The Flipped Classroom


This article (based on material from our Delta Module One course) deals with the concept of the flipped classroom. What does the term mean, and what are the  advantages and disadvantages of the format?

So what is the flipped classroom?

 1. The flipped classroom involves a kind of blended learning, where a part of the lesson that was traditionally done in class – particularly as far as EFL is concerned the presentation of a new language item -  is now done at home. In a typical approach to flipped learning, students watch a teacher’s explanation of something on video at home, possibly do some controlled practice activities, but then spend class time on freer practice activities.

 2. However, flipped learning  does not necessarily involve technology. The presentation/practice material could be a book like Murphy’s “English Grammar in Use”. This is an alternative if some learners in the class do not have adequate computer/internet access or skills, and it is therefore unfair/impossible to incorporate a method which is dependent on technology into the course.

What are the advantages?

 3. If learners have to miss a lesson, they still have access to the most important input and can still "keep up" with the course. Eg in a traditional classroom, if a learner missed a lesson introducing a new verb form, the T. would have to re-present it when they returned. The flipped classroom makes this unnecessary and saves time. There are few group classes where no learner ever misses a lesson, but this can be particularly useful in Business English classes where the T and participants know in advance that there are times when one of other of the group will be away for business trips, important meetings or just pressure of work.

4. Ls can work through the input materials at their own pace, watching or reading them two or three times if they wish to. This allows slower learners (who might not fully understand a lockstep class presentation) to benefit without holding up the rest of the class.

5. The flipped classroom means there is more time in class for practice and application activities. This means there is more student centred work and the T. can diagnose the problems that learners are having and spend more time dealing with those.

And the disadvantages?

6. Most published courses are not written for the flipped classroom – an exception being Macmillan’s “Gateway” series. The more specialised or individualised the course (eg ESP classes, 121 classes) the less likely there is to be ready made materials available, This means that the institution, or even the individual teacher, is either “pushed” into choosing from a very limited range of materials (including traditional grammar presentation and practice materials such as those by  Murphy – see above), or has to spend time and money developing their own.  If the same course will be taught repeatedly afterwards, it may be worth it. If the course is a "one-off" - eg a 121 course based on specific needs, it may not be.

7. In a traditional classroom "homework" tends to be consolidation work (eg workbook exercises). Ls who don't do it may not make the same progress as others but don't hold the class up. In the flipped classroom, a learner who comes to class without having studied the input has no chance of participating in the follow up activities. This may not be a problem in a teaching context where homework is compulsory (eg state school teaching), but does create difficulties in eg an adult private language school class where learners cannot be compelled to do work outside the class. 

8. There may be learners who are unwilling to do any work outside the classroom lessons. This may be due to lack of time but eg I have taught a class composed of retired learners whose main reason for studying was to get out of the house once a week and meet up with a group of people of their same age. Their interest in English was for travel purposes, plus a general feeling that they wanted to keep their minds active. However, their primary motivation towards the course was definitely social and several stated from the outset that they didn’t want homework. A flipped format is impossible with a group of this type.

9. If a learner does not understand the presentation, there is no teacher “on hand” to resolve the problem immediately, which could cause frustration. They will have to wait till the following lesson to seek help. This could be a particular problem with beginners – who will not have enough language to understand explanations in English, but also at higher levels with concepts which are radically different from those in the L1.  If the materials have been prepared for a monolingual situation this problem can be partially resolved by providing explanations in the Ls’ own language, but this is not possible in a multilingual situation or with published materials intended for a global market. This may result in the T having to repeat the presentation in class in any case.

 10. The flipped classroom pushes the course into (at worst) a deductive approach and (at best) a PPP type approach. Some published materials do provide interactive software using a Guided discovery approach, but there is no room for other lesson formats such as Test-Teach-Test where the T. can make an on the spot decision about how much time to spend on  focusing on the TL, or how much of the TL to focus on, dependent on Ls’ performance in the first test stage. All the learners are presented with the same material regardless of their strengths and weaknesses.

11. Similarly, although the extra time available for practice in the lesson may allow for a focus on emergent language, there is no chance of basing the course on a Dogme style approach where there is no a-priori syllabus. The syllabus must be pre-decided in advance in order for the presentation materials to be produced. This leads the teacher back to adopting  what Thornbury has coined a "Grammar McNuggets” approach to course design and management.