Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Active and Purposeful Learning

The Association of Middle Level Educators identifies "active learning" as one of the 16 characteristics of a successful school for young adolescents.  To be successful, teachers and students must be actively engaged in learning.  Standardized testing is how we are held accountable but for learning to happen, students must be engaged individually, not a one size fits all/standard education for all.  So, it is our job as middle level educators to walk the balancing act of doing what is required of us through standardized testing and doing what is right for our students.  I believe that doing what is right for our students will in fact lead to better learners and therefore better test results as well.

  • Create authentic learning opportunities-Meet students where they are.  Discussions have long been a way to engage students in authentic/active learning.  Recently, I have watched teachers use Edmodo or Moodle as a tool to get students to engage deeper in discussions.  Students can be assigned to participate in a discussion outside of class and then these discussions spill over into class where the teacher is able to actively participate and help students engage with the material.
  • Involve students with extracurriculars-Recently our students completed the science fair.  This is a traditional but powerful way to engage students in science.  The learning that happens in these projects far exceeds the day to day learning that may happen through notes and lectures.  Students can also participate in National History Day, Math Counts, Quiz Bowl, and other such academic activities.  Another such activity that I was not familiar with until the last couple of years was Future Cities. Our students actively engage in creating a future city and have to use all kinds of academic skills to create these cities.
  • Develop interdisciplinary projects-Our Middle School teachers regularly engage in interdisciplinary units.  These projects help our students see the application of each curriculum area outside of that classroom.  It is always nice to see students apply knowledge from one class in another curriculum area.
  • Individualize for all students-It is normal to have IEP's for special education students.  What about your other students.  I am yet to meet "the normal student."  All students have strengths and we should be sure to focus on those strengths.  Often as we look at how to make all students proficient, it is easy to focus on weaknesses.  To become proficient is how a school is graded.  However, the student will not work as an adult in the area they are weakest.  In the adult world, we can hide our weaknesses and work within our areas of strength.  Let's prepare students for the real "real world" where strengths matter.
  • Exploratory classes matter-Along the same line, don't forget about the non core classes.  Students learn a great deal from Music, PE, Humanities, Exploring Technology, Multimedia classes, etc.  These areas must be given attention.  If we believe that creating an education for the whole student makes for better learning, then don't narrow the focus just for the sake of doing well on a reading or math test.  Math and Reading are no doubt fundamental to students education.  To go from good to great, students must go beyond the fundamentals.  
These are just a few broad ideas of what is important to create active learning.  What do your schools/classrooms do to create an environment of "active learning" and "purposeful learning?"  I'd love to find out from you what you do to create a purposeful environment for your students that take your kids beyond the test. 
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