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I'm a passionate teacher. Flipped learning enthusiast hoping to become an expert. Mother of two.

Carolina R. Buitrago

Pillar 2: Flexible environment

3 min read

Offering students a flexible environment to learn is one of the most challenging ideas presented in the flipped learning strategy since that decision does not depend entirely on teachers but on many other stakeholders. Even though I know that when teachers close the door of their classrooms they tend to do whatever they want, we can’t ignore the fact that institutions have policies and expect teachers to observe certain rules and appropriate behaviors. Another reason for saying that offering a flexible environment is challenging is teachers’ ego. This new way of teaching removes the “sage on the stage” and some teachers became teachers in the first place because of their love for the spotlight! I think when flipping learning one has to unlearn many behaviors either learned or acquired through the years and open one’s mind to all kinds of new learning.

In my case, I have tried to open the floor to active learning in my graduate classes. Students who come to study only on a Saturday actually expect the lecture mode and the “expert” view on things. They come to us being a little insecure and full of expectations to become better professionals. Unfortunately, some of them expect to get there just listening to the experts, that means us! J I try to make them “think outside of the box” and offer them opportunities that take them out of their comfort zone. At the beginning of my course, many students report feeling overwhelmed and a bit disappointed because “my class is not what they expected”. Nonetheless, by the end of the course, they thank me for helping them discover their potential! That feels pretty awesome, I have to admit!

I have tried to offer students opportunities to problem-solve, to simulate difficult teaching situations, to study teacher’s cases, and to work with their hands in class. But, for that to happen I have had to step away and record my lectures. I have found that this new setting is much more enjoyable for everyone and makes us all happier every time we see each other (which is like 4 times at a semester).  Therefore, I would say I do do the first indicator: “I give students opportunities to engage in meaningful activities without the teacher being central”. I have to admit that I have had a hard time stepping away because I love to be on the spotlight. [Guilty, your honor!] But, I have found that it is so much better for my students and that I get much more recognition for helping them discover things that I would just by giving everything to them.

On the other hand, I still struggle a bit with the second indicator: “I scaffold these activities and make them accessible to all students through differentiation and feedback”. I’m still looking for ways to better differentiate learning for my students. I have started offering much more thorough feedback, though. I have been working with screencasts for giving feedback on their papers and learning objects and it has been really fruitful for everybody. Students love to hear me talk about their papers and give them comments on specific parts of them. I use Camtasia and Screencast-o-matic for doing my feedback screencasts and it has only gotten positive results for me.

Anyway, everything we do to offer a more flexible environment to our students comes with a price. It is time consuming but every second of it is worth the while!


Carolina R. Buitrago

Pillar 3: Intentional Content

3 min read

In my opinion, intentional content is one of the most interesting pillars in FL. I guess all teachers want to provide our students with intentional content, not with a bunch of useless facts.

However, set curriculum in most institutions and the "this-is-how-we-do-it" model some administrators preach have taken away the magic of teaching for some people.

In language learning, especially,  we have the possiblility to make every single thing we teach intentional. After all, we are teaching students to be themselves in a foreign language. Therefore, everything we share with students can be used in their own life. Unfortunately, sometime bureucracy, the set curricula and other variables have transformed language classes into meaningless moments for repetition.

Students in language classes could (and should) learn about themselves as people, about their community, about their profession, but most of the times, the use of a textbook and the set standards to achieve have taken all the fun out of teaching/learning.

In my context, an EFL one, it is crucial to use every class minute wisely, since class is the only contact students may have with the foreign language in a day. However, when students come to class to "stay busy" and when no connection whatsoever is found between the content and they, as people, I can only understand their lack of engagement and attention and their laid-back attitude towards the lesson. Students are tired of "studying" the language, they want to finally start learning it. I think that's how FL earns its place in the language classroom!

Fortunately, this is not my case! Even though the class I teach in the MA program I work for is set and has been taught many times, it evolves. I know it might sound a bit contradictory, but considering the class observes the use of technology and its implications in language teaching and learning, it can't be static. In that sense, I have plenty of room for exploration, design and decision-making. This possibility to innovate has led to my flipped graduate class.

However, not all teachers are this lucky. My students, for example, are educators in the public sector and have to face the worst possible conditions for teaching, not allowing them to offer the best conditions for learning to their students either. Some of them have as little as 2 hours of class a week, and rarely those 2 hours are used for English instruction. My students report they are usually asked to "give out their class hours for other activities" like meetings, or school cleansing or whatever. It is really discouraging for them.

Also, in the public education setting, students don't see much use for English in their real lives. They have challenging socio-economic situations, forcing kids to start in the workforce very early in their lives, some do it right after they finish high-school, others not even get to finish that. Therefore, English to them seems more a luxury than a need. For that reason, they don't invest much time and energy trying to really learn the language. Considering that, intentional content delivered through videos is a flipped learning environment could be a game-changer for these students and teachers.

In sum, the third pillar of FL is very important for me in providing the best experience of learning to students and in showing them the importance of English as a foreign language. I think we should always provide intentional content, flipping or not.