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Frank Stonehouse (ITESM, Morelia)

Unit-1 Flexible Learning Environments (Pillar 1 of FLIP)

5 min read

Hi everyone .... This week we have been tasked with the exploring the 1st pillar of a flipped classroom: Flexible Learning Environments

Here is the text of the first pillar as outlined in Kari Arfstrom´s blog post about the 4 pillars:

"Flipped Learning allows for a variety of learning modes; educators often physically rearrange their learning spaces to accommodate a lesson or unit, to support either group work or independent study. They create flexible spaces in which students choose when and where they learn. Furthermore, educators who flip their classes are flexible in their expectations of student timelines for learning and in their assessments of student learning."

"Consider your current status on thoughts on the following three statements:

  • I establish spaces and time frames that permit students to interact and reflect on their learning as needed.
  • I continually observe and monitor students to make adjustments as appropriate.
  • I provide students with different ways to learn content and demonstrate mastery."

What I have discovered in my own practice is that when students have multiple assignments coupled with the fact that each student learns in different ways, I need to accommodate that reality by meeting most of my students' needs as possible. How do I approximate doing that?

First of all, I do my best to make sure that all of the assignments that I give are relevant to both the students' lives and the tools/skills that they will need in the future. As an English teacher, at any one time we are looking at writing, reading, listening, and speaking skills and subskills. There is a lot of ground to cover with second language learning and communicating effectively. The good news is that language crosscuts every other discipline and social realm. Without language, there is no communication of thought, ideas, needs, desires, etc. Perfecting language is important. So, it deserves critical attention to detail and process.

Once I get my learners going on a variety of tasks which usually include detailed instructions and steps in our learning mangagment system (Blackboard completemented with other embedded Web tools) and then introduced or presented during classtime, I then set aside a few days during each partial period to set up physical zones or spaces that I call "Multi-Modality Rotation Class" so that students can work either independently or in pairs/small groups on those skills that need development. This gives students a chance to work on areas that they feel need further attention. Below is a schematic that I displayat the start of any multi-modality class so that students can find their way to the appropriate zone of choice. And, they have the flexibility to move or rotate between zones as needed throught the class time.


As teacher, I play the role of facilitator and moderator as needed. I try not to interfere as peers work together or independently. I make it clear that I am available as a resourse as needed. This places the responsibility for learning more onto the students while creating a safety net if needed. I move between the zones and listen in to help students get unstuck if required.

If students need more development and practice with research and writing skills, they go to that zone initially. If they need practice with presentation/speaking skills, they go to that zone. If they need to work independently (grammar review, exam prep, weekly discussion board reflection, etc.), they can do so. Or they can choose to work in pairs in those same zones. Often, there is just one sticking point that they might have, then they rotate quickly to the next priority zone: they get to choose.

What this accomplishes is that within a very short space of time, students are able to catch-up and fill in the gaps in a variety of areas, skills, and assignments where they need help most. I generally try not to burn up an entire class focusing on one isolated skill or subskill that possibly some students have already mastered or is not currently relevant to their needs. Multi-modality classes, being that they are more flexible learning environments, effectively reach more students. I can't do this every day, but I do do it a few times every partial to minimize the learning gaps that are persisting with students.

I still feel that I am not quite there yet in flipping and creating flexible learning environments; it's an ongoing formulative process. I have a lot of adjusting and learning to get there. What I think is important for any teacher is to get started by taking little steps. Those little steps over time open the door for more and bigger steps. As teachers, we are learning along with our students. And that is the way that it should be.

Below, you can also find a Google Hangout on Air with Ken Bauer and me covering some aspects of this topic. Please post comments or questions as you like.