Active Learning: Part 2

According to Wendy Pillars, who calls herself an armchair neuro-scientist, it is time that we, teachers, realized that we are the only professionals whose job it is to physically alter a child’s brain daily. Judy Willis, accomplished neuroscientist-turned-teacher, refers to a teacher’s work as a form of “bloodless brain surgery.” Here’s how it happens at a basic level according to her:

“If a child takes in information through her sensory pathways and her brain makes the decision to keep that knowledge, the integrative process takes over and makes sense out of that learning as she sleeps.

This consolidation occurs when neurons transmit messages to one another. The messages must cross microscopic chasms between the neurons—laboriously at first, and then more quickly with each subsequent moment of access.

Eventually the learning is connected to several points within a denser and denser web of neurons, easing the information retrieval process for the conscious learner.”

As teachers, we must understand that a neural pathway is like a new path in the woods. The more frequently that a neural pathway is travelled, the fewer the obstacles, the greater its capacity, and the smoother and faster it becomes.

This means that we must help our students make connections to prior experiences, knowledge, and learning—and connections to other curricular areas. The more connections we make in class, the more we are physically altering our students’ brains by creating and strengthening neural pathways.

Knowing this, it becomes all the more crucial to maximize learning opportunities during the 1,050 hours our students are with us during the school year. So the first way to engage students in active learning is through interactive teaching.

What is Interactive Teaching? Do we do these in our classes?
In the course of explanation, do we ask students questions & encourage answers from them?
Do we ask them to work on a problem to gain clarity on the concept?
Do we pose a question and elicit a series or responses / engage pupils in a discussion?
Do we initiate pair work / group work / whole class work?
Do we assign class work and walk through looking & giving feedback to pupils?

If we have answered with “yes” to all these questions, we are already indulging in Interactive Teaching.

Students learn well what they construct for themselves. We as teachers can only show them the way. They have to take in information, make connections, interpret and make sense of their learning. Therefore interactive teaching help teachers to understand what students have in them as prior knowledge as well as how much of what we have shared they have taken in. Besides learning and making connections is hard and complex work that can only be accomplished by students if they have motivation through a lively and thought provoking task. This sparks the brain into action and serves as a tool that helps make connections. Thus when teachers ask students to work together in small groups to solve a problem, the discussion that ensues not only serves in itself to build more robust knowledge structures, but also helps to motivate. The anticipation of immediate feedback in the form of reaction from their peers, or from the teacher is a very strong motivator. Moreover, when the classroom is not embarrassing or threatening, students are eager to know whether their understanding is concretizing or just drifting aimlessly in mid air. The teacher’s challenge of not allowing them to drift too far off track provides tremendous energy to continue.

Let us therefore do some thinking in this direction and engage our students interactively in order to spur active learning.

6 thoughts on “Active Learning: Part 2

  1. Active learning strategy gives individual students more control over the pace, sequence, and monitoring of their own work. but our system is such that there exists a possible conflict with the required curriculum and accompanying examinations. Active learning projects take time. They maydeepen students' understanding of certain ideas, but teachers may be concerned about sacrificing breadth of coverage. If students' opportunitiesfor further education depend on broad knowledge of material in the required syllabus, there may be little time for active learning.


  2. Thank you for your comment…When you say our system, I hope you mean the Indian System.Probably it is this conflict that has led us to be second from last in world PISA rankings…The average 15 year old Indian student is said to be 200 points below the global topper…The 7th Annual Survey of Education Report of rural India by Pratham also speaks about waning numerical and reading skills, thus validating PISA's feedback. There is something that is ailing our educational system!


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