Sunday, 17 October 2010

Active Learning

I was asked prior to the October Break if I'd take a session on active learning on the returning in-service day. As one of several staff involved, I really didn't want to duplicate what others were doing and I certainly didn't want to make it subject specific (although it's down in the programme as active learning in Geography). I also didn't want to preach; I'm a new member of staff in the school and I'm also aware that I've a lot to learn myself in this sphere. This really got me thinking about active learning. A lot of people I talk to think this means all singing, all dancing lessons. I don't see it that way at all. Others I have discussed this with think it means that lessons are all about fun and this usually leads to some kind of debate about whether teachers are paid to teach or entertain. Again, I think it's not only possible, but necessary for active learning to be difficult, challenging and less than fun at times. I asked through my twitter network how other educators thought the term should be defined and had a significant response which all skirted around the same ideal, but was best expressed by Fearghal Kelly, who simply suggested it meant 'Brains On'.
I've put together a very basic prezi by way of introduction tomorrow for two reasons. First of all, if it's about active learning, I don't see my role as didactic, and would like to get into the active part sooner rather than later. Secondly, I thought this would be more effective than powerpoint. The movement can be quite dizzying, but I think it shows the range of opinions and the reason for either fear or confusion when it comes to staff discussing/using active learning strategies.

The main part of my input will be focused around the random activity generator from John Davitt. It's really easy to think that because students are assessed on content, we need to 'give' them that content - notes, presentations, books etc. I feel that learners will better understand content if they have to process it themselves rather than the teacher providing all of it with, sometimes, little or no deep thought required from the student. I decided to take a silly news story about Charlie the Smoking Chimp and list some assessment criteria based on the content e.g. shows a knowledge of how Charlie developed his smoking habit. As I won't have access to an itouch or iphone tomorrow, I pre-picked some examples of random activities with the help of a colleague and ran them through classtools. Hopefully, the exercise will show that people can easily arrive at the same point in terms of knowledge, while engaging more actively with the resources and the content at hand. I'm sure there will be some people who see this as trivialising learning, but I am a passionate believer that better experiences lead to better competence. One example that I may share are the story telling exercises that some S3 students produced last year- in terms of the examined content, clear and accurate, but also a real deep understanding of the content and its context within their narratives. Please let me know of any good examples you would be willing to share by leaving a comment, or contacting me on twitter at @Kenny73