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flipped bart

Learning, flipped on its head

There is much talk of the flipped classroom and of flipped learning – some of you may have attended FlipCon UK this week (Twitter was positively alive with it!). The terms, which are frequently used interchangeably, concern, at a basic level, what would have otherwise been covered in class being covered at home and in advance, while the subsequently freed-up classroom time is used for coaching, consolidation, practice and exploration. That which would have been classwork is done at home by the student. That which would have been homework is covered in class. We have begun working this way with some of our courses and events, to great effect.

The flipped learning network distinguish between the flipped classroom and flipped learning. Flipping the classroom, they argue, can, but does not necessarily, lead to flipped learning. Flipped learning requires a flexible learning environment and an active learning culture which “deliberately shifts instruction to a learner-centred approach, where in-class time is dedicated to exploring topics in greater 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 personally meaningful.”

computer virusThe learning undertaken at home can take a number of formats: instructional videos; podcasts; YouTube type resources; internet research; reading texts etc. Generally the home learning is intended to familiarise students with the content in advance of the lesson, but therein lies the potential problem. If the home learning aspect is where the kids get their ‘content’ and tee-up the upcoming lesson, what does the teacher do with those students who have failed to undertake it ? To ‘teach’ the content would waste the time of those who did do the advance learning. To do nothing means that they cannot take part in the lesson.

I worked with a couple of schools last year on flipped learning. Both were concerned by the potential difficulties of having to deal with these non-participants – the equivalent of those kids who ‘forget’ their PE kit or whose dog ate their homework. They adopted very different approaches to prevent such non-participation. One school created a range of sanctions to ‘encourage’ participation – what used to be done to those who failed to complete homework was now applied to those who failed to engage with the advance learning. The other school took the approach of ensuring that non-participants were made aware of how they were letting their class mates down by failing to be in a position to make a positive contribution in the lesson. Enforced compliance vs collective commitment. One strategy was successful, and the other much less so – I bet you can guess which was which!

One neat addition to flipped learning that both used was to require students not only to undertake the advance learning but also to come to the lesson with at least one question about the material. This had the effect of building the habits of distilling what they do and do not understand, and of framing a question that will help them to uncover one thing that they want to find out, or one thing they do not yet understand. It gives the teacher insight into the areas of uncertainty or interest of students and affords the opportunity to shape the classroom time in order to meet their individual interests – the seeds of co-construction, if you like.

The reason that flipped learning sits well alongside Building Learning Power is the necessarily changed role of the teacher, the shift from purveyor of content to learning coach. While teachers take on less visibly prominent roles in a flipped classroom, they still remain the essential ingredient that enables Flipped Learning to occur.

As Chris Watkins at The London Institute argues in his paper ‘Improving classrooms and classroom learning’, classrooms need to be active, collaborative and learner-centred before they can become learning-centred. Flipping the classroom readies the ground for learning-centred learning, which is what Building Learning Power is seeking to achieve.



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