Active learning

Active learning can take many different forms and can occur individually, in pairs, in small groups, and in large groups. The more strategies you have in your “toolkit”, the easier it will be to incorporate active learning into your teaching. We encourage faculty to start small and plan maybe one active learning task for an hour lesson. As your experience and confidence builds, you can plan more and more of your instruction this way.

Using active reviews

Reviewing is an activity that is used to encourage individuals to reflect, describe, analyze and communicate what they recently experienced.

Active reviewing addresses four requirements for learning – knowledge, active participation, dialogue, and assessment, and is supported by the constructivist beliefs that:

  • Learning is an active process in which the learner uses sensory input and constructs meaning out of it. Participants need to be as ‘switched on’ in the review as they are in the learning.
  • Learning is a social activity.
  • Learning is contextual: we learn in relation to what we know, believe, and value.
  • Learning takes time: we need to revisit, ponder, and use ideas.
  • Learning is essentially connected to motivation.
  1. What areas of my course could most benefit from active reviews?
  2. How can I structure my review to engage the learners?
  3. How can we support learners’ own reviewing abilities – to incorporate reviewing as part of their own learning processes?

Factors to Consider

  • Timing – When should the review take place? How much time should it take/can it take?
  • Participation – How can you encourage more equal participation in reviews? How can you give learners responsibility?
  • Varying review methods Which kind of review would address the content and the needs of the students?

Review Strategies

  1. Spokes of the Wheel:
    Hand out a wheel with spokes where each spoke is labeled with one of the learning concepts from the material being reviewed. For each concept, students mark a point on the spoke that indicates their “˜mastery’ of the content – close to the centre indicating “not mastered”, close to the rim indicating “mastered”. Connect the dots. Students can reflect on areas where they need more learning, teachers can quickly get some feedback on what has been “mastered” or not.
  2. Four Corners:
    Name a concept that was taught and ask students to move to one of the corners of the room depending on their “mastery” of the concept (ie. corner 1 – “not mastered” to corner 4, “mastered”). Depending on the corner, discuss what is not clear and what could have helped with the learning. Ask students what helped with learning and what they can share with others from what they learned. Corners could also be labeled as “Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree” and students move according their position (i.e. based on your experience with decision-making, reaching a consensus means that everyone must agree on the final decision. Choose your corner and discuss.)
  3. Why, Why, Why?:
    Ask each person to write down a statement about the learning material being reviewed. One person reads out their statement to a listener who asks ‘why?’. The person who gave the statement provides an answer. This is immediately followed by another “why?” until it can’t proceed any further. As a warm-up, have one student start with a personal statement (e.g. what they had for breakfast, why they came to Georgian) to which a listener asks ‘why?’ until it can’t proceed any further. Switch roles and restart.
  4. Cards of Learning:
    Record chunked pieces of related information on note cards and distribute them to groups of students. The information can cover any subject being reviewed, such as dates of an historical event, steps in a mathematical or scientific process, or even parts of an essay. Each group then must work together to organize the note cards according to a particular framework.
  5. Learning Moments:
    Hand out a sheet where students record the following during the class:

    • a “light bulb moment” (an observation that created a new idea or connection to be made);
    • a “mirror moment” (an observation that raised questions – something that caused you to reflect on what you currently do);
    • a “speaker moment” (a time when you notice how something someone said changed the energy in the group for better or worse OR when a comment changed your perception of something);
    • a “˜linking moment” (a time when you related something in the course to something else and either thought of something new to do or gained insight into the dynamic of your current situation).
    • One Minute Paper:
      Ask students to write the answer(s) to one or two specific questions. The question may be general (What was the most important point of the class? What was the muddiest point from today? What is one area you would like to know more about?) or specific (Summarize two conflicting points of view about global warming.) Questions can also inform your teaching (How well do class discussions integrate with the readings? What should we Start, Stop and Continue in this class?). Either collect them and respond next class or discuss them in small groups.
  6. Ready, Set, Recall:
    Ask students to independently list everything they can remember about a concept you want to review. Team up to combine their lists (with a time limit). Groups then round robin, each group contributing one item at a time. The team is in until they run out and have to pass. If they think of anything new, they can get back in. Variation – from the master list have individuals pick out two items to teach.
  7. Ticket Out the Door:
    To review material at the end of class, have students answer a question or questions on a sheet of paper as their “ticket out the door”.

Facilitating learning with effective questions

Thinking is driven by good questions, rather than by answers. Good questions help learners turn on their intellectual engines and promote curiosity about the subject. Characteristics of good questions include the following:

Worthy: Engaging questions are interesting, relevant, and have many answers.

Clear and concise: Questions should be worded so students can grasp them easily. It helps to plan your questions in advance and review them with someone else for clarity.

Open-ended: Open-ended questions facilitate thinking, extend learning, and promote dialogue. They begin with words such as what, how, and why.

  1. What types of questions do you currently ask? What types of learning do they facilitate?
  2. How might questions stimulate thinking and promote a sense of curiosity for your subject area?

To increase the quality and quantity of student questioning, teachers must model it. One’s curiosity for the subject area will be contagious. Here are several purposes for questions with examples.

Clarification Questions

  • What is meant by ____ ? How else could we explain that?
  • What is an example of ____ ?

Probing Questions

a) Probing assumptions, bias, motives, etc.

  • What assumptions might we (or others with a different point of view) make about____?
  • What might influence your ideas about ____?

b) Probing reasons

  • What makes you say that?
  • How did you come to that conclusion?
  • What other ways can we look at ____ ?

c) Probing evidence

  • Where did the information or data come from?
  • How was it collected?
  • Why is it communicated in this particular manner?
  • How reliable or valid is it?
  • How do we know?
  • What evidence is there to support _____?
  • What does ____ mean?
  • What does _____ tell us?
  • What other data or information might help us understand ____ better?
  • How could we get it?

d) Probing connections

  • What do we already know about ____ ?
  • What other questions can we ask about _____ ?
  • What are the larger themes or issues related to ___ ?
  • How does this connect to ____ ?
  • Why does this matter? What difference does this make?
    What might be the cause (or effect) of _____ ?

e) Hypothetical Questions

  • What do you predict will happen if ____ ?
  • Consider the outcome if ____ and ____ are changed?

Reflective Questions

  • How does ___ fit with your beliefs or values related to this topic?
  • How does ____ fit with your experience related to this topic?
  • How does ___ make you feel? What do you think are the influences on those feelings?

To promote higher levels of thinking, students need to be provided with many opportunities to practice and observe it being modeled by others. High level questions are those that are embedded into the lesson at certain points during instruction and provide opportunities for students to be challenged. They may also be used to determine the direction of instruction.

Application Questions

  • Using what we just learned, how would you solve (explain, plan, develop, approach) ______?
  • What are examples of _____ ? Why?

Analysis Questions

  • How is ___ related to ____?
  • How does ___ compare/contrast with ____?
  • How would you communicate ____ visually (i.e. using a flowchart, concept map, image)?

Synthesis Questions

  • How can we tie ___ to ___ in a meaningful way?
  • Using ____ and ____ and ___, propose a solution for _____?

The Socratic Method uses questions to advance learning, with one of two purposes:

  1. To get learners generating content knowledge. In this case, teachers ask questions that get students to reveal what they already know about a topic or concept. Teachers then know what gaps have to be filled in to either complete or correct student knowledge.
  2. To explore and uncover student reasoning. In this case, teachers ask questions to uncover how students solved a problem or arrived at an answer. Questions relate to students’ assumptions, data, information, thinking processes, and/or evidence.

Tips for Using Questions as Part of the Learning Process

  • Give students time to think: This time can be in the form of a “minute to think about it”; “write down a possible response and then we’ll see what people came up with”; “work as a group, and then have one person post your thoughts on Blackboard”.
  • Use strategies that involve all students: Thinking requires effort. Unless you expect it, structure it, monitor it, and link it to assessment, there will be little motivation to make that effort. Try to get students thinking about a question individually or discussing it with a partner before exploring it in a large group (Think, Pair, Share).