Four Reasons to Flip Your Foreign-Language Classroom

--Originally published at Flipped Learning in My Beginning German Courses

Recently I was asked why anyone should flip their foreign language classroom. What a great question! There are many positive outcomes (less arduously graded homework landing unread in a waste basket! more dynamic assessments! enthusiastic learners clamoring for more discussion! students wanting to major in your language!), but these four are the most significant to me.
 
1. MORE SUPPORT FOR UNDERPREPARED STUDENTS!
The most immediate benefit of flipping delivery and application of content lies in the guidance we as instructors can provide to un- or underprepared learners as they try to apply the content in class. When they do traditional homework, no one is there to point out an error on the first exercise so that all subsequent work may contain the same error, potentially fossilizing the inappropriate structure in the student’s mind. Correcting traditional homework in class only catches a few of these errors, but even then, students with limited comprehension often cannot abstract a specific correction to their own work.
 
Working through an exercise in class, on the other hand, provides the instructor with instant insights into individual students’ challenges before these turn into full-fledged problems. In addition, a well-staffed group can support struggling team members even before the instructor may intervene. That is why, at the beginning of a semester, I assess my new learners’ abilities and then create Familien in which strong students help their peers.
Inverting the conventional order of content delivery and content application also provides the student with a more stress-free environment in which to learn. In my courses, we call “mit der Sprache spielen” [playing with the language] because that is what we do. My learners create with the building blocks they gradually acquire through a chapter, from simple structures to truly impressive ones in the end. As they are practicing how to “stack their blocks” while I am in the classroom with them, I can assess them in a more up-to-date formative manner because I witness each student’s progress through the material and am able to intervene if their tower of blocks should tumble.
 
2. MORE SPEAKING!
There isn't a foreign language teacher in the world who doesn't aim for more communication in the target language in his or her classroom. We all want to have our students speak more, but often there is so much housekeeping to take care of! Going over homework, explaining grammar (sometimes even of the native language because you cannot teach relative clauses if students don't recognize them in their mother tongue), introducing vocabulary, providing realia (real-life objects such as authentic news clips, cartoons, magazines, toys, food, train tickets, menus, money, etc.), quizzing, and testing.
 
What if you moved all the informational items out of the classroom, introduced them in the individual learning space, and only did the hands-on activities in your classroom? Now you have lots of time for active learning in the target language, using games, group projects and the realia that so fascinate our students. My learners are usually so engrossed in exploring the German culture that they don't even notice that they are using the German language and its grammar in the process.
 
3. MORE CULTURE!
Our textbooks tend to introduce culture as mere backdrop to grammar and vocabulary. Thus, the concept of staying healthy and fit in Germany might play a subordinate role to, say, reflexive pronouns and subordinate clauses. There might be a cultural capsule or two about Germany having universal healthcare or the Versichertenkarte [insurance identification card] shown at the physician's office. But this is only a smattering of culture and doesn't entice the students to hone their analytical thinking skills. 
Here is how I approach the chapter on health and fitness. Over the span of eight class sessions, my students prepare at home by watching brief videos of people calling their physicians’ offices for an appointment, checking in with the receptionist, being examined, and picking up their prescriptions at the pharmacy. On their worksheets (one each per class session, comprising all at-home preparation and in-class team work), they soak up the vocabulary they encounter in these authentic video situations by filling in blanks, choosing the best possible answers in a scenario, determining whether an utterance is culturally suitable in given situations, and reading dialogs together. At the end of the chapter, my learners write their own dialogues, which lets them delve deeper into the German culture by simulating their participation in it. Grammatical structures and vocabulary are acquired as a secondary skill, and do not constitute the focus of the chapter.
Finally, I summatively assess mastery of the content through group-produced videos in which learners role-play four separate scenes:
1.     conversation with a sick roommate and calling a doctor’s office for an appointment or the physician’s Sprechstunden [calling hours for immediate care]
2.     check-in with the receptionist, using a (homemade) Versichertenkarteand waiting to be called
3.     examination and asking for a Krankmeldung[medical certification of inability to work]
4.     filling a Rezept [prescription] at the Apotheke [pharmacy]
Here is a brief clip from a student video (check-in at the doctor’s office):

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