March 21, 2016

Engagement and Active Learning

It is said that teaching and learning usually go together. It is also widely known by all of us who teach, that student's do not always learn. As I read the chapters of Student Engagement Techniques by Elizabeth Barkley, I find myself thinking about the relationship between these two words. 

In my first class in this program, my instructor Karen Brooke asked me this exact question in my exit interview. I fumbled my answer. What is the relationship between teaching and learning? It was not until now that I have gained a bit of clarity. 

Teachers tend to bank on the notion that because they are teaching, learning is taking place. We use words like engagement and active learning to define our roles in the classroom. I ask though, are our students engaged? Are they learning actively?

Active learning, as defined in chapter 3, is an umbrella term that includes:
  • Cooperation
  • Collaboration
  • Discovery
  • Experience
  • Problem-solving
  • Inquiry

It is also thought that because we get students up, moving around, and chatting, that they learning. We believe that because they are in groups talking to each other they are learning. This is simply not the case. I have observed many lessons taught by others where I leave the room asking myself what did they just learn in that 90 minute class?

A better definition for teachers to work with is active learning takes place when the mind is engaged. To do so, conditions need to be created in lessons where students can self-question, analyze, and reflect on their past experience and incorporate new information.


So, to return to my initial question, what is the relationship between teaching and learning? I think of it like a house. Students have spent years building their houses. These houses can renovated, upgraded, and repaired, if given the right tools.


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