Flippin’ (the Ess) Ay!

Matt Fron

Matt Fron

This project grew out of two questions I have been wrestling with:

  • How can I personalize students' learning?
  • What can replace the literature essay for an authentic assessment?

Enter Flipped Learning. Though initially sceptical, through COETAIL I learned more about flipped learning and what it can offer. It isn’t just a tool for lecture-based lessons like math or history: it’s a way to tailor resources for students.


While I have some objections with using the traditional definition of flipped learning in English classes, I have realized that a slight shift in definition helps to makes flipping useful in English courses.

My research led me to understand that successful flipped learning has these attributes:

  • It helps students learn. Period.
  • It is from their actual teacher, not a link to another teacher’s explanation.
  • The teacher’s voice comes through.
  • It isn’t perfect—teachers make mistakes when presenting, so some mistakes are okay (perhaps even desired?).
  • It recreates the classroom environment (in this case, the teacher standing in front of a board explaining concepts and modelling skills).
  • It is short.
  • It frees up time in class to work one-on-one with students

Using a panel of former students, I polled them about what sort of questions they had during our poetry unit and synthesized the information into a few groups:

  • modelling annotation techniques.
  • answers to activities.
  • frequently asked questions about literary devices and understanding poems.

In the end, I created over 60 videos that spanned these categories. I also had students create their own flipped videos to demonstrate their learning. Through these, students were able to navigate their way through learning the key skills necessary for the unit in the order and at the pace that was right for them. It became a personal journey.

Redefining the Assessment: Visual Reading

As an English teacher, I know that the literary essay is the bread-and-butter of the course. But it always seemed fabricated. Honestly, who writes an essay in the professional world these days? Very few of us, and those that do were probably English majors in University.

While looking for a Rage Against the Machine song, I came across a fan-made video. I was stunned: here was the assessment I was looking for! It demonstrated understanding of the content, utilized technological skills, and, crucially, enhanced the viewers understanding of the song.

The students loved it! While I had a core set of poems they could use, over 90% of students chose to find a poem of their own. When I asked those students why they went through the extra work of searching through content to find the right poem, the answers were the same: they each wanted a poem that spoke to them in some way. One whose younger brother died by being hit from a car chose Seamus Heaney’s “Midterm Break” (a poem about the same experience; another student whose mother recently passed away chose the poem “Still I Rise”; a third student who loves Sylvia Plath chose “Mad Girl’s Love Song“.

ALL of them experimented with digital tools by adding pictures, video, and audio. I’ve never seen the class work so hard on a project, but this one was different: they could make it their own, they could follow their passions, and they could share it with the world. That’s what learning should be like.