NTN believes that learning should be an active endeavor by the learner, which requires the nature of instruction to follow suit. Students should engage authentic problems that require complex thinking. And this depth of thinking and the associated risk-taking required can only take place in an environment that is safe, inclusive, and emotionally supportive.
What does an active learner look like?
She engages in inquiry by posing questions, interrogating those questions with support, pursuing better understanding, and then posing even better questions. PBL and PrBL center around this inquiry, with students involved in the process* of generating their knows, need to knows, and next steps. That know/need to know process is fundamental to keeping inquiry at the heart of an active learning process, all while building a problem-solving skill students can use in many contexts. The Spectrum of Scaffolding lays out a progression of how this student-centered inquiry might develop over time in your classroom. You will see the critical role that knows/need to knows play in that development.
*see Involve Learners in the PBL Process Card/Learner Centered Practices Card Set
In pursuit of understanding, the learner engages complex tasks actively as a sensemaker, not a passive recipient of information. Through a learner-centered practice like Concept Attainment*, she actively develops the targeted knowledge and skills. And, as seen in a structure like a Text Discussion Protocol**, she expands and refines her thinking through dialogue and collaboration with peers.
If that’s what an active learner looks like, what does that suggest for instruction?
To achieve student engagement, teachers should design meaningful learning experiences for students. Authentic learning that is personally relevant will connect to emotions, and emotions are what fuel thinking for all learners. If the learning is personally relevant and sparks curiosity, learners connect to why they are doing the task, which improves performance. Use the Spectrum of Authenticity to amp up the authenticity for your students.
As Vygotsky pointed out, higher order cognition originates from the relationships between individuals. NTN believes teachers must intentionally build relationships throughout the classroom in order to foster rich dialogue, where students are able to construct meaning collectively that is inaccessible to them individually.
These relationships and a sense of community are essential for students to take risks in their learning, pose questions, and share their thinking with others. To enable this, teachers must establish a safe, inclusive and emotionally supportive culture. This culture is built intentionally through Establishing a Warm Demanding Stance* and collaboratively developing Community Agreements** that serve as guidelines for how students interact with each other and the learning experiences.
To keep student inquiry in focus, NTN teachers should be responsive to the questions and needs of students. This requires the teacher to release some control of what happens and when, while empowering the students to carry the cognitive load in the learning process. This will certainly add some twists and turns in the learning process, but isn’t that what good learning looks like anyway?
- Immordino-Yang, M. H. (2016). Emotions, learning, and the brain: Exploring the educational implications of affective neuroscience. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
- Pink, D. H. (2010). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Edinburgh: Canongate.
- Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner & E. Souberman., Eds.) (A. R. Luria, M. Lopez-Morillas & M. Cole [with J. V. Wertsch], Trans.) Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. (Original manuscripts [ca. 1930-1934])
- Bohm, D. (2014). On dialogue. London: Routledge.