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The Buzz About Active Learning
‘Active Learning’ has been an educational buzzword for nearly thirty years now, but many classroom teachers are still struggling with application of the concept.What does ‘active learning’ look like in the elementary classroom?Some have envisioned students who are physically active: up and moving around, creating dioramas or plays, painting posters and making mobiles.Others see active learning as an invitation to chaos; after all, for decades we teachers aspired to have orderly, quiet classrooms where thought and concentration could take place.Some teachers require students to turn in book reports on construction paper cubes instead of on paper and feel they’ve met the goal of incorporating active learning.The truth of the matter is that active learning is not on either extreme, even in classrooms with the youngest students.Active learning simply means that students are cognitively engaged rather than waiting for knowledge to be spoon-fed to them.They are actively seeking out learning in whatever fashion best suits their age, developmental stage, and inclinations.
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Writing Active Educational Objectives
Another educational trend that has been refined in the past several decades is the writing of educational objectives.Special education teachers perhaps were first to conclude that it was wise to try to quantify learning and measure the outcomes of their lessons in very specific ways, but the mainstream educational profession has quickly adopted similar methodologies.Now nearly every lesson plan, curriculum guide, scope and sequence, and textbook includes sets of specific educational objectives that students will master once they’ve completed the prescribed educational activities.We are told that objectives need to be specific, observable and measurable.We need to focus in particular on the verbs that we choose to use.The verbs need to be action words that one can clearly see if they are happening or not.Gone are vagaries like “learn,” “understand,” or “know,” to be replaced with “demonstrate,” “sort,” and “explain.”
Now these two trends can be joined to help teachers ensure productive, active learning throughout each lesson they design.By using Bloom’s Taxonomy (a listing of cognitive levels introduced by educational psychologist Edward Bloom in 1956) together with active learning phraseology, teachers can write practical objectives to guide active learning in every subject.
The cognitive levels within Bloom’s Taxonomy range from knowledge, comprehension, and application through analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.Many elementary classroom lessons focus on the first three levels, through habit or tradition or perhaps even because these are the easiest to quantify.Objectives with verbs such as “define,” “classify,” and “demonstrate” abound.Elementary children are often asked to estimate, explain, paraphrase, match or label in their learning experiences.These are the verbs that typify the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
- Teaching experience.