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Flipped Learning in the World-Language Classroom

For most teachers, classroom time is precious. This is as true or even more so, in a Chinese language classroom where students are learning not just how to speak, but how to write with characters. Heather Clydesdale, former assistant director of curriculum development at Asia Society, explores how some Chinese language teachers are using flipped learning to make the most of limited classroom time. These principles, however, can be applied to any language classroom.

By guest blogger Heather Clydesdale

Ask teachers of world languages to name a resource they lack, and chances are they will answer: "time." Flipped learning, which uses online sessions to build and drill basic knowledge and skills, frees up time in class. Teachers can leverage this and create opportunities for students to apply language as they practice higher-order thinking.

Redesigning the Classroom Experience
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for time_to_learn_flipped.jpgHelen Yung, vice president of academics at Better Chinese, advocates using backward design when planning a flipped learning curricular unit. Teachers should start with the standards to identify objectives, gauge students' current abilities and knowledge by analyzing pre-assessments, and then craft a performance-based summative assessment. Next, as teachers develop instruction and learning activities, they determine which will be best suited to online components (introducing new vocabulary and sentence patterns), and which should be highlighted in class (performance-based tasks), to seamlessly integrate technology and learning.

"I want to use all my class time to do things they [students] can't do at home," remarks Hilda Leung, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade Chinese at the Brentwood School in Los Angeles, California. She contends that since adopting flipped learning her students come to class and "are speaking right away, doing skits right away, and they are writing right away."

Leung makes her own five-minute videos for her students to watch at home or in the library. She likes that students can take their time without worrying about judgment from their peers. Previously, writing and explaining new characters easily exhausted 20 minutes of valuable class time. Now, students watch a short clip introducing characters and phrases at their convenience. The next day, Leung begins class with a quick check, gives immediate feedback, and then dives into activities.

Interactive Stations and Assessments
To make the most of flipped learning, Yung and Leung both suggest creating stations in the classroom. This approach can be adapted to any size class or space, and can emphasize areas in which students need practice. Yung suggests keeping the three modes of communication (interpersonal, interpretative, and presentational) in mind when forming stations and encourages teachers to "create the type of classroom you want your students to have."

Leung designs stations for students to practice pinyin and tone combinations, use language in authentic contexts, polish stroke order, write short responses, and describe pictures. As they work, Leung circulates through the room, monitoring progress and providing feedback.

Flipped learning works for younger students too. Julia Lee teaches Chinese to middle and high school students at the Dwight School in New York, New York, and tailors her instruction to the school's inquiry-based International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Lee, finds that the flipped classroom helps her respond to students' needs in ways that are both discreet and effective. She can easily ask students who needs more help to spend additional time at a mini-lesson or station activity.  The elasticity of flipped learning is also apparent when it comes to assessments.

"Every single performance task we do in flipped learning is an assessment," asserts Yung. Teachers can track students' progress through online applications, by recording students pre- and post-assessment, or by simply adding projects to students' portfolios.

Advice on Getting Started
Some teachers remain nervous about "making the flip." One obvious challenge is unequal access to technology. Yung suggests setting a tablet station in the classroom—even a temporary one—if students do not have computers at home. Lee also uses this strategy, particularly if a student is unable to log on for a session because of a family event. 

Chief among teachers' questions about flipped learning is how to keep students focused. Leung advises setting clear expectations and, online, she asks students to take notes or answer questions during the course of her pre-recorded video. Keeping the videos short and using angles that appeal to the age group also help. Leung finds that classroom stations dovetail with her students' energy levels. "My students are really active," she says. "They like to do things hands-on."

Yung thinks that management is easier in a flipped classroom: "Because they have performance tasks, the teacher maintains control." Lee agrees that students respond well to the model. "The classroom is boisterous, but it is because they [students] are engaged in their lesson," she explains in Chinese. "They are not fooling around . . . they are engaged in analyzing their study."

 Follow Heather Singmaster and Asia Society on Twitter.

Image courtesy: iStock.

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