It is widely accepted that mutual interaction and bidirectional feedback between a teacher and students should be emphasized for effective teaching and learning. Nevertheless, albeit decades of pedagogical practices of English in schools around the island, most of the instructions still remain teacher-centered, lecture-based, and textbook-based. Such a unidirectional way of teaching cannot effectively enhance students’ English abilities. In English classes, in addition to the focuses on vocabulary, grammar, and sentence patterns, teachers genuinely hope to empower students with effective and proficient English communication skills. However, as there is not much of a chance for Taiwanese students to practice English in real life, and English teaching has remained decontextualized, it is rather challenging for students to use English as a tool for knowledge building and perspective expression.
Consequently, in order to enhance students' abilities to successfully apply what they have learned to real-life contexts, I have tried integrating “Wonder”, a children's novel, to my curriculum, where students were engaged in collaborative tasks such as discussing issues related to bullying, friendship, and being different. Due to the time limit, the lesson took place once a week (45 minutes for one topic). Prior to the discussion of the novel chapters, the students had pre-instructional material preview. In addition, the students were guided through vocabulary building activities (i.e., explanation of new words) to enhance their sentential comprehension. Game-based “SPOT IT”, in combination with Bingo and word scramble, was also adopted to keep the students motivated in learning.
Due to limited educational resources, I tried to use items readily available in the classroom, such as pens, papers, computer, and printer. As regards the materials for SPOT IT, I made word cards via “Make your own Spot It clone” online. The game included a deck of word cards, each printed with six different words. Any two cards shared one, and only one, same word. The object of the game is for students to be the first to announce the identical word between two given cards (see Figure 1 and 2). The activity was as follows:
With regard to article reading, since the students had had relevant preview, I would either read the paragraphs out or have the students do the reading. Questions related to the given contents were frequently asked. Follow-up questions based on the students’ responses were also included for discussion. This section ended with a review and summary of the contents. Specific techniques were as follows:
To further enhance students’ comprehension of the novel, the students watched the movie at the end of the semester and completed a worksheet. Since the contents of the novel were closely related to students’ daily lives at home and at school, Wonder effectively motivated the students to learn more about English, to actively participate in the learning tasks, and to have an in-depth probe into the contents. The students not only previewed the learning materials, but also searched for relevant information online. The results were better understanding of the novel, effective acquisition of the messages expressed by the author, deeper learning out of constant reflection, brand-new formation of value judgement,and subsequent application in real lives. Despite the success, a few challenges have been encountered. For example, insufficient vocabulary among students impeded the reading process, thus detailed explanation and elaboration are required . Time for group discussion was also inadequate, thus making it hard to cover every section of the novel. It is a real pity that some details of the book were either lightly covered or skipped in class.
In fact, the aforementioned pedagogical practice reflects the essence of flipped learning, since it inverts the typical cycle of content delivery through face-to-face lectures and knowledge application via homework. By moving students from conventional lecture-based instruction where they are often expected to attain new knowledge in the classroom through lectures and put that knowledge into practice at home in the form of homework, students in the flipped course acquire necessary content knowledge prior to class meetings and are then guided by the teacher to engage in meaning clarification and skill application in the classroom (in this case, in-class discussion). As the students have pre-instructional preparedness by previewing the learning materials, the class time is maximized for more enriching learning tasks (such as in-depth group discussion), which contributed to deep learning rather than superficial learning limited to mere vocabulary building and grammar memorization. Hence, flipped learning shifts the teacher-centered, lecture-based instruction to a learner-centered paradigm.
It is, however, important to know that while flipped learning foregrounds the reversal of content acquisition and knowledge application, the core of flipped learning goes beyond the mere reordering of teaching and learning activities. Simply asking the students to preview the learning materials and assigning them in groups does not guarantee the success of English learning. The focus, instead, should be directed to how to engage students actively in the learning process, apply what they have learned to collaborative and authentic tasks, and transfer the newly-learnt skills to real contexts.
Taken together, what I have learned from the instruction and from the students is the importance of mutual interaction and bidirectional feedback between teachers and students. Such a refocus on interaction and feedback is not only beneficial to teachers’ choices of teaching methods to meet students’ needs, but also helpful to strengthen students’ active learning. In the process of pedagogical renovation, in addition to the emphasis on enhancing students’ motivation to learn, what is equally vital is the enhancement of deeper and critical thinking among students as well as interaction between teachers and students. These considerations drive teachers and students further along the teaching/learning path, an impetus to better education.