Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Monday, October 7, 2013

What is Active Learning?

When a student is actively engaged in your lesson, he or she pays atten- tion. That may sound simple, but it isn’t. Some students look at the teacher, but their minds are actually a million miles away. Paying attention means that students are actually focusing on what is going on in the classroom. It’s important to craft lessons that require students to pay attention to the task at hand. In every lesson or activity, you should provide an opportunity for students to do something. Ask them to create an example, build a model, draw a picture, write notes, or stand up and demonstrate what they have learned.

Concentrated Effort
Students are more likely to be engaged when the lesson isn’t too easy, when it requires some effort on their part. I’m skilled at multitasking, and in today’s society, we wear that as a badge of honor. But when I’m working on something important or learning something new, I focus completely on that one thing. In order to involve students, craft activities that demand they concentrate solely on the task at hand and put forth effort.

When students are actively involved in a lesson, their brains are spinning. They are thinking about what has just happened, how it connects to something they already know, and how they might use the information later. In each lesson, how do you give students opportunities to think?

As I said earlier, involvement is the foundation of active learning. Sometimes, involvement can be physical—such as, when a student builds a model of a roller coaster to demonstrate
the principles of physics. But involvement is also mental, taking place when students make the connections I just described. It’s difficult to gauge when a student is actually involved, so don’t jump to conclusions. A teacher in one of my workshops spoke to me at a break. She said, “I don’t want you to think I’m not paying attention. I know you probably saw me drawing, but I’m an art teacher, and the best way for me to process is through pictures. So I’ve been drawing out visuals of all your ideas.” Watch your students, talk to them, and be open to different ways of being involved.

One way to ensure active involvement is to vary the activities in your classroom. Even the best, most interested students can become bored. For example, Jason Womack, a former middle and high school teacher in Ojai, California, designs his 50-minute class blocks to include a variety of activi- ties. He organizes his instruction around a theme for the day and always lists 5 to 12 activities on the board. He wants his students to see, hear, and touch something at least twice every day. In a typical day, Jason’s students will “see something, hear about it, and produce something based on what they heard (e.g., draw, write, make a video, or create a puppet show). My goal is to give them information and let them internalize and give it back; not just force-feed info and make them regurgitate it. I want to give them an opportunity to internalize and express [their learning].”

The final component to active involvement is engagement. Are your students actually engaged in the activity?  

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