Flipping EFL at Universidad de La Sabana in Colombia
Our experience flipping EFL at Universidad de La Sabana in Colombia
Carolina R. Buitrago and Juliana Díaz
Last year, a friend asked me for help with her lesson plan. She wanted to include technology in her class project and to make her class more dynamic. I suggested some web tools including Kahoot!, which I had found to collect immediate responses from students in a dynamic way. She started implementing those tools in her planner and her classes, and before we realized it, we had been appointed to flip her Level 6 English Course. Here is our story!
My friend, Juliana Díaz and I work at the Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures at Universidad de La Sabana in Chia, Colombia. At the time Juliana and I started working together, I had already flipped my graduate classroom (that’s another blog post). We began reading and talking about flipped learning and after convincing some people, we were authorized to run a pilot in one of the English program vacation courses. The course we used for our pilot was a 45-hour intensive level 6 in our program, which is an equivalent to a B1.1 according to the Common European Framework standards. We had 4 hour and 30 minutes of class every day for 3 weeks and we worked with 32 students in total.
To be able to run the pilot, we needed to respect the course’s nature and structure. However, we were approved to make the necessary changes in the class to make it fit our flipped model. After a lot of thinking, we decided the most logical sections of the syllabus to flip were Writing and Grammar. After analyzing students’ results from previous semesters, we realized their scores in writing were really poor because they didn’t have much time with their texts and were graded more on their products than on the process of writing. In addition, we flipped two writing workshops in order to introduce and review the rhetorical structure of a compare and contrast essay. Thus, we decided to devote more class time to the writing process and less class time to grammar explanations. Students watched some grammar videos at home, then, in class, we used Kahoot! to test what they’d learned and we worked on writing and feedback. This simple change to the course planner made a huge difference in students’ results in writing by the end of the vacation course, but it also taught us some lessons for future implementations.
Students’ writing improved dramatically during the pilot. We carried out a diagnostic writing exercise and identified students’ major flaws were in punctuation, word choice, overall structure and clarity. Therefore, we tweaked the writing workshops Juliana had already prepared for the course so they met students’ needs for instruction. The writing workshops were a blend between paper and video and were uploaded on VirtualSabana (the Moodle platform we use as an LMS for all courses at Unisabana) for students to download and work on before class. Most students usually came prepared for the writing lesson, but some had to rush to make copies and bring the workshop to class. Little by little we got more students to be prepared for the lesson, although this was not an easy task to accomplish. By the end of the semester, and five writing workshops, students had learned how to write a compare-contrast essay. We evidenced their improvement in writing by comparing their initial diagnostic writing exercise and the final exam.
Even though students’ writing improved and they reported being satisfied with the way writing had been approached in the vacation course, we also learned they did not like the grammar videos we provided them with. We carried out an end-of-course survey and we learned that students thought the videos we used were too long, impersonal and that some work in class with the grammar structures was missing. Let me go back and explain what we did. We thought curating videos was much easier than creating them (our bad), so, we chose some videos explaining grammar on YouTube, we also created a quiz for every video using Kahoot! or ProProfs. However, we did not go back to the videos in class, nor asked students whether they had questions about what they had seen. Later, we learned checking for understanding was a crucial to do if we wanted the flip to be successful. Unfortunately, we discovered this a bit too late for the particular students in our pilot to benefit from our learning.
Since the pilot, we have been adjusting our lesson plans to enhance the grammar part of our flip and to strengthen the writing portion of it. We have realized the importance of establishing a clear connection between what happens at home and what happens in the class. Students should have a large portion of independent work assigned as part of the program policies, so what we are doing is trying to find the best possible way to make what they do at home absolutely necessary for what they will perform in class. We will also be working on creating our own grammar videos with the help of other teachers and an in-house expert on video making from the Audiovisuals Department at our University. We have even thought of flipping reading as well and see how it works with the three different skills being worked on at the same time.
We stumbled upon flipped learning as a way to engage our students further in their learning process and to make the class more dynamic. What we didn’t know was that once you flip you can never go back. We would never see ourselves teaching a class in the traditional way again. On the contrary, every day we think of possible innovations to make to our classrooms and to our teaching in order to achieve higher rates of student learning.
Juliana Díaz has been an EFL teacher for 8 years. She holds a B.A. in ELT from Universidad Industrial de Santander, an ICELT (In-Service Certificate in English Laguage Teaching) from Cambridge University and a Master’s degree in English Language Teaching- Autonomous Learning Environments from La Sabana University. She currently works as a Mentor from a level and Teacher-researcher in the Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures at La Sabana university.