Now that we have the basic definitions and commonly-stated pros and cons to a flipped classroom, how did I come to implement flipped learning in my teacher-trainee course? And more importantly, how did the trainees like it?
Finding My Niche
When anyone asks I identify myself as the speaking and listening instructor at JIEI. I teach two different courses for the 6-Month Teacher Training Program. In Session 1, my focus is listening and speaking skills. It’s my job to research and design activities and assessments that help the trainees practice and develop their confidence and fluency in speaking English. These intelligent, college-educated teachers have bounteous knowledge of the English language lying latent in their minds. But so many Korean English teachers find few opportunities to speak English either inside or outside the classroom. Korean English education prioritizes reading comprehension by a massive margin, leaving little room for English teachers to actually speak English.
What I’m trying to is that my job entails empowering these English-wise teachers to unlock their linguistic potential in the spoken word.
I do this by combining short lecture videos about different aspects of speaking and conversation (here’s an example) with activities and projects that encourage trainees to explore their interests in the speaking and listening medium. My main assessments include trainee-led podcast interviews and TED summary speeches.
I love Session 1 as I can research and impart ideas as I dive into books and podcasts about speaking, listening, and conversation.
However, Session 2, Speaking and Listening Methodology, presents a two-fold challenge. For one, speaking and listening are not priority skills in these teachers’ day-to-day lessons or curriculum planning. This leaves me frustrated as I think about what worthwhile pedagogical tips or activities I can share – why talk about teaching speaking if teachers have little need to teach speaking?
Second, my course presents significant overlap with other instructors’ subjects – especially when considering how to form assessments. At first, I had the trainees prepare a speaking and listening activity demonstration and share it with the class (with classmates acting as students). But this is a near carbon copy of Sing-a-long’s microteaching demonstrations. And it doubles-up Meow’s curriculum on Games and Activities.
For my first six months at JIEI, I struggled to find a methodological niche. Sing-a-long has microteaching demonstrations. Meow has teaching trends research. Muffin and Gallery emphasize the use of technology in the classroom, while Florida Man uses short stories and novels to extrapolate methodological lessons. What unique pedagogical practice could I bring to the table?
I grew interested in a fringe language-learning methodology called TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), but after a brief, lukewarm trial run with my first group of trainees, I dreaded introducing it as the centerpiece of my methodology course.
Then one January day, during a group discussion at a KOTESOL professional development meeting, a Korean English professor mentioned an interest in flipped learning. The switch flipped. I was going to become the flipped learning instructor at JIEI.
I felt even more emboldened when an incoming trainee, Rock’n’Shock, mentioned his interest in flipped learning during the first week. My niche solidified!
But if I was going to teach flipped learning, I had to lead by example.
Flipping My Class
So I went to work on my lecture videos. The more I made, the more comfortable I grew, the taller I sat in the camera’s withering glare. While I started out a bit stiff and robotic, trainees mentioned that I grew more personable as the semester wore on. By that they mean YouTube Ian (or “Tiny Ian” as some of them said) became more kind and less camera shy.
I produced my first two lecture videos and showed them to Sing-a-long with glee. She responded with two crucial critiques that saved my class.
“Your video is 12 minutes. They can’t focus for that long. Maybe consider breaking them up?”
“Also, what are the trainees going to do while watching the video? It might help to include a handout with some questions to answer.”
Sing-a-long and I may not always see eye-to-eye, but when it comes to student engagement, she’s a pedagogical wizard.
So I completely overhauled my curriculum, starting with Session 1 – Skills. Rather than lecturing from a few PPT slides while some trainees took notes, others looked at their phones, and a few looked dangerously close to sleep, trainees could do that all on their own time. I typically assigned a lecture video every other class with a lecture notes homework assignment.
Those notes started off as paper handouts and later moved online thanks to Google Classroom and Forms.
Sometimes I also gave an additional homework assignment to prepare themselves for the class ahead.
Record a 1-minute elevator pitch about yourself as a teacher. Send it to me.
Listen to the following four conflict scenarios. Choose one and record a response that uses assertive communication.
Make a PPT of ten (10) photos of your choice.
While the first assignment proved taxing (some trainees took over an hour to finish the lecture notes and send me their elevator pitch), they slowly grew used to the rigor and soon finished lecture notes homework in 15-20 minutes.
Not all trainees were stoked on flipped learning, however. I fondly remember some trainees’ early complaints and gripes over my lecture videos and notes. Quickly, I earned the reputation of the “Homework Teacher.”
And yet, even though I assigned 11 flipped lecture videos over those two sessions (almost two-and-a-half hours of lecture content), only one trainee failed to turn in one set of lecture notes. I realized-
- These trainees work hard as hell. I respect their toughness.
- Some of them actually came around to appreciating my class’s flipped model.
While my new curriculum has substantially more out-of-class homework assignment that programs past, I think the in-class advantages outweighed the extra homework as time wore on.
When trainees watched “Tiny Ian” before class, they came armed with ideas to discuss or critique, which led to much more productive discussions.
By assigning lecture notes on Google Classroom, I could review each trainee’s responses before class and either disabuse misunderstandings before class or rest easy knowing every trainee has a base understanding of the class topic.
I created a jigsaw review routine in which I printed the lecture notes, cut them into thirds, and gave different parts to different trainees. In their groups, they would discuss the video together, write short answers on their, and then rotate to new groups. In the new groups, every trainee had a different third of the lecture notes, and so each trainee was responsible for summarizing that section of the video. It maximized the rate of trainee participation and made review wildly efficient.
I could monitor between groups in the meantime, eliciting meaningful questions to share with the whole class after the jigsaw discussion finished.
By reviewing course content with such effective haste, I had a lot more free time to direct towards more meaningful and engaging activities. I’ve had trainees stand up and deliver a photo slideshow using only mime and gesture. Trainees have rotated between different groups sharing their elevator pitch until they memorized their core teaching philosophy. Trainees could work in groups to plan an effective set of instructions for an activity ripped straight from a textbook.
Class time became less about me sharing course content and more about trainees applying course content – which energizes me as an instructor.
It also allowed for more free time. I started leaving 30-minute buffers at the end of class for trainees to work on upcoming assessments or projects. Even though they still did substantial project work at home (some of them have a perfectionist streak like me), I hoped that leaving some time at the end of each lesson could lessen their burden.
It also allowed me to set up a longer runway in the face of larger projects. Trainees could work on assessments over the course of several weeks instead of the several days I allotted to the previous program.
While I consider my flipped experiment a great success, trainees also gave me some valuable feedback to improve upon.
For one, I need to shorten my lecture videos. Ten minutes is an ideal maximum, they said.
It shouldn’t be too hard to watch my lecture videos again, choose crucial information to keep, superfluous information to discard, and re-record with a more cheery and camera-comfortable “Tiny Ian.”
I hope and pray for another 6-Month Program next March. Because as I hit my stride and flow in the flipped learning game, the next group of trainees are in for a runaway train of flipped and polished passion.
Bet on it.