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How to start flipping the English Language classroom

Flipped Learning, like other generic pedagogies such as project-based learning, cooperative learning, and problem-based learning, can be applied in any school subject. In the case of English Language as a Key Learning Area (KLA) in the Hong Kong school curriculum, how should English teachers who are keen about flipped learning start flipping their English classroom? Flipping English vs Flipping Other School Subjects Each KLA in the Hong Kong school curriculum may have a different way of organizing its curriculum content. For example, KLA’s which are more content-knowledge oriented may have their teaching content organized as subject-matter topics. The flipping of these subjects may then have to do mainly with the teaching and learning of these subject-matter topics. English, as a language subject, is quite different in terms of its curriculum organization. For example, a topic, such as public health, which appears as a teaching module or a teaching unit in a school-based curriculum, usually serves to contextualise the teaching of various language learning objectives, such as grammar, vocabulary, and the macroskills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). The topic of public health would be approached differently in, say, the teaching of General Studies. (To get an idea of the content and organization of the English KLA in Hong Kong, readers may refer to the 2017 English Language Curriculum Guide for Primary 1 to Secondary 6, issued by the Hong Kong Education Bureau.) So, in terms of the curriculum content, what should be flipped when flipping the English Language classroom? If we recall that flipped learning is a generic pedagogy, the answer is straightforward: anything in the English curriculum can be flipped. This is confirmed in all recent book publications on flipping the English classroom. In practice, though, most school-based English Language schemes of work (yearly teaching plans) in Hong Kong, as well as English Language coursebooks, are organized around thematic modules and units. (A module may consist of two to three units, all of which are thematically related. As pointed out above, this organization serves to contextualise the teaching of various language learning objectives.) Approach 1: Flipping an entire module or unit In theory, therefore, a school, or a teacher, may start with flipping an entire module, or unit. Let’s take a unit on teenage problems. This unit may cover the following teaching content: · A reading text that discusses some common problems that teenagers are struggling with. · Vocabulary from the reading text, and/or vocabulary items associated with teenage problems. · A task that has students listen to a social worker interviewing some teenagers struggling with certain personal issues. · A speaking task that requires students to interview each other on their personal problems. · A pronunciation section that deals with the intonation patterns for asking different types of questions. · A writing task that requires students to write a letter to the editor suggesting what schools may do to help teenage students become more resilient. · An integrated task that covers some of the above activities. · New grammar items that appear in the above activities. A teacher who intends to flip the whole unit ‘comprehensively’ may then identify the main learning objectives from each of the above segments, and start planning the whole flipped unit accordingly. While this approach makes good sense, it may incur a lot of planning and preparation for teachers who are new to flipped learning, as they have to design everything from scratch. Of course, if teachers of the same grade level are doing the flipping collaboratively, then they can share the planning and preparation. This would make flipping a whole unit more doable for schools or teachers who have just started to flip the English classroom. Approach 2: Focussing on one area of the curriculum In my own opinion, for teachers who have just started to flip their English teaching, whether they are going it alone or doing it collaboratively, a more manageable way to start would be to focus on one area of the English Language curriculum, such as reading, grammar, or writing. As each of these areas usually occupies only one part of a unit or module, teachers will have more time to spend on planning and the subsequent production of flipped learning resources (e.g, producing the pre-class video and quiz). Another advantage of this approach is that teachers will accumulate experience in flipped teaching more easily than if they are flipping different things at the same time while delivering a module or unit. For example, if they initially focus on flipping the Reading part of each unit, then they can more easily apply the experience they have gained in flipping the earlier Reading lessons in designing the later Reading units to be covered in a school-year. Grammar as a possible starting point From my many years of experience in English Language teacher education, for such teachers, grammar may be a good language area to start with. Unlike the macroskills such as Listening and Writing, grammar teaching involves presenting language forms and functions. Below are some example grammar items: · Type 1 conditional sentences · Reflexive pronouns · Subject-verb agreement · Count nouns vs Noncount nouns · Wh-questions It can be seen from the examples above that it is easier to identify the learning content to flip. Take count nouns vs noncount nouns. The pre-class learning material (e.g., video) may present: · What is a count noun? What is a noncount noun? · Differences between count nouns and noncount nouns in terms of language form · Differences between count nouns and noncount nouns in terms of meaning · Differences in usage (e.g., noncount nouns do not have plural forms) Given the culture of English Language teaching and learning in Hong Kong, many teachers are already conversant in giving grammatical explanations. In fact, the students will also take the pre-class work (e.g., viewing a video and answering a post-viewing quiz) more seriously if it is about grammar since they will feel there is something more ‘concrete’ to learn if the flipped content is about a grammar item. Just get started Finally, there is no single ‘right’ way to start flipping the English Language classroom. In fact, given the multifaceted nature of the English Language curriculum, it could take a few years before a teacher can become fully proficient in flipping every aspect of English Language teaching. Instead of first producing a grand flipped learning programme plan, it may be more advisable to dive into it on a smaller scale, learn from experience, and keep improving. As Mark Twain once said: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” +++

The potentials of Nearpod for creating pre-class learning resources

In a previous article, I talked about the possibility of using Edpuzzle and PlayPosit for creating flipped learning videos. These apps allow for quizzes inserted into different parts of the video. In another previous article, I mentioned that the pre-class learning resource does not have to be a video. One alternative is to use a Google slide deck (for presenting the learning concepts) with a Google Form inserted (for the while- or post-viewing quiz). Actually, there is still another approach: using Nearpod. Below are the functions of Nearpod which make it a useful choice for creating pre-class learning resources: - The completed Nearpod unit can be easily shared with students for self-paced learning before class. - To cater for learner diversity, a completed Nearpod unit can be cloned, and the cloned version can be easily modified for another class, or another group of learners. - Other than the usual slide content in point form, many different kinds of media can be easily inserted into a Nearpod unit (e.g., videos; VR resources; weblinks). In contrast, a video (to be viewed by students before class) does not have this flexibility. - While one advantage of presenting the learning content through video is that the teacher can use voiceover narration to help with explanations, this can also be done in Nearpod. The teacher simply needs to choose the slides within a Nearpod lesson to be orally explained, and add audio narration accordingly. - While Edpuzzle and Playposit will accept inserted quizzes, the questions types are quite limited. Those who are familiar with Nearpod will know that there is a good variety of task types that can be inserted into a Nearpod unit, such as blank-filling, matching, drawing, mini slideshows, and ‘Time to Climb’ competitions. - Among the interactive task types is the newly added Flipgrid. Flipgrid enables students to submit a short video response to a question/task to the topic pre-set by the teacher, and then to view each other’s responses. While some students may lack confidence to speak up during class, this Flipgrid function gives every student the opportunity to respond to something orally while working through the pre-class flipped activity. - Finally, a Nearpod unit designed by a teacher can be easily shared with other teachers, who can then easily modify it to cater for their own students’ needs. I believe there is great potential in using Nearpod for creating pre-class learning resources for flipped learning.

12 tools for engaging students during teacher presentations in the group space

In the past couple of months, because of the pandemic, there was a surge of web articles that provided tips about effective remote teaching and learning. At the same time, a couple of my teacher friends had expressed a related concern: Whether flipped learning would be hampered by lessons that had to be conducted online. The concern has arisen from the cognizance that under a flipped learning approach, class time should be spent as much on active learning as possible. Hence, the question of how to facilitate active learning in a remote teaching environment does deserve attention. Nevertheless, the same question will also be present in face-to-face teaching. There are many ways to go about active learning in the in-class stage (the Group Space) of a flipped lesson unit. One major direction is definitely student engagement – how to engage students throughout the active learning phase. The pedagogy literature is not short of classroom strategies that engage students. Student engagement is not only about designing tasks and activities that keep students busy. It is not just about group work. It also refers to how teachers can keep students engaged when they are presenting something. In the in-class stage of a flipped learning lesson, it does not mean that teachers should refrain from presenting further lesson content. Of course, teachers should refrain from repeating the concepts already presented in the pre-class work (individual space activities). But in the ensuing in-class stage (group space), sometimes teachers may still have to present further learning content, or develop from the basic concepts that students have learnt in the individual space stage. Thanks to advances in educational technology, teacher presentations do not have to be simply chalk-and-talk any more. Today, there are scores of tools that facilitate teachers’ content presentations, while engaging students in the process. While the traditional Powerpoint contains teaching content only, these new presentation tools also have built-in tools for teachers to insert polls, quizzes, tasks, and so on. At the start of a presentation, the teacher will open the prepared resource, and give students the ‘join code’. The students will go to the Student version of the same app, and input the join code. Once the teacher has started the presentation, the students will respond to the tasks when they appear in the course of the presentation. Their responses will then appear on the teacher’s screen, either individually or as a summary. This gives students a strong sense of being part of the goings-on of a lesson. I should mention that some of these apps also allow for activity-inserted presentations that can be followed by students on their own. In this way, the whole presentation will be in the form of a short learning journey – students go through the resource, learn the content, and respond to the questions and tasks that have been planted into various points of the learning journey. The picture below embodies 12 such apps that I personally like and often use in my teaching. When you click on the picture, you will be taken to an interactive image. When you click on each yellow star, you will see the name of the app, as well as a link that takes you to the homepage of the app.

Using slide presentations as pre-class learning materials

In the previous article, I talked about how to insert a quiz into a pre-class video, using apps such as TED-ED, Edpuzzle, PlayPosit, and Google Forms. But the pre-class study material for students does not always have to be a video. One useful alternative is a PPT or Google Slides presentation. (Below, I will use the more general term ‘slide presentation’.) A slide presentation can be more useful for self-paced study, as students have more control on the speed at which they interact with the pre-class learning content. Students will work through a presentation slide by slide, and when they are ready for the next slide, they click to see it. Although when students watch a pre-class video, they can also pause it whenever they like, the paused screen from a video will usually not be able to show the content as comprehensively as a slide does. One advantage of a video is of course the audio voiceover narration by the teacher. With a slide deck, the teacher can also select those slides that require further elaboration, and insert audio explanations to those particular slides. Besides audio explanations, videos can also be inserted into selected slides for further explanations by the teacher, or further explorations by the students. These videos can be ones from Youtube, or from the teacher’s own computer. Once inserted, a thumbnail preview of the video will appear on the slide. All the students have to do next is to click the ‘play’ button. The previous article explained ways to integrate a quiz into a video. In fact, with a slide presentation, this can also be done. Take Google Slides as an example. A teacher can create a Google Form quiz that relates to the content of the slides deck, get the link to this quiz, and then insert it into a slide: Step 1: Turn the Form into a Quiz Step 2: Choose ‘Quizzes’ Step 3: Go to ‘Send’ Step 4: Get the link Step 5: Paste the link into the selected slide. If a teacher wishes to include a more open-ended question to stimulate thinking or discussion, this can be done in one of two ways. One way is to include the open-ended question in the Google Form itself. When the teacher meets the class later, they can use the “Responses” function to show the students’ ideas. Another way is to ask the question in one of the slides, and invite the students to use the ‘Comment’ function to share their responses to the question. (Remember to change the Sharing Setting to ‘Anyone with the link can comment’.) Alternatively, the teacher can also leave a few slides blank (for example, one blank slide for each group of 4 students), and invite students to post their thoughts on the blank slide in response to the teacher’s question. (Remember to change the Sharing Setting to ‘Anyone with the link can edit’.) And of course for schools who use Google Classroom as the learning management system, adding the completed slides deck to a class as an assignment is a piece of cake. +++

Apps for creating flipped videos

In flipped learning, the pre-class individual work is often in the form of viewing a video, which contains the (new) key concepts to be delved into in the upcoming classroom lesson. Very often, teachers may want to use a quiz to either check their students’ understanding of the video content, or ensure that the students have done the pre-work. To do that, teachers may provide students with 2 links: one to the video itself, and the other to the quiz. In practice, there are apps which combine an instructional video and a quiz in one and the same creation. In such cases, students only need to work with one link. This article introduces 4 such apps. I. TED-ED TED-ED is part of the TED platform, which is well-known for its huge bank of quality talks delivered by experts from various walks of life. In its earliest version, TED-ED allowed users, mostly teachers, to embed an existing TED talk video into a lesson which they had created. They would then insert questions into the video, and share the lesson link with their students. The students would follow the link, view the video, and answer the questions. But there was no way for teachers to monitor their students’ progress or see their responses. TED-ED has undergone a lot of improvements in recent years, which are: a. Besides TED talks, teachers can also make use of Youtube videos when creating a TED-ED lesson. b. Teachers can crop the video (from or Youtube) they have imported into a TED-ED lesson. c. Teachers can insert M.C questions, open answer questions, and discussion questions into a lesson. d. Teachers can also choose from the published TED-ED lessons and customise them for using with their own students. e. For each TED-ED lesson created, there is now a Lesson Page where the teacher can monitor the students’ progress, such as who has viewed the video, and their responses to the open answer questions and the discussion topic. A TED-ED lesson can be used as a more extended pre-class task for flipped learning, as it follows the following procedural framework: 1. Let’s begin – an introduction to the video topic 2. Think – MC questions and open answer questions for while-viewing 3. Dig Deeper – additional information on the topic 4. Discussion – something for students to discuss after viewing the video 5. And Finally – closing thoughts, reminders, etc. II. EDPUZZLE and PLAYPOSIT The biggest difference between these two apps and TED-ED is that with TED-ED, the inserted questions are not timed along the video so that the viewer has to click the next question, then the next question, and so on, while following the progress of the video. With Edpuzzle and Playposit, the questions are inserted into the video itself. In other words, the teacher who is creating a viewing unit decides when each question should appear in the video. When a question pops up, students have to respond to the question before they can continue the viewing. In my view, the timed (Edpuzzle and Playposit) and untimed (TED-ED) model each has its own advantages and disadvantages. But perhaps with pre-intermediate level learners, the timed model is easier to handle. And between Edpuzzle and Playposit, there are a lot more similarities than there are differences. Both allow teachers to: - import Youtube videos and upload their own videos; - create classes; - view students’ performances in the gradebook; - re-use and customise the built-in units created by other teachers; and - link the created video units with Google Classroom. Perhaps the only difference is that Playposit has more question types, which are discussion, polling, and blank-filling, while Edpuzzle allows teachers to customise a published video unit (from inside Edpuzzle) by replacing the original audio with their own narration. III. GOOGLE FORMS Another handy way to put the pre-class video and the quiz together, especially when the video is from Youtube, is to use a Google form ( Google forms are easy to create. They allow for open-ended answers (polls) as well as objective-type questions with right or wrong answers (quizzes). As the following diagram shows, all the teachers need to do is, within a new Google form, click on the ‘video’ button, and then type in the name of the target video or its URL. A preview picture of the video will appear in the form automatically. In the ‘respond’ version of the Google form that they students receive, the ‘play’ button appears on the preview picture. Students only have to click ‘play’, and then respond to the questions on the form. And of course as we all know, Google forms are fully integrated with Google Classroom, so that if you are also using Google Classroom, you need not worry about making a record of the students’ quiz scores! Conclusion Pre-class work under Flipped Learning does not have to be about watching a video, but by far it is the most popular medium for presenting new lesson content to students before the classroom lesson. Although there are other types of tasks that may go with the video viewing, getting students to answer a quiz while or after watching the video is still a practical way to check students’ understanding and to ensure they do the pre-work. In this regard, the apps and techniques introduced above should be useful to teachers.

Be flexible and creative with your flipped classroom lesson design

The methodology for flipped learning has been evolving since around the middle of the first decade of this century. One example is the relationship between the pre-class work and the in-class activities. The diagram below shows the early conception of the sequence of the stages of work in a flipped classroom lesson design. Students study the new concepts to be learned before class, by viewing an instructional video, reading a textbook section, or completing other forms of preparation. Then later, during the lesson itself, students practise applying key concepts with feedback from the teacher or their classmates, or engage in higher-order learning activities. In other words, the learning of new concepts for a new lesson unit always takes places before the lesson proper. Source: To a certain extent, this framework presupposes that every classroom lesson is an independent, self-contained, lesson unit. While this model is easier to grasp, after a period of experimentation, educators started to realise that this framework might not always match with real-life teaching in terms of how we organize a learning unit. This is because a learning unit may not be a single lesson; it may comprise a sequence of lessons under a topic or theme, as illustrated in the 2 scenarios below: Scenario A - Unit of Learning: Simple Present tense – Verb Form for Third-person singular subject Lesson 1 of 1 Aim of lesson: Students learn to add the suffix ‘-s’ to the main verb of a sentence if (a) this main verb is in the Simple Present tense (b) the subject is third-person singular. Scenario B - Unit of Learning: Passive Voice (Source: Miss Jenny Leung) In Scenario A, the learning objective is relatively specific – when to add the suffix “-s” to the main verb if it is in the Simple Present tense. In this situation, the traditional framework of unit design may suffice: Pre-class work: Students watch a video which explains the rule for adding the suffix “-s” to the main verb In-class work: Students practise, at different levels of difficulty, adding (or not adding) the suffix “-s” to the main verb if it is in the Simple Present tense In Scenario B, the broader unit topic is the Passive Voice. The mastery of the Passive Voice consists of several learning objectives, such as: - the form of the main verb in Passive Voice under difference tenses; - the structure of the whole sentence; - whether or not to include the agent phrase ‘by ……’; - when to, and when NOT to, use the Passive Voice; - etc. In this scenario, obviously there is continuing development from one lesson to the next, and the various lessons are linked to each other. To help students grasp this continuity, it may not always be advisable to treat each lesson within the whole unit as an independent lesson following the traditional flipped classroom framework. For instance, after the unit has started, for some of the subsequent lessons, students can be invited to ponder a higher-order issue in class, before embarking on the next flipped lesson which addresses this issue. In Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners: Strategies and Lesson Plans (London: Routledge, 2014), Troy Cockrum calls it the Explore-Flip-Apply approach: In conclusion, the flipped classroom procedural model has evolved significantly since the inception of flipped learning. Today, seasoned flipped learning educators understand that the design of a flipped lesson or learning unit should be flexible as well as creative. In my own practice, sometimes even if the upcoming class session focuses on a standalone topic, I would spend a couple of minutes towards the end of the current session preparing them for this upcoming flipped session by, for example, giving students a heads-up on what they will learn in the next session, so that they can see its significance when they are completing, at home, the pre-class flipped learning task for the upcoming class. +++

How long should a pre-class video be?

According to the Western tradition of flipped learning, the pre-class study resource for students is usually in the form of a video, though in reality, other types of material (e.g., a PPT, an article, a podcast episode) can also be used. The purpose of the pre-class video is to present the main concepts of the upcoming live lesson. Experts in flipped learning unanimously assert that such videos should not be too lengthy. Some of them even suggest a maximum length of 7 to 8 minutes. In case it is not possible to include all the teaching content in a video of this length, the alternative should be to break the whole presentation down into more than one video, instead of continuing with the original one. One reason for the experts advocating shorter rather than longer videos has to do with human beings’ attention span. Another reason that has been put forward – and this is an interesting one – is that it forces teachers to be concise with their presentation of the lesson content. I have been producing my own videos for my flipped classes at the university, and I have learnt from my experience that being concise may not be as easy as we think. On many occasions in the past, when I had finished recording a video which I had thought was below 7 minutes and then when I checked the duration of the product, I was in for a surprise. Although I had reminded myself to be concise while planning and recording the video, the resulting creation often lasted much longer. This is an interesting phenomenon. Perhaps as teachers, when we present the lesson content in a live lesson, we often insert questions, jokes, discourse markers when we develop our talk. And very often, we repeat our main points, develop our arguments, or cite examples. Of course, that makes perfect sense in a live lesson. But when we have to crystallize our lesson content down to a few minutes and leave out all the supplementary discourse, we are simply not used to doing that. So, in a way, producing pre-class videos for the flipped classroom may turn out to be a useful training opportunity for us teachers to be concise with our presentation which, after all, is a desirable speech habit. Who likes to listen to a speaker who keeps rambling on? In case we are concerned that if our pre-class video is too concise then students will lose interest, take note that our psychological readiness for viewing an instructional video is different from that when we attend a live presentation. When we view an instructional video, we tune in quicker, and are more focused and more eager to listen for the information that we are after. In fact, I have found that when I’m viewing a Youtube video in order to get some information, I often just skip along. As to the pre-class videos we produce for our students, if they miss something, or if there is something they don’t understanding at first viewing, they can always view the video again. So the implication for us is: Don’t be afraid to be concise.

My first experience of Flipped Classroom

When I first heard of the Chinese term for Flipped Classroom (翻轉教室) a few years ago, I thought it was just a gimmick used by certain people to promote some sort of unorthodox pedagogy. So I did not pay much attention to it. But later, when I realised that Professor Hau Kit-tai, a colleague at the CUHK Faculty of Education, was zealously speaking for Flipped Learning through different channels, I began to wonder: “Am I missing something important?” A few months after that in 2014, I had the good fortune of attending a symposium on Flipped Learning which took place at Ying Wa Primary School. That was a totally eye-opening experience, as I got to listen to in-depth academic presentations by Professor Hau and Professor Morris Jong of CUHK, and the enthusiastic experience sharing by two frontline teachers passionate about Flipped Learning, a Chinese teacher called Mr Chan, and a Maths and IT teacher called Mr Ha Chi-hung. In no time, I had completely bought into the rationales for Flipped Learning, as it converged on some of my basic principles in teaching and learning. Professor Hau Kit-tai (left), Professor Morris Jong (middle) and Mr. Ha Chi Hung, Ha Sir (right) I met in the symposium In the following year, together with Professor Morris Jong, I applied for, and obtained, a Micro-module courseware development grant from CUHK, and, with technical support from CUHK’s Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies (CLST), developed a Flipped Learning platform for one of the courses I was teaching at that time: Subject Curriculum and Teaching: English. The platform contained resources that I had specially produced for the flipped course, such as pre-class videos and quizzes, and interactive e-learning tasks for the class sessions. The Flipped Learning platform Professor Morris Jong and I developed with support from CLST With the completion of the development of the platform, I immediately used it with a new cohort of students. The effect turned out to be far better than what I had expected. For example, while previously students prepared for each class by reading an academic article, now they would go to the platform, view the respective video, and answer the post-viewing quiz. This turned out to be a welcome mode of pre-class preparation for the students. (Of course, I would still ask them to read an academic article once in a while as pre-class preparation, as this was part of the training for university studies.) The biggest benefit to me, however, was the freed class time for practical and higher-order activities. The course Subject Curriculum and Teaching, which is concerned with classroom teaching methodology for a school subject, is a highly practical course. As such, students need time to try out, and to try designing, classroom teaching and learning ideas and activities. The flipped model with which I started to apply in teaching the course with support from the course platform freed up much time for such activities which would otherwise have been taken up by my lecturing on the basic concepts. The Flipped Learning platform was awarded Poster Commendation in Teaching and Learning Innovation Expo 2015, CUHK After that successful first attempt, I continued to re-design all the other courses I was teaching following the Flipped Learning model. Today, all the courses I am teaching are flipped. In the upcoming articles, I will share my insights in Flipped Learning, based on my first-hand experience in doing flipped teaching in classrooms (tertiary, secondary, and primary). But before I conclude this article, I would like to point out that so far, the benefits of Flipped Learning to me are not just pedagogical. I have noticed that as a result of increased time for interacting with students in class, I have come to connect even stronger with them on a personal level!


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