Active Learning Environment
Trends in education have paved ways to restructuring the curriculum to address students’ needs for active learning environment. Gone are the days of teacher-centered instruction where teachers served as mentors or the main sources of information in the classroom. In this type of instruction, the teacher provides information to the students who basically listen to, and learn from what the teacher provides through discussion.
In such situation, the students’ role, which is often characterized by listening and thinking, is limited while the teacher’s role is very significant, being the main source of knowledge or information. Sadly, it follows that in this kind of instruction, the teacher has a tendency to manipulate the discussion—calling students to answer questions addressed to the class.
Opposed to the teacher-centered instruction is an active learning environment in which students’ response, creativity, and participation are necessary to achieve learning. In this situation, the learners take an active role in the activities and discussions that will transpire. While students serve as listeners and receivers of information in the teacher-centered instruction, active learning environment encourages students to share information, express feelings/ideas, and take participatory roles in group dynamics.
In addition, active learning environment involves the commitment of students and the teacher to “a dynamic partnership in which both share a vision and responsibility for instruction” (Fern, Anstrom, and Silcox 1994). In such an environment, the students have the role of discovering, constructing and creating something new” while the teacher takes the role of a facilitator and guide.
Moreover, the students become the focus of instruction in that the content and activities are designed according to their needs, interests, and experiences. Importantly, the background of the students is considered as early as the design phase of the curriculum. The teacher, in response to this environment, guides the students towards the accomplishment of goals which include learning concepts and mastery of skills.
One famous proponent of active learning, Paolo Freire, views that teachers should provide students a learning environment situated within the students’ own knowledge and experience. Therefore, the students’ cultural background plays a significant role in the learning process. As the author Vygotsky states in “zone of proximal development theory,” learning comes most easily “when new information presented is just beyond the reach of their present knowledge” (Fern, Anstrom, and Silcox 1994).
In designing an active learning environment, it is important to consider factors that would affect learning. These include student background, classroom atmosphere, teacher preparedness, among others. Moreover, the environment should provide opportunities for students to enhance knowledge, skills, creativity, and confidence through activities such as problem solving exercises, informal small group discussions, case studies, role-playing, and other activities which effectively hone their skills and application of learning.
As mentioned above, one of the factors we need to consider in attaining active learning environment is the background of the students. Particularly, in U.S. schools, by 2020, almost half of the U.S. school population will consist of members of non-Caucasian cultural groups.” (Kauchak, p. 85). In this scenario, promoters of active learning environment face challenges related to implementation and classroom management.
Since active learning environment relies on the experience of the learners in producing a lively discussion or productive output, a class composed of students belonging to ethnic minorities may help produce a varied learning experience and rich output. As background of students varies, experiences and insights shared also vary widely, thus leading to a more diverse and profound learning instruction. Furthermore, the students are given the opportunity to see things in different perspectives, thus providing them a more holistic personality.
Although the advantages of active learning environment are notable, some implications on the implementation may prove disadvantageous to classroom management. For instance, the presence of linguistic barriers have presented teachers with problems in addressing the individual needs of students in early childhood education. Linguistic barriers eventually lead to problems in classroom management as teachers “in general [prove not to be] adequately prepared to work with students from diverse linguistic backgrounds” (Curran 2003).
Moreover, multicultural diversity also challenges teachers’ capability to address cultural issues among students with different backgrounds. In particular, opinion-based discussions would bring about different views on religion, family values, political views, etc. Instances of group activities and debate may thus lead students to feel inferior or superior to others if they have different cultural or religious origin. In this regard, it would be recommendable for teachers to start with developing cultural awareness among students. The role of the teacher in making students realize the importance of accepting or respecting other cultures would further help students feel the importance of taking active roles in the learning environment.
Aside from the teacher’s role in cultural awareness, the learning environment itself should be physically tailored to the needs of the students. First of all, classrooms should be wide enough to allow room for movement during activities. Second, bulletin boards should reflect student progress and their cultural uniqueness. Progress reports, collages, notes may be posted to further represent individual uniqueness of the students.
Specifically, the bulletin boards should be designed by students to provide venue for self-expression. If this is achieved, the classroom as a whole will signify unity in the midst of multicultural diversity among them. Third, while it is difficult to address all their needs, the teacher should be able to identify problems that would arouse from the diversity. This implies that teachers themselves should be sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences. Furthermore, the teacher should always recognize each of the student’s efforts and abilities to nurture their self-esteem. This way, diversity and cultural differences would prove to be beneficial to achieving an active learning environment.
Curran, Mary Elizabeth. (2003). Linguistic Diversity and Classroom Management. BNET Research Center. Retrieved 12 December 2007, from <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0NQM/is_4_42/ai_111506831>
Kauchak, D. & P. Eggen. (2005). Introduction to teaching: becoming a professional. 2nd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall.
Massa, J. (2006). Teaching and learning in a multicultural classroom. Retrieved 12 December 2007 from <http://www.jamesnicholaspublishers.com.au/teach_learn.htm>
Active/Cooperative learning. (2001). Foundation Coalition. Retrieved 12 December 2007, from <http://www.foundationcoalition.org/home/keycomponents/collaborative_learning.htm