It is important to distinguish between authentic learning activities and what are, in fact, exercises. An exercise is always in support of something else. It is an opportunity to practice a skill or demonstrate that certain competencies have been acquired before moving on. Authentic Active Learning activities create polished products which have value in themselves. The product has usually been created for sharing or publishing and the student has “polished” it for presentation. In other words it is an end-product that can stand on its own.
Traditionally student work is submitted to the teacher for grading. This means that the quality of the product will only be known to those two people. This confidentiality reduces the incentive that most of us experience when we know our peers will see the fruits of our labor. This eliminates an important incentive to do our best work. It also implies that creating the product is only an exercise which does not connect to any reality outside the classroom.
Preparing work to be shared with others also creates demands on the student’s communication abilities. Thus the activity becomes multi-dimensional, reinforcing additional skills.
It is not necessary to limit the potential audience to the student’s classroom peers. Current technology permits going outside the walls in order to reach an audience in other contexts—other schools, other parts of the world. The bigger the context the more the incentive for the student to put a significant effort into the work and the greater the pride of ownership that comes from good results.
Student publishing is very important for Active Learning teachers.
Publishing refers to any means by which students make their work public. It can include any available medium. Students can write reports or traditional academic papers but they can also make movies. Language students can create works using simple literary forms. One teacher has students write a unique form of sonnet taking advantage of the 140-character limit in Twitter tweets. Others use Twitter as the medium for collaborative story writing where each student tweets the next line.
A similar approach can be used in History, having students build a complete picture of a character, event, or era, or a region in Geography, using Social Media.
Debating is a forum for the publication of facts and opinions. Wikis allow students to compile encyclopedic reports on important subjects. These reports can be viewed by local classmates or even distant ones. Online discussion forums provide a great tool for peer feedback.
Blogging is an excellent way for students to share views and ideas with others and it is easy to start. Any student can have her own blog up and running in five minutes and at no cost. The power of this medium is greatly enhanced when students collaborate with learners in another part of the world in order to develop their ideas and provide feedback to each other. If the blogging subject matter is real-world events then student engagement will likely increase even more. See this great example.
Even simple classroom activities where student groups post their findings on the wall or simply share them verbally are steps in the right direction.
A Note About Class Presentations
It is worth noting that while having students do presentations to the class can be valuable it is sometimes overdone. We know that lengthy lectures by teachers can sometimes be tiresome and of limited value. Endless student presentations can have the same result. The students simply replace the teacher. It is not always necessary to have students present to the entire class. Individuals can present to their group and groups can present to other groups. Having too many full-class presentations can burn up a lot of valuable classroom time and some students may begin to feel they are being asked to do the teacher’s job. (Incidentally, conscientious teachers should not encourage “death by PowerPoint”.)
Just as you will enjoy creating authentic Active Learning activities, students will enjoy
- making something of value
- polishing/perfecting it
- sharing it with a relevant public: classmates, distant peers, the world