Active Learning – for 17 year olds

The active learning banner is sometimes seen to be the sole preserve of the those who teach in early years of primary school – and it’s true that I have seen many very exciting examples of active learning in such contexts during my school visits.

However, in the course of a wonderful visit to North Berwiuck High School this afternoon I saw learning taking place which would rival many groups of five year olds for enthusiasm, determination to learn and sheer sense of fun.

It was in  Modern Languages Higher French class where the teacher had students working in small groups discussing, working out, and exploring three different personal letters. The students were confident enough to work things out together with  the teacher moving round encouraging, stimulating and supporting their learning. But it wasn’t so much this lesson which caught my attention but the mention of a lesson which had taken place the week before in the same class.

The students had prepared for and participated in a debate “A woman’s place is in the home”.  They had worked out their arguments in groups and the teacher had helped them with vocabulary. Apparently the whole thing took off once they entered into the discussion where they had to use the language in a much more confrontational and natural manner by responding to and challenging the opposition.

I took five minutes at the end of the lesson to chat with the class and asked them if they needed such learning experiences as senior students “surely you just need the the information provided to help you pass the exam?” – I asked provocatively.

They didn’t hold back and made it quite clear that regardless of age they needed and demanded a variety of learning experiences provided by their teacher if they were to learn – but more importantly consolidate their learning in different contexts. 

This was crucial lesson for me and confirmed my growing belief that learners are learners regardless of age and that techiniques and approaches which work well in an infant class can be translated effectively, with suitable modification, into classroom practice for much older children , and vice versa – the barriers only exist in our own minds.

We have so much to learn from each other.

2 thoughts on “Active Learning – for 17 year olds

  1. Sounds like an excellent example of successful learners – who will benefit and become confident individuals. My own school has a wonderful Mod Langs dept (no, I’m not in it).. Is there something about the art of verbal comminication which, when well done, motivates learners?

  2. Prior to me taking up post in E Lothian I was fortunate enough to be included in Critical Skill training in Midlothian. The Criticla Skills programme is about collborative, problem-based, results-orientated experiential learning in a community context. It provided an structure, based on research evidence and a lot of experience with pupils of all ages/aptitudes, which was really about enabling pupils to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. The Critical Skills network is now well established (there are some East Lothian teachers involved)and,for anyone interested in finding out about examples of active learning principles being successfully used to deliver the curriculum for all ages/abilties their website worth a visit

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