Guest Post by Heather Witten, a Spanish teacher at Elizabeth High School in Colorado, where she has been on the CCFLT (Colorado Congress of Foreign Language) Board for the last 4 years. She has been flipping her Spanish class for the last 7 years and has written a chapter in the book “Flipping 2.0” describing her experiences as a flipped classroom teacher. You can also follow her classroom experiences and reflection on her blog.
When I began using the flipped class, I thought the best part was that I would not have to directly teach grammar. The next year, I was sure that being able to allow students to practice listening exercises at their own pace was the best part of the flip. The following year, the best part of the flipped class was being able to group students by ability and better structure their learning.
Since moving to the flipped class, I have stopped using my textbook and rely on as much authentic material as I can find. Students are given one or two grammar videos to take notes on prior to class. This material is then incorporated into the activities that we complete in class, like circumlocution games, drawing activities, small group conversations, and reading short novels (TPRS).
It has occurred to me that through my years flipping my class, the very BEST thing that happened was that the students became the center of the classroom universe. This has taken many forms and has looked different as time has gone by, but the fact remains it is the student-centered aspect of the flipped class that has made all of the difference in my teaching and in their learning.
What does student-centered learning look like in my class?
- Students have the opportunity to choose their own personal vocabulary to learn in each thematic unit. students choose 15 – 20 words that they want to know. For example, in the house unit, students get to create their dream home, so their choice of vocabulary may differ. One student might want a “horse stall” while another might want a “swimming pool.”
- Students can allocate their time to activities that they feel need the most attention to obtain proficiency, and spend less time on activities with which they are more comfortable. Students can adapt written practice depending upon their level. If a student can demonstrate knowledge of a concept after 10 practice sentences, they don’t need to do 25. If a student needs more than 25 to demonstrate knowledge, that is what they need to do. For example, students are given listening selections to work on individually from the class blog. Assigning listening activities as at-home work allows students to listen as many times as necessary to ensure comprehension, which they demonstrate through comprehension questions and classroom applications. All of the practice and activities are checked by me and students can be directed to repeat activities as needed on an individual basis.
- Students have the choice between different activities and assignments whenever possible to spark their interest. For example, projects about books must demonstrate comprehension, but can be presentations, posters, written assignments, cartoons, art projects, etc. depending upon the students’ interests.
- Students have the responsibility to make sure they understand the concepts presented. If a student does not understand, they must make the effort to redo assignments. If they need additional help, they are responsible for speaking up and asking questions. When students are assessed on the can-do statements for the unit, if they cannot successfully complete the activity outlined by the can do, they need to go back and redo it until they can demonstrate comprehension.
- Students can ask to demonstrate their proficiency with an assessment I did not propose. If a student has another idea of how to demonstrate their proficiency of a concept, they can propose it and use that as an assessment. For example, in the house unit discussed earlier, one student chose to present a house that he had created on Minecraft.
- Students can become teachers of their peers. When a student teaches another, that is when they truly understand the material. Whether it be word choice, word, order, pronunciation, or colloquial phrases students are empowered to support their peers through peer instruction.
Keep in mind that the freedom that the flipped class gives the students to control the class can be overwhelming at first. Teachers need to provide parameters, check points and direction for students to be successful in the flipped classroom. Students can often fall into the trap of thinking they have “free-time” when given the opportunity to work on classwork individually. Teachers must guide students carefully at the beginning of the flipped class implementation in order to clearly define how class time is structured.
The student-centered class is the best way for students to understand their learning needs and increase their proficiency in the language. By continuing to keep the focus of the class on them and giving students the freedom to make the class theirs through their choices keeps the class relevant and inspires students to learn. That is what we, as language teachers, strive for.