A teacher stands in the front of the classroom and talks. Students are listening, maybe taking notes. After the lecture students might do some exercises in their textbooks. Sounds familiar?
This model of teaching in which a teacher pours information to students and students’ role is just to listen and sit still, is an old school method. Sometimes there is a place for this way of teaching as well, but if this is the only teaching method in the class, skills in learning and collaboration will become narrow.
Let’s think about the modern society and its requirements for individual´s skills in working life
How is the traditional way of teaching related to the requirements of modern society and working life? Let’s imagine the situation: a person goes to a job interview, and will be asked “What are you good at?” Will they answer: “I am very good at listening and sitting still”?
The society and working life require that a person is able to negotiate, collaborate and learn themselves. These skills develop through everyday life, beginning already in the childhood. It is important that these skills are being practiced at school as well.
Moreover, researchers have pointed out that activating learning methods can be more efficient way of learning than the traditional ones. Activating methods increase pupil´s involvement, motivation and attention but also develop certain cognitive aspects better than traditional teaching. Activating methods develop skills in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Also, activating learning methods increase helpfulness, empathy and other social skills.
But how is it done?
Students of different ages need different methods. Even the pre-primaries benefit from activating methods and it is very important to start early: variations in methods create a rich learning environment. Even the traditional teaching is only one part of classroom activities, but it still has an important role in creating calmness and safety in classroom.
The first small step you can take is to make a traditional lesson more engaging. A traditional lesson can be activated with small plays, games and discussions. Sometimes adding more involvement to a lesson is about creating small “buzz groups”. Students´ discussions and conversations create new information, help assessing prior knowledge and solving tasks. LessonApp, a Finnish mobile app for designing lessons, is a treasure box for all my favourite activating methods. LessonApp offers many ways to use these methods in different subjects and with various age groups.
Co-operative learning is one of my favourite methods. Here is one example of co-operative learning: students work in teams of 4 or 5, and every student has been given a role: a leader, a secretary, an observer, an encourager, an organizer. The roles and tasks are told and learned. The teams work together with given topic during the lessons. The co-operative learning team can also be used in other situations during the school day: e.g. leader is the one who takes care of leading his/her team outdoors or to wash hands. The roles in the team change every day, so everyone has a chance to act in every role. This method is excellent with every age group, from pre-primaries to adults. Believe me, this has been tested!
On the next level, activating methods encourage a teacher to abandon the notebooks: they are not always relevant in learning and assimilating new information. New things can be studied in learning labs and workshops. In addition, new digital environments guide through learning and a teacher can be a supportive mentor instead of an information pouring character. New learning environments can also be found in school’s hallways, gym halls and especially outdoors. School hunt is an excellent method for learning outside the classroom. It combines learning with physical movement and can be used in math, languages, science, history, religion etc. Detailed instructions for school hunt can be found in LessonApp.
Buzz groups and school hunts are examples of easy, quick methods. They give inspiration and engagement for student´s learning even in a short time: buzz groups can last only 5-15 minutes of a lesson; school hunt takes 1-2 lessons. An example of a longer lasting activating method is project-based learning.
It is good to remember that not all methods suit every class
The self-directed learning and projects can be very difficult for a child who has problems for example in directing attention and self-control. They usually need very structured routines. They may struggle too much with long term, unprompted projects. Small engaging activities like buzz groups suit everyone and surprisingly, co-operative learning method with given roles help also kids with special needs to participate.
Learning by doing is an old way of teaching, this wheel was invented a long time ago. Researchers have studied this for decades: human beings learn more, deeper and better, if they can DO.
Author: Kaisa Tuomarla
Class Teacher, Pedagogical Specialist
Binek-Rivera & Mathews, 2004
Bonwell & Eison, 1991
Guthrie & Cox, 2001
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Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Hackathorn, et al., 2010
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Serva & Fuller, 2004