So what’s the end goal of this series?
To make education interesting and fun for students with improved academic results, while simultaneously improving the working conditions of teachers to make teaching fun and easier.
To start we have to carefully clarify a point of confusion by reviewing a foundational issue: What is ‘active learning’?
Active learning has been a staple of Western education theory and practice for the past 30 years, yet in schools and classrooms where it really counts, I have found that there is considerable confusion in its definition and use.
This confusion leads to administrators pressuring teachers for the wrong things and teachers accepting tasks that just don’t work.
When outcomes and methods are confused and don’t match, results are destined to be disappointing with the students suffering from our own confusion.
There are two distinct perspectives to active learning that are unfortunately generally interwoven, without distinction, in theory and in practice throughout the educational literature and system.
Both perspectives are important and bring value to the classroom. Only one is critical for student success.
The two perspectives of active learning are:
1. Students are personally engaged in and responsible for their own learning. Therefore they are actively learning.
2. Students are presented with an activity-style learning environment. Therefore they are active in the classroom, and hopefully learning occurs.
There is a fundamental difference between the two perspectives.
The first is based in the student’s internal operation no matter what the environment.
The second is based in the environment with the teacher responsible for the actions and learning of the student.
The distinction between motivation and an activity is missed: motivation and internal desire is to be developed or capitalised on; while an activity is to be used.
The problem comes when administrators and teachers believe that creating an active environment will automatically cause students to become actively engaged in their learning.
We have been taught to expect that students will get engaged in learning when presented with activities such as classroom discussions, student debate, and a class game.
It sounds good, but it just doesn’t happen in real classrooms. Activity in the classroom does not mean that students are actively learning. It only means that they are active – sometimes.
In classroom discussions, out of a class of 30, three or four kids generally talk while the other 26 zone out. How much do you enjoy trying to get your unengaged kids to talk?
It becomes a war of wills that effectively causes the majority of students to be less engaged.
Student debate is identified in the literature as a “fun activity”.
Really? My experience shows that very few like it. What happens to the rest of your class when the two debaters debate? Are they bored, zoned out, fidgeting, disruptive?
Class games can energise students. Brain research shows games usually over-stimulate students. Then how much work is it for you to get them to re-focus on the lesson?
Well known expert on classroom activities and author of the book series Activities That Teach, Tom Jackson, said: “Activities without discussion are just games.”
We see that activities create activity rich environments but do not necessarily create active learning.
Motivated and engaged learners are successful regardless of the environment. Activity rich environments always have some failing students.
It is more important to ask: ‘What motivates students to become actively engaged learners?’
Motivation will be the topic for a later article in the Teach By Design series.
I will be happy to address your additional questions concerning the impact of brain-based learning or how to do brain-based teaching. Contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org