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Why the Flipped Classroom is Great for English

As an English teacher and tutor, it is my goal to give you confidence and independence. I want you to leave our last ever tutoring session feeling like you can do English all on your own. After all, I’m not going to be around to help you forever! That’s why I use the flipped classroom approach.

There are so many reasons why this approach is so amazing! You learn how to read and analyse without my help. So, you won’t be thrown off by any unexpected exam questions! Independence like this is really the best way to push your grades up to a 9 or A*.

It’s one of my favourite ways to teach. It’s the reason I said you should write blog posts about the texts you read. I use it to decide what homework to give students at school. In fact, I’m even using it to write my online courses as you read this! It is everywhere on Shani’s Tutoring.

I flip my classes because it allows me to give the most value to my students. Why should they sit in front of me and do something they could do on their own? I’d rather spend my time teaching them skills they can’t develop on their own.

In a tutoring session, that means you get the most value possible from the class. In school, it means your homework feels meaningful. Teachers don’t just set it for the sake of giving you something to do. It’s also the way you’ll be expected to study at uni, so why not start now?

But what exactly is the flipped classroom? Why is it so useful in English class? Let me explain it to you.

What is the Flipped Classroom?

Now that I’ve gone on about how much I love the flipped classroom, it’s time for me to explain what it is. It’s all about how teachers choose to use homework and classroom time.

Usually, you go to class to learn facts. Your teacher might have a PowerPoint up that you should take notes from. They could give you a textbook to read. Or, you could have to read aloud. Then, they set the homework for after the class. It will usually ask you to practice what you’ve learnt in some way.

For example, your teacher might explain the difference between fiction and non-fiction. They give you definitions and plenty of examples. Maybe, they’ll show you two different texts and ask you to identify the differences by yourself! At the end of the class, though, the homework will be to practice this. This could be something like a worksheet where you sort different extracts or create your own examples.

This can sometimes be a very useful way to teach! I use it to teach the tenor, vehicle and ground of a metaphor. However, it won’t always work.

The biggest problem is often with homework that asks you to apply new knowledge. Sure, you know what the difference between fiction and non-fiction is when you see it. Do you know how to make your own, though? Your teacher can’t sit with you and check if you’re confused. That can leave you feeling lost.

Instead, the flipped classroom puts the homework before the lesson. Your teacher might ask you to read an article on the Gunpowder Plot, for example. Then, you can use your lesson time to understand how you can use that information in a Macbeth essay. You learn knowledge for homework and do skills in class.


Why is it So Useful?

After all, you can find out facts on your own. You don’t need a teacher for that! You have books and the internet! Instead, you can use your class time to find out how to use the facts you learn on your own.

So, it swaps the way we treat homework and class study. Instead of learning facts in class, you do the reading and researching on your own. That means you can spend more time in class doing other things.

But what makes the flipped classroom such a useful tool to use? Why do I love it so much?

Well, it means your teacher treats you more like an apprentice than a knowledge sponge. They don’t need to cram as many facts as possible in your head. Instead, they can use their short time with you to demonstrate what you should do with the information once you get it.

That might not sound like a huge deal right now, but it really is! You aren’t passively taking in information anymore. You get to get involved in your own learning and see how it can really be useful in your life.

As you probably know, my M.A. is in history. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me history is a useless subject. We have the internet and books! If they need to know something about the past, they can just google it, right? So why don’t we spend our time doing other things?

Well, that attitude comes from the traditional classroom approach.

It’s Useful for Students

There are so many reasons why the flipped classroom approach is great for students.

First of all, it makes homework more meaningful. You know your homework will actually matter in the next class.

Second, the homework is on your terms. If you want to get the book done on your way home, you can subscribe to something like Audible to listen to the text. For research, there are some great YouTube channels you can take advantage of – like CrashCourse!

I also love how it prepares you for uni. Most classes at uni level have seminars you need to attend. Before you go to these seminars each week, you will have to read the right material on the reading list. Otherwise, you can’t join in with discussions.

If you don’t do the reading, it can be so embarassing. So, it’s good to get into the habit of doing the reading before a class. If you start early, it will become second nature to you.

The most important reason, though, is that it makes class time more valuable. You can read, research or watch a clip on your own. If not, it’s something your parents can help with.

That way, class is dedicated to the harder things. You can gain so much value from class when your teacher is walking you through how to write an essay or helping you to develop your skills. You can’t say the same about popcorn reading. The dreaded popcorn reading.

If you’re paying for tutoring, this can make a huge difference. You get much more value for your money if you’re not spending lots of time learning facts with your tutor.


It’s Useful for Teachers

The flipped classroom is also a huge lifesaver for us teachers.

I love that you can use it with other approaches like cognitive apprenticeships, live marking and verbal feedback. When you put all these things together, you become an extremely effective teacher with a much smaller workload!

Basically, students do the fact-learning and book-reading at home. Then, they come to class and I guide discussions about what they’ve read. I might pull up some extracts and ask them to discuss those parts in particular. Then, I can show them how I’d write an essay on that part of the reading and ask them to do the same.

Any student can google the Gunpowder Plot. However, it’s not so easy to know how to use that info – or even to know if that info is important! That’s the stuff I can do in class.

While students are writing their essays or creative writing pieces, I can go around the class and look at what they’ve written. I walk around with a marking pen and give them feedback as they write. The feedback is fresh in our minds, they can ask me if they’re unsure, and they can make changes right away!

It’s important for me to make my expectations clear and set out consequences for not doing the work. I also need to make sure that I guide students to good resources they can use to research facts. For me, I find that pretty easy! I’ve got plenty of useful websites and essays tucked away on my laptop!

I get to teach instead of just feeding my students a bunch of facts. They’re going to be learning new facts for the rest of their lives. I don’t have very long to teach them what to do with new information, though.

What to Do With Students Who Don’t Do the Homework?

Don’t get me wrong: the flipped classroom approach isn’t perfect.

In fact, it has one main problem: students who don’t do homework. They can end up falling behind everyone else who came prepared. The rest of the class will sail right by them while they feel utterly confused.

There are some amazing solutions, though! It’s all about consequences and proof.

Let’s start with the consequences. I need to make it clear that students will get some sort of behaviour sanction if they don’t do the reading. This could be something like a behaviour point or an email home.

I create a classroom environment where students feel silly if they don’t do the work. After all, it’s a bit ridiculous to not do something as simple as reading a page or two of a book – unless they have a good reason.

Then there’s the proof side of things! This is all about splitting the homework into two parts: learning facts and then proving you did the learning. Here are some ways I do that:

  • Ask students to write a blog post explaining how they reacted to the text.
  • If my students can’t make a blog post, I create a question on Google Classrooms and ask them to respond to it. Or, I ask them to comment on my forum post.
  • Create a short quiz where students are tested on the knowledge they’ve learnt.

The good thing about those methods is they don’t ask the students to go into deep analysis. Either it’s a personal response to the text in their own words, or it’s just a simple fact-checking exercise. It doesn’t matter if they have the text right in front of them when they do it! They’re still learning the facts!


When Shouldn’t You Use the Flipped Classroom?

There are times when the flipped classroom approach works really well. For example, it is great for the online courses I’m going to make. Students can learn at their own pace and they ease into independent study.

However, there is no such thing as a perfect teaching technique. Some techniques work great in some circumstances and fall flat when you try to use them in other places. The flipped classroom is no different.

You’ve got to think long and hard about when the flipped classroom approach would actually work. Weigh up the pros and cons. Think about why you want to use it and what students will learn from it. Most importantly, think about whether your students will be able to learn well from it. If your answers to those questions aren’t solid, maybe you should try another technique.

Here are some of the times when I 100% wouldn’t recommend using the flipped classroom:

  • Early dyslexia tutoring: build student confidence first. Give them the skills they need to read on their own. This works best when they have you by their side.
  • Interventions to pass exams: you need to focus on skills at this point.
  • Students who don’t have a quiet space to work: unless they have free periods or homework clubs at school, they won’t be able to make the most out of the flipped classroom. Then, they’ll end up quite lost in class.
  • When students have the knowledge but not the skills: building skills is something best done through modelling and time with a teacher/tutor.

Remember: the flipped classroom is just a tool for you to use. It’s a very useful one, sure! However, you wouldn’t use a hammer to turn a screw. You’ve got to learn when to use each one.

How Shani’s Tutoring Uses the Flipped Classroom

Right now, I am currently building my online courses that rely on the flipped classroom. It’s not just about reading, though. It’s about accessing video and audio that will help students to succeed.

Basically, I record a video with all the most important facts. Or, I model how to write an essay or analyse a text for an exam. Then, students answer questions and complete assignments based on that task.

As they go on to new course lessons, I keep reminding students of the old information and skills we covered. They have to answer questions to see how much they remember. This is called “recall”, and I use it to make sure students don’t forget the stuff we learnt earlier on in the year.

You might have heard of recall by another name. People also call it “spaced repetition” or “spaced practice”. it’s a huge part of language learning apps like Memrise. There’s a whole lot of evidence to say that it’s an amazing way to learn!

Why do I use the flipped classroom with modelling and recall? Well, I get to give students all the info they need at a pace that suits them! Plus, they can learn how to study independently – a skill that will be very useful for them at uni.

It also helps me to keep the costs fair, affordable and accessible. I can deliver a class once and put it on the website so that anyone can use it. That way, paying by the hour isn’t a problem for anyone!

The flipped classroom is a great way to get the most out of your learning, and I am always looking for ways for students to succeed. So, keep watching this blog for more info on how I can help you!

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