Teaching a topic to an entire class is challenging. Often, a third already know the information. Another third will be learning it for the first time, while it goes over the heads of the remaining third. The result? A lesson plan that’s been a waste of time for a significant portion of the class. The good news is that despite the ongoing challenge for teachers to accommodate multiple learning styles and capability levels, we have a world of technological resources just waiting to be explored. Don’t worry, technology doesn’t bite! Quite the contrary, actually. It helps to simplify differentiation and makes the goal of personalised learning attainable. This becomes particularly powerful when applied in the context of the Flipped Classroom.
The basic idea of differentiated learning is that different students are given different tasks tailored to their different levels and styles of learning. However, this seems to contradict the desire of every teacher to streamline teaching in order to make it more efficient. Indeed, the thought of supplying a class with 30 different tasks seems ridiculously tedious. And it probably would be, were it not for the technological resources available today. For the first time ever, technology makes differentiation compatible with efficiency.
Traditionally, the teacher lectures in the classroom, and the students go home and revise topics to understand them better. The Flipped Classroom flips this on its head. Instead of attaining a thorough understanding after a lesson, flipped learning requires students to learn the material before coming to class, so that the teacher’s time can be spent exploring the challenging aspects. The information is typically made accessible to the students beforehand via lecture videos. The bottom line is this: individualised time outside of class makes room for greater collaboration during lessons.
By combining these two methods, those goals previously considered out of reach now seem far more realistic. Pragmatically speaking, a Flipped Classroom makes it easier for teachers to apply differentiated learning strategies.
The beauty is that now we are not only flipping the regular classroom, we are flipping the differentiated classroom. This means that students now get to work on their individualised assignments and activities before coming to class. By providing end goals and clear expectations, the students can be given adequate freedom and flexibility to explore and learn. This will build confidence and increase student motivation. The downside of students slacking is mitigated by the fact that most will be inspired by the autonomy and control they now possess over their education.
Another benefit of classroom flipping is that prior knowledge allows students to hold discussions and engage in higher cognitive thinking during lessons. They can share thoughts during peer collaboration in groups based on ability, before returning to their individual learning spaces to build on what they have learned. Not only will this help keep them moving along their learning path, it will also ensure that a number of key skills are developed, from timekeeping to independent study and communication. This is a win-win situation. Done properly, this combined teaching method will not only help students learn individually, but will also provide respite for teachers, who will regain instruction time and once again feel in control of the classroom.
Lecturing about different topics constitutes the bulk of classroom time, but in the Flipped Classroom it’s all done through video. Depending on the teacher’s preference, the students’ needs or the nature of the topic, this can be done in different ways. Whether it’s a voice recording or a more elaborate video, using screen capture tools or special presentation software, teachers can create content that contains all the elements of good teaching. This material can also be kept for future classes. There are many tools and resources available online that help teachers create video content that engages students, setting the scene for powerful classroom learning experiences.
Some students need things explained differently. And since the Flipped Classroom provides students with online videos to watch prior to coming to class, this process can be differentiated according to learning style or ability. Each group can watch a different video, but respond to similar guiding questions during entire or personalised group class discussions.
Online platforms such as EDpuzzle are great tools for video differentiation in the flipped classroom. It allows for the uploading of pre-made videos, and teachers can also embed questions throughout. It also allows the teacher to monitor student activity: who has watched the video, for how long, if they re-watched any particular section, and their answers to the questions. This provides the teacher with useful information on which students have mastered the material, and who needs to revisit it.
While building up a bank of material, teachers can make use of content that is already out there. TED-Ed allows teachers to create customised lessons using TED-ED original lesson videos or any YouTube video, with the addition of quizzes, supporting links and additional content.
There are many different ways to use technology for a successfully differentiated classroom. The best way to find a fit for you and your students is through experimentation. However, what is indisputable is that students have different needs – a fact that has been neglected in favour of efficiency in years gone by. But that was before the advent of EdTech. By taking advantage of technology through flipped classrooms and differentiated learning, we will create learning environments in which students can thrive and excel, and of which teachers can be proud.