#LOVEOFLEARNING : Where has all the active learning gone? The demise of some great pedagogy?

Sage on the stage or guide on the side? A false dichotomy

There is no “correct way” to teach. This is a rather obvious statement, which has been reiterated by professors of education, school leaders, psychologists and OFSTED. The problem with this is that rather than protect the profession against “fads” of pedagogy, this stance can in actual fact encourage them. If there is no correct way (which there isn’t) then the tides of opinion effect the teaching climate even more. What used to be seen as effective teaching has been criticised to the point where we are in danger of replacing one “fad” with another. It seems that “active learning” (which was never a panacea anyway) has been replaced with more “traditional” practices such as write and listen. If learning is complex we should not forget those active strategies which not so long a go were seen as so effective. Here I argue that active strategies can create a love of learning with students. This is not saying that other methods can’t either. As with most things in teaching “It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it”

Over the past few years there has been somewhat of a backlash to “active learning”. Trends come and go in teaching and this one had its day… or has it?

Rightly so OFSTED over the past few years responded to the criticism that it was judging lessons and teaching against a “style”. For a while probably from 2005 -11 this perceived style was characterised by whizzy activities, performing arts, teachers as facilitators and measuring progress every twenty minutes, with a “plenary” that involved going back to the learning objectives that students had copied down at the start of the lesson.  Whether or not this is actually what OFSTED was looking for is down up for debate, (I suspect the truth is that it was a communication breakdown between the inspection regime and school leaders) but nevertheless many schools designed lesson judgement criteria around this perceived “Outstanding Lesson” format.  People made money out of courses on OFSTED active learning strategies etc.

However, over the past few years this “style” has been rightly criticised. Michael Wilshaw has publicly come out stating that it might be totally appropriate that students sit and listen… and that passivity should not be criticized as a matter of course. At the same time there has been a rise of what I call the “anti-fad” brigade which rightly attacks fads in teaching that promised “outstanding lessons” and “rapid and sustained progress”. This is good, but there is a danger that the baby is thrown out with the bath water.

At Debden Park High School we have a tradition of “active learning” strategies. When specialisms mattered we used our Performing Arts status to spread effective teaching. It bound the school together. It helped us win the battle against special measures by engaging often very disengaged students.  Far from a “style” of teaching active strategies enhanced effective teaching.

Much of what is seen on Twitter, and #PedagooFriday is exactly the kind of strategies that engage students. Yes students can be engaged through silent reading, yes they can demonstrate a “love of learning” through essay writing, but let’s not forget some of the innovative and interesting techniques (there I said it techniques) that can be highly useful to teachers and students. Here are some of the strategies that have been spotted in the past 5 days, they engage and create interest as part of a “varied diet” of effective teaching.

Speed dating

Yes this was a staple of the “active learning” repertoire. But how effective if used properly! Seen in a science lesson where students “dated” around some very challenging questions and used the power of peer collaboration to learn.


Class debate.

Two sides debating the effectiveness of Gustav stresemann’s leadership in Germany.  The teacher was the “guide on the side” but what a way for students to demonstrate their hard earned knowledge. Not only this they extended their understanding by debating, listening and reconsidering their views based upon the presentation of evidence and argument.


Character mind –map

How about a twist to Mind mapping? Here students carousel around characters writing down in depth analysis of them. Memorable. This also encouraged a level of dialogue between students which would have been unlikely in a tradition mindmap. In addition the teacher could (and did) circulate around monitoring student responses and extending them via questioning.



Teacher in Role

A great way to engage students in the subject matter. The “character” can question students and give them “knowledge” about the topic studied. Moreover, who forgets a loon enter the classroom dressed up? Look at the levels of engagement in this classroom when Charlie Chaplin starts dancing:

chaplin from Pedagogy Prowess on Vimeo

These strategies were seen in classrooms in the past 5 days, and they were very effective. Could other things have been as effective? Probably, but these did create a huge amount of engagement and may just work with your class.


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