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Arkansas State University

Can a Flipped Classroom Improve Reading?

Classroom teachers at all levels report students’ increasing dependence on technology, serious involvement with social networks and fascination with data speed. Students will search for a “how-to” YouTube video without bothering to read the directions included in the box. They send short messages on smart-phones and avoid voice-to-voice interactions.

In response to the growing intersection of education and technology, some teachers have adopted the “flipped classroom” model. In the original flipped classroom setting, as imagined by pioneers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, students view recorded lectures at home and then use class time to work on activities and labs, collaborate on projects, complete assignments and take tests. Teachers have adopted different versions of this model, so now when they are teaching reading, flipped classrooms look slightly different than the original model.

Flipping the Elementary Reading Classroom

Teaching reading at the elementary level concentrates on building fluency. When children enter the formal educational system, teachers introduce them to reading fundamentals. They practice letter sounds and read-alouds to reinforce a left-to-right textual sequence. Primary teachers work with students to strengthen phonemic awareness and sight word recognition. Little by little, students learn to read on their own or with diminishing support. Even at the intermediate levels, many students are still learning to decode and use context clues to comprehend.

Because mastering the foundational reading skills requires a great deal of teacher-directed instruction and support, the flipped reading class may seem inappropriate at the elementary level. However, using technology in the classroom can support an element of reading instruction that is critical to comprehension: background or prior knowledge. Students do not necessarily need to experience a variety of events, situations or settings to fluently decode text. However, students without basic background knowledge will find it difficult to make sense of what they are reading if the subject matter is unfamiliar.

The flipped learning concept provides opportunities for students to gain this prior knowledge before reading the materials. Students in this setting watch informational videos about a given subject. If the material is completely new to them, they can re-watch all or parts of the video, building a foundation of background knowledge. New vocabulary words and concepts are less threatening when students can make connections to something they have already seen or heard.

In addition, video presentations about obscure or foreign subject matter may pique the interest of students who may not otherwise engage classroom material. As teachers compete with the fast-paced worlds of YouTube and texting, using technology in the classroom provides a new “hook” that will rekindle student interest and curiosity.

Flipping the Middle- and High-School Language Arts Classroom

Flipping science and math classes in the upper grade levels frees up classroom time to work in collaborative groups, make use of school technology and apply knowledge in exercises and experiments. The language arts classrooms can work essentially the same way. And there are other elements of a flipped classroom that make teaching reading more engaging for students who live in a media-driven and connected society.

Viewing compelling video in advance of a book study works in the upper grades the same way as it does in the elementary setting. Even students with easy access to the internet and world news may not be familiar with the setting of a story or its historic significance. High quality video can bridge that gap. After students have previewed a video and read the text itself, whole class and small group discussion have better chances to flourish.

Another advantage to teaching reading in a flipped classroom is it can enhance students’ written responses to texts. First, students watch a visual media presentation on which to scaffold information from the text. Then, as they write about what they have read, the prior knowledge provides information that may go beyond what they learn in their required reading. In addition, the information in a video offers more than simply the teacher’s perspective. When videos provide alternative viewpoints, students learn how to manage different views. Seeing other perspectives can help them form opinions and make unique connections.

Another way to flip the language arts classroom is to have students do a substantial amount of reading in class. Students select their own books, follow minimal teacher guidelines, and read each day. They take notes on what they read in any way they choose. Then, using creative blogging or other online programs, they create online responses to the texts. The opportunity to read what they want and respond to their reading in a contemporary manner helps students engage in the text. Their writing is authentic and natural. In this flipped classroom, the teacher can teach reading in a more individualized way, assisting students as they navigate difficult texts, helping them select appropriate materials and encouraging them to stick with it.

Some Things Change and Some Stay the Same

The education landscape is changing. Already, computer labs are obsolete in many schools; classrooms rely on tablets instead. Teachers correspond with students about homework and behavior using an intranet-based messaging system. Being technologically literate is not a benefit; it is an expectation.

However, books are still important classroom tools, both fiction and non-fiction. While students receive a significant amount of information through phones and tablets, the importance of strong reading skills cannot be overstated. Students at the primary level must still learn the basics: how letters make words and words make language. Students at the upper levels still use those skills to read and gather information, and they use conventional writing skills to demonstrate understanding. Teaching reading will continue to be a major part of the educational process. The differences will be in how technology in the classroom impacts the way we teach reading.

Learn  about the A-State online MSE in Reading program.


Flip Learning: What Is Flipped Learning?

EDUCAUSE: 7 Things You Should Know About Flipped Classrooms

ASCD: Chapter3. Why You Should Flip Your Classroom

Edutopia: Start a Reading Revolution: Flip Your Class With Blogs

Edutopia: The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Con

Reading Rockets: How We Neglect Knowledge and Why

Florida Center for Reading Research: Teaching All Students to Read in Elementary School

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