I work with a lot of different teachers across grade levels and the first question I love to ask when planning a lesson with another educator is, how will your students be engaged in the learning? So often we are consumed with the “what” and making sure students are getting all of the information they need to learn about a particular topic. But the greatest impacts and the most memorable lessons come when we think about the students. What is the role the students will play in their learning? I want to share two very basic strategies I have found incredibly effective for encouraging active learning in the classroom.
1) Using visible thinking protocols to structure student responses
We want our students to be active participants in their learning. We want to engage them in thinking and asking questions about a topic. Often as teachers we ask the whole class a question and then allow for one or two students to respond. Think about the other twenty voices in the classroom that are not being heard, what are we communicating with students when we only engage a select few to participate? For this reason, I love using protocols in the classroom.
Protocols are simply a way to structure student responses and engage every student to think about the topic in a focused way so that conversations or feedback is productive to the learning at hand. Here are a couple of examples of commonly used protocols.
“Turn and Talk” - where students partner up and respond to a question with one another is an example of a protocol at a very elementary level.
“Sentence-Phrase-Word” - creates even more of a structure that encourages focus. In this protocol example, students might be discussing a portion of the text and they must jot down (or share verbally) a sentence, phrase, and word that they found to be significant from their reading.
Using protocols allows for total class participation where all students voices are “heard” whether that be through communicating with a peer or sharing their ideas in a collaborative space such as a Google Document or Padlet wall. Do you want more ideas for how to actively engage learners in processing information? Check out these websites which offer many protocols or routines you can use with students K-12:
Visible Thinking - a great site that informs you about the benefits of learning routines and offers many different examples by category of thinking routines you can incorporate in the classroom.
Think from the Middle - a collection of classroom resources and tools to encourage students to think on a deeper level.
2) Using a technology that allows all voices to be heard…
If you are fortunate enough to be in a 1:1 classroom then leveraging technology in your classroom to create opportunities for all voices to be heard is critical. There are so many ways to structure a learning opportunity so that EVERY student must participate and be an active learner. You might for example, create a Google Slides presentation where every student is responsible for completing a slide. You might also utilize a tool such as a Google Form to survey your students about a topic they are learning or to collect initial thoughts or questions. You can then share the results of the Google Form via a Google Sheets so that ALL of the students can see the ideas from the entire class. If you wanted to use another platform outside of Google you might consider trying Flipgrid (which you can read all about in my previous post on Flipgrid!)
Flipgrid is a website which allows students to record short video responses on a topic. I love incorporating Flipgrid responses in the classroom because it allows students to share their thinking and learning in a different format. We often have students use written response to communicate but that can limit some of our students’ abilities to really showcase all of their understanding. Integrating a Flipgrid creates an opportunity for students to use their voice to express their understanding. Flipgrid is completely FREE for all educators to use and the possibilities for integrating this technology in your classroom are endless. You can use Flipgrid for a short reaction to a video or article that was read in class. Students might get really creative and produce book trailers via a Flipgrid recording. You could even have students record themselves as they conduct a science lab or engineering task.
In the end, the biggest question I want you to consider is: How are you creating opportunities for your students to be actively involved in their learning? What opportunities are you providing that allow for TOTAL class participation? Because let’s be honest, if the students are not engaged and involved how meaningful is the learning that is taking place? In my discussions with teachers I always like to leave them with this thought, the person doing the work is doing the learning. Let’s create opportunities in which all of our students are encouraged to think and voice their ideas.