Teaching children requires flexibility, choice, and an openness to try new things in order to facilitate learning. An active classroom has the potential to do all that and more when used properly.
There is No Substitute for Active Learning in the Classroom
I specialize in teaching tiny students with active imaginations. It is a stimulating profession that keeps me moving. I am always thinking about how to make learning more engaging for students whose brains are changing by the minute. It can be a challenge to serve groups whose interests change by the moment and for whom standard learning models are, at best, ineffective. Because of our need for flexibility, we must be prepared to modify our classroom moment to moment. We must provide active environments for children of not only differing ages and abilities but for those whose grasp of classroom learning concepts differ as well.
A Non-Standard Student Body
In my facility, I serve students who range from Pre-K to grade 5. While most of the older students are absent during the day, after regular school hours and during school breaks, they are with us. We must consider their needs when planning lessons, the classroom environment, and guided activities. This means that we, and our facility, must remain flexible, mobile, and willing to adjust quickly. It is the only way to provide all our students with the best learning experience.
We often split groups by age, providing activities that require a more in-depth understanding of certain subjects for the older students while we continue to work with the younger children on the basics. Once the lessons are delivered, we shuffle and combine groups to allow older children to share the information they've learned with the younger children. In essence, we let them teach mini-classes of their own. Doing so not only helps to reinforce learning for the older students, it provides opportunities for younger students to experience new concepts. Young students see the value of accepting new topics and are often eager to increase their understanding so they can be 'teachers' too.
This learning model has a more personal application as well. As this handout from the University of Wyoming shows, there are some real benefits to the idea of flexible multi-age classrooms. Older students learn to be role models for their younger peers, while younger students see appropriate behaviors modeled. As a result of this mixing, our students excel in academics as well as socially and are consistently among the school's highest achievers.
Keep it Busy
In my experience, this fluid classroom model also works well for children who have learning or behavioral issues. It allows early learners to pursue information in at their own pace, respecting their ability without the pressure to perform. This model also allows us, as instructors, to assist students as needed without disrupting the rest of the class. For students who are more advanced, there is the opportunity to explore interesting concepts in-depth as staff works to help struggling students. This has helped to reduce issues in which bored students act out for attention or the frustration of a class moving too slowly.
Giving my students the flexibility and freedom of an active, dynamic classroom provides opportunities for real discussion that aids in the retention of materials while encouraging students to take ownership of their learning. Something that benefits every student.
Changing the Standard Model
I have had the opportunity to teach in classes with both active and passive learning models. This has given me the chance to view the impact of lessons on the students as well as the teachers. Without question, I prefer active classrooms, in spite of the potential for chaos. These classes, whether taught by myself or another instructor, are always more interesting. Active Learning offers students an opportunity to get a better handle on the class lesson. The concept gives them a chance to learn from one another or in a way that honors their learning style.
I believe teachers benefit from Active Learning as well. These new models provide them with a chance to spend more time with the students who need more instruction while allowing more capable students time for active exploration. Active Learning classrooms also allow teachers to interact with students in real time, assisting as needed, rather than later, when help may not be as beneficial. In my experience, the biggest benefit to Active Learning is that it allows teachers teach to the class they have, rather than a generic model. Students learn to learn and to think for themselves.
Worth the Extra Effort
Active Learning classrooms can be a much greater challenge, particularly when you have a fluid student body like mine. I feel the benefits to my students far outweigh the extra work required to create and maintain centers and lesson plans. I have seen struggling students flourish, shy students find their voice, and some of my toughest cases flourish and thrive as a result. The model doesn't work for every teacher, but I can't imagine teaching any other way.