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Monday, 7 April 2014

Why I love Active Learning

Active learning is an umbrella term that refers to several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning on learners. Bonwell and Eison (1991) suggested learners work collaboratively, discuss materials while role-playing, debate, engage in case study or take part in cooperative learning.

We learn by doing. Research shows that active learning helps us to recall, enjoy and understand better. Active methods allow  us to ‘make our own meaning’ , that is, develop our own understanding of what we are learning. In my experience this type of learning routinely takes place in Early Years and KS1, throughout KS2 it  happens a lot less and has all but disappeared by KS3.

I recently blogged about pupils experiencing flow or becoming totally absorbed by what they are doing, this, especially for our younger pupils is often achieved during active learning, when they are playing or learning collaboratively.

Play is an essential part of KS1 learning it forms a big part of  Active learning. When children play they use lots of different skills, they  organise themselves into a selection of roles which requires negotiation skills. Once organised they use imaginative play, losing themselves in a shared imaginary world and then they use speaking and listening skills to communicate their ideas.

KS2 pupils are less likely to use imaginary play as part of their learning but this is where collaborative learning is at it's best. Pupils work together using a selection of Kagan structures to learn and discover together, working towards a common goal. Collaborative learning can be in ability or mixed groups but provides a supportive, non threatening way to learn.

KS3 and beyond play disappears and collaboration appears less and less. But Active Learning can be approached in a different way. One technique which supports this is via the Flipped Classroom. Pupils gather the information they need largely outside of class, by reading, watching recorded lectures, or listening to podcasts, when they are in class they solve problems with their teachers or peers, and apply what they learn to new contexts. Teaching by asking is suitable from KS2 onwards. Rather than ‘teaching by telling’, start the topic by asking students a question which leads to what you want to teach. This requires collaboration, research skills and discussion. It is very active, the pupils are leading and are in control of their own learning. Look here for more examples of Active Learning in KS3.

There has been much debate recently about less teacher talk, Active Learning supports this idea. Pupils are discovering the answers for themselves with the teacher acting as facilitator. This it seems is acceptable for older students yet play (Active Learning) is still somehow frowned upon. We, as teachers need to be brave to say that actually play is learning, it is valuable and like the techniques used with the older pupils will lead to deeper more meaningful learning. Read this article for setting the scene effectively for Active Learning in KS1.