Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Engaging Today's Students in Active Learning (Part 2)

Learning by Doing
Learning by Doing (Photo credit: BrianCSmith)
by Candace Mondello

In the first part of this series, we discussed how teachers and administrators struggle to apply new techniques and up-to-date processes to address the motivational challenges that block students from engaging in the learning process.

As we continue, we'll look at the complexities in students lives that impact their engagement in the classroom.

Dis-Identification with School

Underachieving and unmotivated high school students display an overwhelming lack of identification with school. To identify, students need to grasp a sense of belonging, of being a valued and important member of the school environment, and that school is a valuable element in their personal life.

Students that don't feel accepted tend to lack motivation to actively participate in the learning process and, worse, tend to develop attitudes of anger and hostility toward teachers and classmates.

In contrast, students who identify positively with school (those who experience feelings of belonging, feelings of achievement, and are able to connect the school environment with their personal life), were found to engage in active learning more readily.

It is important to note that feelings of identification or dis-identification of high school students to the learning process is a cyclical experience; that once set in motion is highly likely to reinforce itself with time. Students are able to display interest in school and school-related experiences when they receive positive outcomes (such as good grades, high scores, kudos from teachers).

Understanding that student belongingness contributes to the learning process, teachers and administrators are prompted to investigate how to apply varying learning styles to the classroom.

Learning Styles

Teachers and students alike experience the fallout associated with a generation raised and nurtured in a high-tech society. Students today experience tremendous advances in special effects and multimedia; these students are highly addicted to instant gratification. Teachers have to capture their attention and then stimulate meaningful learning to keep that attention.

Teachers need to take a proactive approach to including all students in the learning process by varying the curriculum to accommodate a series of learning styles. Some research determines that, ideally, teachers adapt their teaching style to their students learning styles.

Conversely, some researchers conclude that students should adapt their learning style to the teachers' curriculum. Most likely a blending of the two (an ability to collaborate between teacher and student) is the greatest value. Although a variety of learning styles exist, by the time they reach high school most students develop a preferred style, perhaps by habit or maybe by heredity.

Regardless, many students find a habit or pattern that works for them and they often become dependent to the point of enslavement to that one style.

Encouraging students to experiment with ideas and theories allows them to learn from mistakes and at the same time expose students to other paths to learning. It is important to guide and guard students against frustration and reassure them that trying new forms of learning styles offers them more tools to put in their academic toolbox.

This toolbox is the set of knowledge, skills, and abilities that individual students acquire over their lifetime and have available to draw from when critical thinking or problem-solving skills are needed. To fill this toolbox, students need experience; they need to learn from their mistakes. This means creating an environment where mistakes are not only tolerated, but also encouraged.

The term, active learning, emphasizes focus on the students as learners as opposed to teachers focusing on themselves as teachers. The concept is not about embracing new instructional techniques as much as reminding teachers to focus on the students themselves; that is, student-centered learning.

Students develop processing preferences over time; basically that we all "feel, think, reflect, and do, but we linger at different places along the way." Thus, our learning style is defined. Left brain learners tend to be analytical and logical, whereas right brain learners tend toward intuition, creativity, and imagination.

The importance of teachers understanding this concept is to learn students' biases and adapt the classroom environment to suit the varying needs of the learners.

In Part 3, we'll look past the barriers and investigate strategies that will encourage a shift from passive to active learning.

Have more questions about helping your child get the BEST education possible? If your child struggles in school - this blog is your resource for finding the answers and getting results. Candee has been an educator in the public system for a decade. She LOVES helping parents connect with their child's education. Go to her website Dyslexia Testing Online and talk with her!!

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