Flipped Classrooms: Reading to Enjoy Yourself and to Learn Better English!


In my last article, 'Context Makes Reading More Interesting and Lessons More Interactive', (linkedin, 11th Jan, 2017), I mentioned 'flipped classrooms'. Since then, I've had quite a number of queries about this method of learning.

In that article, I used a short story by a little-known Afro-American author, Charles Chesnutt, 'The Sheriff's Children', to illustrate learning activities. (You can find this on the site www.readlistenlearn.net in upper-intermediate fiction.) However, in this more detailed account of flipped classrooms, I refer to the following articles and story, which were the subject of a live chat at 1300 GMT on 24th January on the Readlistenlearn Facebook page:

'The Body Snatchers' by Robert Louis Stevenson

an article called 'The History of Anaesthesia'

and another called 'The History of Anatomy'

At first sight, the articles may not look very appealing to students but the history behind them has enough blood and superstition to appeal to the most bloodthirsty tastes, at the same time as giving a real insight into the history of medicine in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. But how can we get students to appreciate this?

Rembrandt's picture of an anatomy lesson in which a famous surgeon in Holland dissects a corpse can help students on their way. Who was the dead man? Why was his body used for this public demonstration? Do we feel more sympathetic to the doctors or to the corpse? Why are all the medical men dressed so smartly? Why aren't they all looking at the body but some are gazing off into the audience? Why is the dissected hand so much bigger than the one left untouched? I'm sure you can think of many more.

Students can find the answers to some of these questions on any Google search. Others they will have to think about for themselves and come up with opinions. A nice mix of fact - the corpse was that of a thief, Aris Kindt, who had been hanged only an hour or so before the dissection - and conjecture - are the doctors all well-dressed because this was more entertainment (or personal aggrandisement?) - than it was scientific discovery?

But whatever students come up with, it should stimulate a wealth of language, much of which is available in the reading text, that they can use in their presentation to their teacher and fellow students.

Of course, many teachers are still doubtful about group presentations - even group work - because they say that the most assiduous students do all the work while the idle ones ignore their responsibilities to their partners. How can one grade a group, knowing that Ahmad has done most of the work? Of course, this ignores the fact that we all do some things better than others: some of us are great timekeepers, others are talkative or shy, a few of us like taking notes, most of us don't, and so on. Getting students to come up with an equitable division of labour not only means that they use language in real situations but they also practise the sorts of skills they are going to need when they need to cooperate in teams in the workplace. As to grading, if the weakest member of the group is charged with doing the presentation, it is likely that other more able members are going to do their best to teach her because the grade she gets will be shared by all.

But how does all this relate to grave robbers? The article on the History of Anatomy makes that explicit with references to the mass-murdering partners in crime, Burke and Hare.

But did you know one of these serial killers was released and the other hanged, his skin later used to make leather goods for display and sale? Which one got off and why? How many people did they kill? Was this practice widespread?

Stevenson's story provides some of the answers.... a great way for students to explore the links between reality and fiction. And, by the end of the lesson - one taught entirely by students, by the way - the teacher might not have said more than a few words. That would make a change for a lesson based on reading!

This blog post is taken from Mark Bartholomew's recently published LinkedIn Pulse article - which you can read here

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