Published on Getting Smart, November 5, 2017
What image comes to mind when you think of classrooms today? Where is the teacher and where are the students? Who is leading the discussion and doing most of the talking and moving in the classroom? For many, the image that comes to mind is that of a room of students, lined up in rows, with their attention directed to the teacher at the front of the room or involved in some activity at their desks. In this scenario, students are passively learning. Their involvement in class, in some cases, has them seated for the entire class period, while the teacher does most of the talking and moving around the room.
In the past, this may represent the typical format of classroom instruction, however today, with a greater focus on flexible learning environments, and educators looking to promote student choice and voice, this image or perception of “what classrooms look like”, has changed and continues to evolve into a more active learning space, a place where students are empowered. A space in which students take a more active role, transform students from consumers to creators and the former teacher-centered classroom into a student-centered and student-driven space.
Because students have typically spent so much of their school day seated, taking information in and do not always have time to ask questions, interact with peers, or do more than consume, they may become more passive learners. I started to notice this in my own classes. There was a decrease in student engagement, and reflecting on my methods I realized that I was spending so much time talking, that it was me making the decisions and leading all of our activities. There were not many opportunities for the students to work with peers, to move around, to really take control of their learning.
In an effort to encourage students to become more active learners as well as to be more involved in the types of activities and instruction in the classroom, I started to implement some teaching strategies involving music and games. There are many benefits to getting students more actively involved in learning and this can be done quite simply through a variety of teaching strategies. It can be a challenge to change over from the traditional classroom lecture model, however, there are some easy ways to change to a more active, engaging space.
How to design more active learning experiences:
1. Game-Based Learning (GBL): GBL is a great way to add fun into the classroom and help build student excitement for learning. The use of gaming offers different ways for students to practice and develop their skills in more active learning environments. Games encourage students to learn and master content by problem-solving, collaborating, creating and engaging in more authentic and meaningful learning. It is a way to promote independent learning as well as by offering students choices in games to play and the means to work toward individual goals.
2. Tech: Students can create a game as a way to help themselves and their peers practice concepts and gain mastery. It can be a game created using one of the many digital tools available like Kahoot, Quizlet or Quizizz. Students enjoy the opportunity to create a game, which leads to a more authentic learning experience when students select the specific vocabulary they need to practice, thus leading to more personalized learning opportunities. Students add to their skills by choosing how to leverage technology for the purpose of more self-directed learning.
3. No-tech: Students are very creative and offering them a chance to design a game to practice new content can lead to better retention and increase motivation. To get started, a few examples that can be used are to create a chart which includes 4 or 5 different categories or topics related to the content and grade level being taught. After deciding on categories, perhaps select 5 or 6 letters of the alphabet, or use numbers, which students must use to come up with a word, topic or date, that relates to each category. For example, in teaching Spanish, selecting categories such as classroom objects, verbs, colors, family and then deciding on the starting letter, students can brainstorm words and review in unique ways. Students can then randomly be assigned to small groups and then share the words their group came up with. An activity like this will promote communication between peers and provide an opportunity for collaboration and some fun as well. It can also be a good way to have students review, be creative and brainstorm new ideas. This creates time for teachers to assess student needs and decide the next steps in the lesson.
4. Music: Music livens up the classroom and is useful for helping students retain their learning. There are many ways to include music in learning, one just as simple as playing music when students enter the room, or while they work in small groups, to add to the culture of the classroom. As instructional materials, one idea is to have students create rhymes or a song using a vocabulary list, names of famous people, state or world capitals, monuments or anything related to the content area. Students can work in pairs or a small group and create a song which can be used as a mnemonic device, to help them retain the information in a more meaningful way. Students can then present live in class or use a tool like Flipgrid or Recap to record and share with classmates. These student creations add to the authentic classroom resources and engage students more in learning.
In trying one or all of these activities, students have an opportunity to be more active in the classroom, work together, build relationships, collaborate and engage in more authentic learning experiences. Placing students in the lead provides the teacher with an opportunity to step aside and become a facilitator and use time in class as an opportunity to not only assess student learning but to interact more and provide feedback for students.
There are many ways to build students skills in the classroom, and these are just a few of the ideas that we have been trying and they are a work in progress. Knowing that something works takes reflection and student input. With students creating more and working in small groups, I have more time to move around and work with every student and group and provide more individualized instruction.
Students are asking more questions like, “Can we…?, What if…?, Is it okay to…?” and adding their creativity into our activities. Students suggest improvements, “Maybe we could… It might be better if we and This has helped me to remember…can we keep doing these activities?” And my answer to all of these has been “Yes, I think we should try it. If it works, then great. And if not, we will try again!”
Students need to be moving in the classroom and have opportunities to learn in different formats using a variety of instructional strategies and tools, and it’s okay if they are not in the traditional format.