under the direct support of their peers and instructor.
Aaron Sams and Jon Bergman from Woodland Park High School, Colorado, were in 2007 the first teachers to use the phrase “Flipped Classroom” in response to a realisation that class time would be best spent guiding knowledge and providing feedback rather than delivering direct instruction. Bergman and Sams (2012) maintained that direct instruction could be delivered by recording video content for students to engage with before class, freeing up class time for activities that allowed deeper exploration of content.
EFL practitioners of Flipped Learning rearrange and rethink their learning spaces to accommodate their lessons, to support group work or independent study. Such flexible spaces are useful for the students to autonomously choose when and where to learn. The Flipped Learning model deliberately shifts instruction to a learner-centred approach, where class time is devoted to exploring topics in 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 meaningful to them. However, the role of the EFL teacher is still fundamental since they select what they need to teach and what materials students should explore on their own. During class time, the teachers continually monitor their students, providing them with ad hoc feedback, and assessing their work. In the Flipped Classroom environment, EFL teachers remain the essential ingredient, fundamental to Flipped Learning actually taking place.
The EFL flipped classroom makes a lot of sense intuitively, since it allows the teacher to focus on helping student develop their language skills. Learners can engage in a variety of linguistic activities under the attentive guidance of their teachers, who can offer on-the-spot feedback and assistance. Class activities may include laboratory sessions, authentic text reading, simple debate on current events, project-based learning, and other linguistic skill development. Through such types of active learning, more time can be spent in class on thinking skills such as problem-solving and peer collaboration, as students tackle different challenges, work in groups, research, and construct knowledge with the help of their teacher and classmates.
Although there is very little scientific work investigating students’ learning outcomes objectively, some academic research suggests that they may be improved by the flipped compared to traditional classroom (Bergmann and Sams, 2009). Recently, other researchers (Gilboy, Heinerichs & Pazzaglia, 2015) have proved that this instructional approach improves the student-teacher interactions and student engagement, and increases the opportunities for real-time feedback. Overall, students’ perceptions of the Flipped Classroom are generally very encouraging since, although most students still tend to prefer in-person lessons to video lessons, they also tend to choose interactive classroom activities over traditional lectures.
It is useful to distinguish between Flipped Classroom and Flipped Learning, since the two phrases are not always interchangeable. Flipping a class can, but does not automatically, lead to Flipped Learning. Several teachers of English as a foreign language may already flip their classes in their teaching practice by having students read texts outside of class, watch supplemental videos, or solve additional problems.
However, as Virginia Evans has often maintained, in order to really engage in Flipped Learning, practitioners must incorporate some fundamental strategies into their practice. It is also worth bearing in mind that the Flipped Classroom is a methodology that overturns the habits of students; therefore, it must necessarily be carried out over a long period, not just for few months or through some teaching modules.
Bloom, B. S. (1994). “Reflections on the development and use of the taxonomy”. In Rehage, Kenneth J.; Anderson, Lorin W.; Sosniak, Lauren A. Bloom’s taxonomy: A forty-year retrospective. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. 93. Chicago: National Society for the Study of Education.
Bergmann, J., Sams, A. (2012), Flip your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. Washington, DC: ISTE and Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Gilboy MB., Heinerichs S., Pazzaglia G. (2015), “Enhancing student engagement using the Flipped Classroom”, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 47 (1), 109- 114.
Giuseppe Balirano has a PhD in English Linguistics, and is an Associate Professor at the University of Naples L’Orientale. He is the founder of a research consortium, I-LanD, investigating language, identity and diversity, and his main publications include Languaging Diversity (co-edited with M.C. Nisco, 2015); Variation and Varieties in Contexts of English (co-edited with J. Bamford and J. Vincent, 2012); and Indian English on TV (2008).