Equal Access to Academic Language and Classroom Content through Flipped Learning

Giving students the opportunity to access classroom content in multiple ways is an essential practice of an effective educator; learning content specific academic language can be difficult for both advanced English language speakers and English speakers that are still acquiring fluency, the effective educator will give students multiple opportunities to learn the same content in different ways so that students of different backgrounds can be served equally.

In theatre arts, learning the academic language associated with blocking (the physical movement on the stage that is comprised of entrances, exits, and moving about the stage) can be difficult to master. In my classroom, students are given multiple opportunities to interact with, process, and perform their understanding of the content. This can be especially effective for students that are English Language Learners, struggling readers, or struggling writers.

A primary strategy to instruction of blocking is through a flipped classroom model. First, blocking can be difficult to understand because it is comprised of a coded language that makes the process simpler if the user understands the code. Consequently, I put together a set of instructional videos that mirrored instructional lessons so that the students can take the time to comprehend the information at a pace that works for them. These videos both teach the code of blocking, the reasons for the codes, and how the student can use the blocking.

Further videos allow the students to document the blocking that will be used in the production. These videos have both auditory instructions and the blocking written out for students to copy down; most importantly, students can pause and rewind the video at any point so that they can catch all the information that they need. Students get to both see the code and listen to the fully spoken explanation of the blocking. Any questions that students have are answered in class.

The second strategy, now that students have a written record of the required blocking for the production is to process that information through performance and rehearsal. Students demonstrate their knowledge by actually doing the blocking on stage. This critical step takes the information away from the abstract representation and transforms it into a physical practice that anyone, regardless or reading or writing level, can perform.

Lastly, students explain in their own words why their character is completing the movement in the blocking. Allowing the student to personalize the information, this step makes the information memorable. Because, blocking is more than the set of codes that represent locations on the stage; blocking is the physical expression of the actor.

These multiple modalities represent three best practices in teaching content area language. Students get to learn through multiple forms of the text (recorded audio, recorded video, in person class time) at an understandable rate; students get to perform and demonstrate their understanding of the academic language; students get to personalize the information to finalize the memorization process and relevance.

This was the first year that I presented theatrical blocking through a flipped classroom. The approach is unconventional. Some of my more experienced theatre students resisted the concept. They wanted to quick coded language (ex. Bob X DSL, R O Sam, EX USR instead of Bob crosses down stage left to the right of Sam and then exits up stage right) that they could pick up on the spot. However, students that took more time to learn this content (my sixth grade class for the most part) really enjoyed the process of learning blocking through the flipped classroom because it gave them time to both understand the blocking and process their understanding in class.

The implications for student learning are significant. Presenting the blocking and academic language associated with it through an online format allows students to go back to the information at any time that they choose. I had many students comment that they enjoyed being able to reference both the primary instructional video and the actual blocking videos.

Further iterations of this project may include multiple videos of the blocking. One video would be the quick coded message version, so that more experienced students could sort through the content quickly and a second version for students that needed a more thorough explanation. This would address the concerns that my more advanced students had with the approach while maintaining the online resource for my students.

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