Active Learning is the possibility given to individuals to become actively involved in the construction of the learning process. Vygotsky suggests that learning is developed through social involvement, which enables learners to internalize skills and knowledge, through the use of thinking and talking opportunities (Wood 1998, Hewitt 2008, Moore 2000).
As a consequence the role of the teacher swings from giving instruction, demonstrating good practices and assessing the developmental process, to allow students to become engaged in the planning, monitoring and assessing the lessons. Thereby, it is important to scaffold pupils towards the self-regulation of their learning, creating spaces for peer conversations and teacher-children dialogues to enhance reflection, whilst closely monitor them, until children reach their full possession of the knowledge and their consequent independency (Hargreaves 2005, Hewitt 2008, Pollard 2008).
For students to become conscious about “how I learn” is possible only through the introduction of specific, systematic reflective moments for students and teachers to share.
The concept of reflective learning was introduced initially by Dewey in 1933, as opposed to a habitual and static way of teaching (Pollard 2008, McGregor 2007, Bagnall 2006). It enables learners to activate prior knowledge and to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct what they learnt and apply it to further experiences.
In doing so students will be able to:
- Learn from experience
- Develop meta-cognitive skills
- Exercise responsibility for their own learning (and actions)
- Build capacity to restructure/reframe knowledge
Reflective learning supports children to reach metacognitive awareness and independence in learning. However it is important to take into account the limited abilities in younger or less able children and possibly some ESL children and attentively consider either when these pupils might not be able to use skills in a wider and articulated task, or if their limited capacity to discuss and reflect on their learning is due to limited vocabulary (Cortazzi and Jin 2007). Consequently, in order to build a conscious awareness of the pupils and scaffold children’s towards becoming competent to discuss their learning, attention should be given also to the use of the language.
As suggested by the Project for Enhancement of Effective Learning in Australia, to support the growth of children’s metacognitive abilities (reflecting on ones learning) and their school performances (Claxton 2007), it becomes vital to use time and energies to introduce and consistently offer opportunities to make learning more explicit, to communicate teachers’ learning intentions, to consider and discuss children’s opinions by allowing them to shape their work, by fostering their participation and motivation to actively contribute to their knowledge acquisition (Hargreaves 2005, McGregor 2007).
A further step, to help pupils in their journey towards becoming active learners, is establishing a bridge from reflecting on how one learns, to how one feels about his learning, continuing the pendulum amongst social and individual work and helping children to acquire the emotional control on anxiety (Pollard 2008).
The work of the psychologist Carl Rogers, father of humanistic education, has been important to develop the “nondirective model” of learning and teaching (Joice 2000), where people’s growth is supported by the quality of their relationships. Pupils are passed information about class goals and instruments to support the ability to self-direct their learning. Whilst teachers are involved specifically in allowing spaces and inviting children to self-direct their work, supporting them when needed, whilst clarifying to them about the progress they are making.
This model, where educators implement the use of interviews and conversations, guides children towards relying more on each other and on themselves, contributing to building empathy amongst the children and major confidence towards their abilities. It supports the personal growth of the individual, allowing the learner to “work on” their self-understanding through “critical reflexivity” as identified by Quicke.
Designing a curriculum, which allows specific space to inform and reflect on the reasons for and consequences of learners’ actions, can contribute to creating a more meaningful relationship between pupils and teachers. The learner perceives his value through the consideration displayed over his thoughts, and teachers could be guided, when interpreting their children’s day to day reactions, by the information retrieved during these conversations in a constructive “shared understanding”. It is important however to pay specific attention not to abuse self-reflectiveness. Therefore students should reflect only on certain tasks, where they have been immersed long enough for becoming committed, through specific practices, attentively chosen in a possible collaboration amongst teachers and students, in order to be effectively meaningful to both of them (Quicke 1999).
Michaela is the Head of the School. She co-founded Acorn House in 1999