WE Lab Classrooms is an opportunity to engage critically with research, trial a new approach in your classroom and reflect on which teaching and learning strategies are the most effective for your learners. Each Lab Classrooms strand is ‘two for one’ – improving both learners’ knowledge and wider skills, such as teamwork and communication.
The ‘flipped learning’ strand brings together different resources, particularly those developed over the last six months, to better prepare learners for lessons. This enables teachers to maximise lesson time and increase student independence in learning. Ceri George, Head of Science at Wilmslow High School, shares her experience of using flipped learning…
Where to start?
The rationale behind flipped learning – the notion of saving time – has always seemed attractive, especially to a slightly frazzled teacher. But I’ve always had my reservations.
Everything I’ve ever read about flipped learning has always seemed just a little bit too vague and, call me narcissistic, but I think my classes do actually benefit from me being there and guiding them through a new scientific concept. Then of course, what about the students who just don’t do it?
If I was going to use flipped learning effectively in my classroom, I knew I needed to make it work for me and my students. I needed to harness the positives (i.e. saving lesson time) while ensuring that the outcomes were measurable (i.e. I could easily tell who hadn’t done it). The flipped learning task also needed to prepare students for my lesson, rather than being a whole lesson in itself.
So, I decided that each flipped learning task would essentially be composed of two parts:
- A video or article to set context, spark interest and possibly build science capital.
- A focused learning task (e.g. learn a list of key words and their definitions, learn a section of a knowledge organiser, learn a labelled diagram, etc.)
Having focused flipped learning tasks would mean that the outcomes were measurable but also that students were prepared for the next stage in their learning, which would reduce cognitive load and allow for deeper learning to take place.
So, for example, if a student starts a lesson on photosynthesis already knowing what chloroplasts, glucose and stomata are, we can then spend more time and memory space focusing on and thinking about the process of photosynthesis itself, all without having to spend time and memory space concerned with what these big words mean. And of course ‘learning’ – with the right support and training – is achievable by all.
Putting it into practice
This thinking prompted me to consider how we would actually need two learning processes to be running in parallel:
The top learning process is directed by the classroom teacher. The bottom learning process needs input and reinforcement from the classroom teacher but will largely need a whole-school, cross-curricular focus in order to be truly effective. For example, we currently have a SMART learning initiative running across all year groups, informing students on how to be better learners.
You will notice that retrieval practice features heavily in both processes shown above. As pointed out by cognitive scientists Henry L. Roediger III and Jeffrey D. Karpicke, “Testing is a powerful means of improving learning, not just assessing it”. Further, due to the success of Kate Jones’s series of books on retrieval practice and even Ofsted referring to “the testing effect” in their recent Research Review Series: Science, retrieval practice is definitely having a (well deserved?) moment.
Based on the research, my feeling is that if we can encourage and train students to make use of retrieval practice techniques at home as part of their flipped learning tasks, this will lead to them becoming better self-regulators in the long-term.
The retrieval task in the top process serves a number of purposes: it will enable me to spot misconceptions, it will reactivate what students have already learnt, and as pointed out by Henry L. Roediger III, Adam L. Putnam and Megan A. Smith, “testing produces better organisation of knowledge” and “improves transfer of knowledge to new contexts”. All of this will ensure that students are ready to apply and develop that knowledge in the deeper learning aspect of the lesson
As pointed out by teacher and co-founder of Michaela Community School, Joe Kirby: “testing interrupts forgetting”, and so this retrieval task will aid retention of the learned information. Finally – and crucially – it will also enable me to identify the students who haven’t completed the learning while still introducing them to the missed learning to some extent.
My retrieval tasks largely involved the use of the interactive presentation tool, Pear Deck. This meant that the task was live, enabled me to see and share responses from across the whole class and give immediate feedback. Pear Deck also has the advantage of allowing students to write longer, richer answers than they could via a whiteboard or using the quizzing apps Quizziz or Kahoot.
Flipped learning impact
I trialled my flipped learning process with two mixed-ability Year 10 classes. One class (the test group) were taught through flipped learning and the other class (the control group) learned the same content but through our standard four-part lesson: Activate, Acquire, Apply, Assess.
When asked to write a longer written answer on terminal velocity, the answers from the test group were richer in terms of content, technical language and the linking of ideas, suggesting a more thorough and deeper understanding of the concept.
In fact the answers written by some mid-ability students in the test group were similar to the answers written by high or very high ability students in the control group.
Both classes also sat an identical assessment which covered the topics studied by the test group via flipped learning. Both classes were given notice of the test and therefore time to revise.
As you can see from the results on the left, the test group performed better at the higher end, with around three times more students attaining 80% or above on the assessment.
At the lower end, the control group performed better, with only one student scoring less than 40% compared to five in the test group. One theory is that these five students didn’t access the flipped learning task and were therefore unable to access the subsequent lesson, which has in turn impacted on their scores.
Even though the test scores provided some (positive) evidence of impact, of course there are limitations to this evidence, largely due to the number of other variables that could have impacted on the scores.
For example, time spent revising and the revision techniques used (when asked how they’d revised, responses ranged from “I didn’t” to “I read through my book” to “I used flashcards” or “knowledge organisers” or “I tested myself”). Perhaps a more reliable set of data might have been attained by only considering the scores of the students who definitely engaged with the flipped learning tasks. Or better still, not giving any warning of the assessment, so we would have assessed their retention of the topics and their score would not have been affected by their style of (or lack of!) revision at all.
The initial evidence suggests that flipped learning has had a positive impact, even in only a very short space of time. Therefore, I’m keen to investigate its use further, on a larger scale and on a longer-term basis.
- Principles of Instruction, Barak Rosenshine (2010)
- Rosenshine’s Principles in Action, Tom Sherrington (2019)
- Retrieval Practice: Reasearch & Resources for Every Classroom, Kate Jones (2019)
- Retrieval Practice 2: Implementing, Embedding & Reflecting, Kate Jones (2021)
- Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way, Katharine Birbalsingh (2016)
- Test-Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-Term Retention, Henry L. Roediger III and Jeffrey D. Karpicke (2006)
- Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice, Henry L. Roediger III, Adam L. Putnam & Megan A. Sumeracki (2011)
- Doug Lemov’s Field Notes: An Annotated Forgetting Curve, Doug Lemov (2021)
- Improving Secondary Science Guidance Report, EEF (2017)
- Strengthening the Student Toolbox, John Dunlosky (2013)
- Research Review Series: Science, Ofsted (2021)