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Flip That Grammar!

An experienced teacher should be able to know their strengths and weaknesses.  Although I don't enjoy teaching grammar, I'm not bad at it.  However, I know that enjoying teaching a subject can make you a more effective teacher because your enthusiasm can positively affect students' engagement.

I've been effective at teaching verb tenses this term, but then I noticed that the curriculum called for about an hour of class time to review articles.  I have never had great success teaching articles, perhaps because there's no instant reward to this.  It takes students a long time to master articles (if you don't believe in fossilization), and the more time spent on explaining articles and their usage, the less effective I become as a teacher.  Because students have already learned articles in a previous class, I found no risk of flipping this one class and do some informal action research.

Before Watching the Videos

After wrapping up the previous unit, I told the class the next section was on articles and that it was a very short section. I asked them how much they already knew about articles.  Most of the class correctly identified them as "a, an, & the."  Then I asked them the rules associated with all three articles, and they made satisfactory attempts at telling me the basic rules for each.  Because I was mostly satisfied, I asked them if they were ready for a quiz on articles.  Even if they were, they all said no.

This class occurred at the end of the week, so I gave them four videos on articles to watch.  The one above by EnglishLessons4U - Learn English with Ronnie! plus three more as shown below.


I told them to watch all four videos to prepare for Monday's quiz on articles, but I also told them to answer the following questions while watching the videos. 
  1. Which video was the most helpful and why?
  2. Which one was the most interesting and why?
  3. How much did these videos help you understand articles?
  4. What is one thing that you will remember most from these videos? 
We would also discuss these questions in class.

After Watching the Videos

Students' Reactions

On Monday, we started the class discussing their thoughts on the four videos.  The class unanimously thought the first video was the most helpful, and that is why I put Ronnie's video at the top of this blog post.  One of my students said that he watched many of her videos in his home country before coming to the United States.  He chose her videos because he considered her a good teacher.  Other students said that Ronnie's teaching was the easiest to understand.

As for the most interesting video, the class was split among the first two and the last video. One student thought Jennifer's video (the 4th) was the most interesting because she used real examples from her living room.

What surprised me even more was that the class reported that these videos helped them a lot to understand articles.  I was expecting some students to say a little, but the class was unanimous again. When I heard this, it made me consider flipping grammar lessons more often.

Lastly, when I asked what they remembered the most from these videos, I was surprised that their answers were specific to grammar rules.  One student remembered that "the" is used for a noun mentioned previously.  Other students remembered rules for quantifiers, which happened to be the next lesson anyway.

Students' Performance

On the quiz that immediately followed the discussion, 40% of the class did very well, 20% did well, and 40% did not do well.  Although this result was a little disappointing, this fit the pattern for the class as a whole for many of the non-flipped units.  So one interpretation is that flipping is no better or worse than teaching traditionally.  However, the class as a whole did remarkably better with articles on a quiz that came later and in a section of the final exam.  Even though 40% did not do well immediately, the entire class performed well on articles for the final exam.  So one interpretation is that flipping may have helped with their long-term memory, but there are so many other variables that would contribute to this.  Like I said, this was a very informal study, but it encourages me to conduct a better controlled study in the future.

My Reaction

I did not expect my students to appreciate these videos as much as they did. After reading about the negative consequences of flipped learning, I thought some students may think I was shirking my duties as a teacher.  This was not the case.  Students asked a few questions about articles on Monday, which I gladly answered.  And they said they enjoyed learning about specific grammar rules like this.

I have a colleague who flipped his grammar classroom more thoroughly last term, and he also reported positive results in both students' performance and feedback. However, I believe we are in the minority who feel comfortable using online videos to assist in grammar instruction.  Many teachers feel threatened that they may replace us, but I see these videos the same way I see grammar textbooks.  They are both tools that the learners and instructors can use.  The instructor is still very useful in personalizing and adapting the content towards the students needs.

Finally, I'd like to thank, Learn English with Let's Talk, and English with Jennifer for providing these videos for free to English language learners all over the world. I am a huge advocate of open education resources such as these, and I hope we can find sustainable ways to keep high quality videos like these accessible to everyone.

Your Reaction

Do you see these freely available grammar lessons as a tool or a threat?  Do you trust that these online videos are of the same or higher quality than your own instruction?  If you are really threatened by these videos or by your students using this videos, am I right to assume that one of your passions is explaining grammar and giving examples of grammar in context?


Mura Nava said…
hi thanks for the vids

as a teacher i tried ot get my head round article use here

you may find it of use or may not : )

there is also a link to a resource your students may like at the end of that post
Thanks, Mura Nava. I will check it out!

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