A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the concept of flipped learning during a twilight CPL session. The session explored how ‘flipping the learning’ with KS5 was having a positive impact in the classroom and on exam results. In the flipped learning model I was shown, students learned about new concepts through short videos before they attended the lesson, which was then dedicated to applying the new knowledge and embedding it. At a time when the new A level specifications were being introduced and I was unsure about how to effectively deliver lots of new content, the idea seemed like a good one. I even tried it for a month… before giving up on the concept. For me, it didn’t quite fit with the way I prefer to teach A Level, with regular low stakes testing at the start of lessons before I drip-feed new content into concepts that my students had already grasped. I also struggled with the ‘front-ended-ness’ (not a word, I know!) of flipped learning: it requires you to think carefully in advance to provide meaningful materials and I just didn’t understand the new spec well enough to do this effectively. So I gave up on it and shelved it alongside the other things I would like to attempt when I finally get around to them.
Flipped learning came onto my radar again at the tail end of last year when I was reading a series of articles linked to a recent Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) study about improving the progress of KS2 students in Maths through flipped learning. The findings from that study showed that, while some progress was made, it perhaps couldn’t be described as staggering (you can read about it here ). Once again, I thought about- then dismissed- flipped learning until it cropped up again during a discussion at the East Sussex History hub meeting in the new year on intervention and pupil progress. In that discussion, one local school explained how flipped learning was being used to successfully get through large amounts of the new GCSE History content.
It felt like it was time to give flipped learning another go but not as a solution for trying to get through as much content as quickly as possible; I’d tried that a few years before and it didn’t work for me. This time, I wanted to use flipped learning to build the confidence of a fairly weak ability Year 9 GCSE class. As part of the College curriculum model, they have History three times a fortnight in the first year of their GCSE course. This was proving problematic in building a meaningful, chronological narrative of their Anglo Saxon and Norman topic as students would often forget things from one lesson to the next. Consequently, it was taking a long time at the start of every lesson to connect new knowledge to old, let alone move on to developing skills and this was having an impact on students’ progress and overall engagement. Could I use flipped learning to improve the situation?
I began to set short readings and videos as home works that would prepare the students for their next lesson. ‘Short’ was important here as I didn’t want the students to feel so overwhelmed that they would not do it and I always set a small task linked to it so that the students were actively doing something with the information. These questions/ tasks were also used at the start of the lesson, making it an easy way to see whether or not the students had actually prepared in advance. Here’s an example of one such homework:
Alternatively, this homework helped students to recap prior knowledge ready to explore a lesson on the extent to which the Normans changed religion in England after the Conquest.
I found that the start of a lesson was calmer and set a positive tone as even my weaker students were able to correctly answer questions at the start of the lesson: a quick win that boosted confidence. It also meant that I could begin to move students on more rapidly to more complex thinking (making comparisons, exploring the extent to which the Domesday Book was a useful tool to a new king in the 11th Century). An unforeseen bonus was that students who found themselves stuck in lesson could refer back to the homework reading/videos resource for a little extra support.
It wasn’t perfect:
- Some students didn’t always do the homework before the lesson and this did hold them up initially but it was so obvious when they were not able to contribute at the start of the lesson that most changed their habits because they either: a) didn’t wish for detention for not completing homework b) didn’t like to be seen as knowing less than their peers.
- I still had to think well in advance about what lessons I was teaching, and when, and find and set the appropriate resources at the right time, which was an additional thing to consider when planning lessons.
- I had to remember to print out the resources (or provide alternative ones) for the students who did not have access to an iPad/ the internet at home.
The students’ response has been positive though, as proven by the results of a recent Google Form. 91% of students who responded found completing homework this way helped them in lessons and 100% of the responses said that they felt that it made them feel more confident (if only by a little bit for some of them). Students were also positive about the short questions set alongside the reading/ video: 82% found this helpful. Voluntary comments made by my students at the end of the form include:
Admittedly, one student responded that they ‘liked doing homework normally’- guess I can’t win them all!
Next term my class and I will be journeying onto a new topic and I’m going to see if flipped learning works just as well with another period of history. While students generally felt that the reading/ videos were not too difficult, I think that there is also an opportunity to provide an alternative, slightly more challenging reading to push the more able students in that class. For now, I’ve discovered one way in which flipped learning can work for my students and me in the classroom. Let’s see if it lasts…
Emma Smith, History.