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Active Learning In the ESL/EFL Classroom The term Active Learning means
The term Active Learning means ''student interaction with content, with materials and with peers in a multi-disciplinary, multi-sensory and multi-graded approach' (Meyers, 1993 pg 39). Active learning helps the teacher handle the diversity of student levels in the classroom.
In an Active Learning classroom the student is provided with the time, the materials, and the organized classroom routines and expectations they need in order to allow them interaction with their learning. It is important for educators to realize that Active Learning supports not only English-speaking students but second- language learners as well.
If we think that students are learning English so that they can use it in their everyday lives to better themselves and their opportunities, we must realize that students need to learn hands on. Active Learning makes learning more significant because it connects learning and language to real situations. In this way, English language students will find English more meaningful when they are not solely relying on textbooks and worksheets. To make Active Learning work, teachers need to establish expectations at the beginning of the course, and make them clear to the students i.e. co- operation, sharing, problem solving, and decision-making.
In his book, The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner talks about seven areas of intelligence. He believes that all our abilities and knowledge are intelligences no matter how we have acquired them (socially, academically, etc.). Further, he believes that schools shouldn't be biased in their teaching by deeming only the logic or linguistic intelligences as important.
Linguistic ' people who are good writers and readers (authors, poets)
Logical/ Mathematical ' people with strengths in logical/abstract thinking who recognize patterns easily (scientists, engineers)
Musical ' people with a love and sensitivity to pitch, melody, rhythm, etc. (musicians, conductors)
Bodily-Kinesthetic ' people with athletic abilities (dancers, actors, athletes)
Spatial ' people with an accurate perception of the world, who can change or create aspects of it (architects, artists, scientists)
Interpersonal ' people with high social skills and leadership qualities; who can understand people and relationships, and show empathy (diplomats, business people, social workers)
Intrapersonal ' people with strong introspective personalities who are in tune with inner thoughts and feelings (writers, business people, artists)
Active Learning centres and tasks will help to tap into the different intelligences of students enabling them their full learning potential.
Some advantages of Active Learning in language classrooms are as follows:
1.It allows students to interact and collaborate with one another through their tasks. This enhances their language and thinking skills. (In schools where students are learning English as a second language with English speaking peers, this interaction and integration helps them feel accepted. Each recognizes and values the other's strengths and differences.)
2.It takes into account the different levels of learning and the rate at which the students learn. Tasks tend to be open-ended tasks for multi-level learning opportunities.
3.It allows for different learning styles. Activities are designed to allow hands-on, multi-sensory modes of receiving and producing communications that provide meaningful contexts to help students retain new language.
4.It allows the students many output opportunities at centres where they can practice the new language skills they have acquired.
Let's look at an example. The theme for your lesson is 'Fall'. Here is a list of active learning activities a teacher can use:
-Reading: supply books, newspapers, fables
-Writing: projects, riddles, journal logs
-Movies: focusing on fall changes, Halloween, harvest, etc.
-Science: have fall scavenger hunt, talk about leaves, weather, animals, etc.
-Special days: Thanksgiving, Halloween, Diwali, Moon Festival, Rosh Hashanah, Eid, etc.
-Art: carve pumpkins, leaf rubbings, focus on colours of fall
-Drama: play games, mime, role-play, story telling, etc.
-Visuals: have posters or pictures on walls
-Trips: go on nature walk, visit apple farm
Some disadvantages of Active Learning are that they tend to get noisy and many argue that they do not include enough learning time or teaching time. However, a good Active Learning program will be structured around school curriculum and student ability. Lack of funding and space can also present problems but teachers can reuse and revamp old centres to focus on new curricula.
This was a brief look at Active Learning and its advantages and disadvantages. I am a strong supporter of Active Learning, as I believe it makes learning more enjoyable, more meaningful and more complete. I look forward to using it as much as possible in my career as an EFL teacher.
Gardner, Howard, Mindy L. Kornhaber, and Warren K. Wake. 1996. Intelligence: Multiple Perspectives. Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
Meyers, Mary. 1993. Teaching to Diversity: teaching and learning in the multi-ethnic classroom. Concord, Ontario: Irwin Publishing.