So I have been thinking about why active lessons are better for learning and what it is about them that means they work. Do they work for everyone?
I am comparing two sessions:
A. an active session where the task set was to match information to questions or within a known formatted document.
B. a quiz style question and answer session where information has been provided at some point and is expected to be recalled.

Both sessions are active and both are a form of assessment based activity and could be used by the teacher as formative or summative assessment depending on.how the feedback or answers are given.

What are the differences ...
In session A the content for learning is there in front of the students and it is a matter of putting each answer in the right place like a jigsaw. Students have an opportunity to self assess as they go through each answer to fit it into place, since they know that there is only one answer per question they can swap things about if time allows. This could be done individually or in groups depending on the needs and support required. The teacher is freed up to walk about the classroom to answer queries and check understanding, learning and knowledge. Since the answers are there the students are focussing on the correct knowledge. If in groups there may be some debate about the answers to create some understanding and this can also be guided by the teacher input. However if words or acronyms are used that are unknown to students this could provide some barriers to completing the task. The teacher would need to set the task at the appropriate level for the students, but at least has time in the lesson to check with observation.

In session B it is more like a test and is looking at whether students know the information, either collectively in a group or individually. If students lack confidence in their own answer (even if it is right) they may choose not to answer at all and so no judgement can be made as to whether the student knows the answer or not - the assumption is not. However if the answers are given at the end the student may feel more confident afterwards on hearing the answer, but there may not be evidence beforehand for the teacher. If this is done in a quiz like style then the teacher is occupied with reading out questions or controlling the power point and may not have the opportunity to check understanding on an individual basis. As a quiz or test it may be important for some students to come prepared, which could be done in the preceding part of the session with a clear indication that a test will be done. This could help students concentrate on the content beforehand or do some revision of the subject.

In both sessions the teacher can make formative assessments of the students by observation. The first session doesn't necessarily test knowledge, but is about teaching and opening up the thinking processes. I think in lesson A it is possible to increase confidence in individuals by support and guidance since the teacher has the time to go around the group. In session B the Q&A style quiz is about testing, rather than learning (although some learning will occur for some when the answers are read out) and is useful for both formative and summative assessments of knowledge. How the quiz is delivered may make a difference to how it is received. An exam is a type of quiz and is a useful method of assessment against criteria and will be treated as such. Students need preparation for this kind of thing. As a fun quiz, it could be a quick thing at the end to check and repeat words which need to be remembered perhaps. For those who perhaps cannot remember quickly in that competitive environment they may feel uncomfortable and it could undermine confidence & create barriers to learning.

So active sessions can provide motivation, but the structure needs to be right and the information needs to be available in some way. By being active it should free up the teacher to be able to support individuals where necessary. Active sessions need to be fun and where there is an idea as the teacher devising it, we need to consider the class in front of you. Barriers to learning can come in the form of lacking confidence rather than knowledge and we need to recognise and address this with individuals. Sometimes we need to create lessons where people can perform at their own pace and increase their confidence, so learning can actually take place. Test are always important for assessment, but even these can actually provide the answers in multiple choice questions as well as simply knowledge remembering.

Considering lacking confidence, in Sports Science there is something called the arousal model where as arousal increases performance can also increase until a point of "too high" arousal where performance just drops away to nothing! It takes a long time for a learner to recover from that point until they are ready to learn again.(UKCC L3 coach paddlesport course - Kim Bull). Petty (1998: 50) draws a diagram to show increased anxiety lowers performance as a curve and that this is a form of de-motivation. I am not sure that it is de-motivation so much as a barrier to learning in that the brain cannot cope with taking in information. I experienced a high arousal state once when I was trying out a new method of teaching canoeing (during my UKCC L3 training) where I used a guided discovery technique to teach lining - a technique to move a canoe upstream using ropes. One lady got frustrated and eventually was in tears because she got cross with herself for not doing it right! If I had not been practising "Guided Discovery" I would have intervened earlier to prevent it. Having said that it was a very good illustration of arousal going past the point of usefulness and performance completely disappearing! I had to leave the lady in question to sort herself out as she was totally incapable of joining in at that point! It showed me that there are subjects that need a mixture of teaching techniques to provide learning and the input of a command like "face the bow upstream" in this instance would have provided a quick fix and prevented the over-arousal of one student without interfering with other students learning experience. We do need to be working for all students in our class and devising methods which include the "lowest denominator" whatever that might be. The other students do not need to know that is why they are learning in that way, but we has teachers need to know it provides equal learning opportunities.

The multiple choice paper, where the right answer is actually there in front of you can give the student confidence in being tested and jog their memory. With a carefully designed paper a teacher can assess a students knowledge. This in itself would not necessarily be a teaching aid though ... a summative assessment after the knowledge has been taught. Unless the students get chance to discuss how they answered the test and where their knowledge lies. The test I did on Monday for literacy and numeracy was also good as there was no time limit (so you could consider the questions at your own pace) and it was sold as an individual test (i.e. against yourself only) to assess your ability for the college to offer help if needed. The result was also instant which means no worrying by the student. There were even calculators provided on some maths questions where the ability to use the right method was being sort rather than the ability to add up!! We were not discouraged from using paper if we wanted to either.

Some of my fellow PGCE students have talked about using active lessons with test papers, where their students are working in groups to discuss and devise the best answers based on a  marking scheme - this seems to me excellent as the students will have had a go at the paper already, so should know the content at some level, but by sharing thoughts and seeing how something is marked they can learn how to answer the questions on the test as well as gaining revision on the actual material - double outcomes!

 



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