Learning Activity

Based on original image by Ben Kolde on Unsplash

 ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.’

Alvin Toffler

Active learning can be thought of as any teaching strategy that involves actively engaging students through discussions, problem solving, case studies, role plays and other methods. Such approaches place a greater degree of responsibility on the learner than passive approaches such as lectures, but teacher guidance is still crucial in the active learning classroom. Active learning activities may range in length from a couple of minutes to whole class sessions or may take place over multiple class sessions.

Most educators are well aware of the list of theorists who have advocated for learning as an active, not passive process – including John Dewey, Lew Vygotsy and Jerome Bruner for example. While such approaches may be recognised for their value and long term impact, the constraints of time, resources and competition for space in the curriculum can mean that the reality in many classrooms falls short of the ideal.

This was particularly evident in the research on student experiences during the COVID lockdowns. There appeared to be a divide in approaches taken, between those educators focused on attending to student wellbeing and maintaining personal relationships throughout, to those who wanted to ensure continuity of learning to ensure coverage of the curriculum – usually associated with meeting requirements for high stakes assessment.

Examples of lessons or units designed specifically around activity were reported less in this research, although there were some useful ideas, including:

  • Using family friendly activities such as following a recipe or playing a board game and providing support material for parents/whānau to identify the opportunities for reinforcing learning in maths, language, science etc in the process.
  • Setting personal or group inquiry challenges with regular check-in sessions for reporting on progress and receiving feedback.
  • Using online tools with interactive quiz features to create quizzes that check for comprehension of important aspects of set readings. An interesting extension to this was having students use these tools to create a quiz based on a set reading they had to assign to other learners/ākonga  in the group.

Designing learning so that it is activity-based is a powerful way of building learner agency and can also be effective as a means of making learning more inclusive.

Whatever activity is introduced, the important thing to consider is that there must be some level of authenticity involved. This may be achieved, for example, by negotiating the topic or activity with the learner, by selecting a theme or topic related to the local context, or by making clear links between the activity and the learning goals that have been negotiated with the learner. In the hybrid environment the use of active learning approaches will also help address some of the issues of learner engagement.

Questions you could use to help identify the practices in your context that ensure learning is an active process for your learners include:

  • Do the learning activities you design for your learners/ākonga  form the central focus of the learning experience?
  • Are the activities authentic to the learners/ākonga  needs and/or context? What makes it so?
  • Do you have a balance between activities for indiviudals as well as those that promote collaboration?
  • Where on the scale from simple to complex[1] are the activites you introduce?
  • How do learning experiences cater for cultural differences?
  • How do they allow access to those with learning challenges to remain included?

[1] See page 22 of Getting Started With Hybrid Learning: A Teacher’s Guide

This post is one of a series of ten being published on this blog that are taken from the document “Codifying Teacher Practice”. This document has been written to provide educators with some guidance on how to approach the challenge of shifting their pedagogical approach as they embrace hybrid learning and includes templates and activity to help educators and leaders explore this in their own context. This paper follows two previous thought pieces relating to hybrid learning, both of which can be found on the FutureMakers website. If you’d like to receive an advance copy of this paper please email derek@futuremakers to have one emailed to you.

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