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Flipped learning – a deeper look

It’s well documented that ‘flipped’ lessons emphasise and develop collaboration skills more than ‘regular’ lessons. Students lead their own learning through independent research on tablets and by working in groups to solve problems and present solutions. Collaboration is encouraged and accepted as a way of discovering answers, asking peers for support or feedback and sharing findings with the group and the teacher.

In preliminary findings from school visits to Hove Park in Sussex and Longfield Academy in Kent that included face-to-face interviews with teachers and students as well as classroom observations, our study explored how mobile devices can be used to support self-led learning and what support is still needed for teachers. Phase two, conducted in spring this year, looked at the varying experience of teachers using flipped (and other forms of) learning via in-depth ethnographies of 9 teachers in three schools. The third school was Honywood Community Science School in Essex. Although all three schools introduced mobile technology between two and four years ago, not all teachers interviewed were necessarily flipped lesson enthusiasts!

But it was evident from the research that teachers believe that integrating mobile technology in schools is an important part of preparing students for the future, a belief held even by staff who are less confident in the use of mobile technology or less certain of its benefits.

Since the introduction of one-to-one tablets in the three schools studied, all have ensured that there are ‘digital leaders’ in place, usually within each department.

It’s not just teachers that need encouragement and confidence with new models of teaching. The schools in the study organised several parents’ evenings to communicate how technology is used in the school and how they can support its use.

Flipped learning is defined as a pedagogic approach where students learn new content online by watching video lectures, reviewing presentations or conducting research, usually at home. What used to be homework is instead done in class, with the teacher offering more personalised guidance and interaction with students instead of lecturing.

The Transforming Learning study found that students were expected to lead their own learning, and this in turn appeared to prompt an openness on the part of teachers to support and encourage creative ways of learning, which can involve a significantly livelier classroom than teachers are used to. The teachers we spoke to were for the most part comfortable with this, but some expressed concern that a sudden appearance at the door by the head teacher could give an unruly impression when in fact, the lesson was perfectly ‘under control’.

Without doubt, flipped lessons re-distribute a teacher’s workload. Teachers spend more time preparing lessons, but the lessons themselves are described as much less labour-intensive. The teacher is free to walk around the classroom and to offer support where needed. By assigning group and independent exercises supported by teacher-generated video tutorials, teachers are able to complete marking and assessment during the lesson and provide one-to-one support and feedback to students as they complete tasks.

A detailed look

One Maths teacher using flipped learning began the class with a warm up of four questions. The students who completed these moved directly into the flipped lesson while those who struggled were gathered in a small group for a tutorial with the teacher. The more advanced students worked independently, using the video tutorials, with an assistant teacher moving around the room to offer support.

After the tutorial with the smaller ‘break-out’ group, the teacher moved around the classroom helping students and marking their work for immediate feedback. The teacher felt the on-site marking not only freed her time outside of class but also helped students to immediately reflect on their work and build on their skills.

One ‘flipped learning’ teacher gave a poignant example of a student who was very strong at maths but struggled to write because of dyslexia. Using a tablet allowed the student to record videos explaining the way in which he solved equations, in place of written answers. It was through viewing these videos that the teacher discovered how well he excelled in maths.

In the most recent interviews with two other schools in our research programme (September 2015), enthusiasm for flipped learning was rife.

Tim Cross, head of Learning Technology at Leigh Academies Trust in Kent, is a fan

“Flipped learning forces you to change pedagogy, but it’s worth it. Yes, staff still need guidance in using the tools, but again, it’s worth it.

Flipped learning done well is like splitting yourself 30 times into 50 minutes. It makes sense to teachers and students alike. There’s a huge advantage to setting pre-learning and homework before class even begins, because students have already engaged and therefore see the value in the class content AND the teacher knows who is prepared and who isn’t!

Flipped learning is done best when the leader has created the videos, but it doesn’t have to be done that way. You can use existing web content or simply set s specific activity before the lesson that doesn’t involve making your own video.

The biggest success if the teacher does create a video is the opportunity it creates for a higher, deeper level of questioning and differentiation – it’s a far more valuable use of classroom time. The advantage of creating your own video as a teacher, whether it’s glaciers, fractions or World War 2 that you’re teaching, is that you can make it bespoke to where your curriculum is set.

Tony Ryan, head of Chiswick School, is another staunch supporter of flipped learning

“Our maths provision is one of the best examples of flipped learning. The head of maths delivers a video featuring sixth form maths students sharing what they wish they’d known about maths in year 9 and how they’d have done things differently if they had understood certain aspects of the curriculum better. We show this video to our Yr 9 students and it really works. Older students reflecting on learning content with younger students is very powerful.”

As with all mobile technology and new pedagogical models emerging, the priority must be teacher guidance and training. This message was loud and clear in the study and arose several times at both stages of the research. While NQTs and teachers new to one-to-one device-using schools request formal training to be included in their induction period, more experienced teachers request on-going support. The most effective CPD often takes place in informal ways within departments, with teachers co-creating and sharing resources.

Outside the study, Tony Ryan summed it up in his own words: “We have to help teachers keep on top of all that technology can offer, because it’s making a huge difference on many levels. I choose to invest in this and for other schools weighing up the balance of where to invest, I’d say it’s about priorities. We embrace digital technology here at Chiswick School because I genuinely believe it’s making a difference.”

This article first appeared in this week’s (and was commissioned by) Education Technology magazine.

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