Back to The Staffroom

Atomi and active learning

By Sam Di Sano on 19 March 2019NSWstaffroomLeadershipInnovation

Crossing a busy intersection close to home recently I noticed an advertisement for a tutoring college which promoted its active learning principles with this gem: ‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn,’ which I found out later was attributed to Benjamin Franklin who lived in the 18th Century. Thinking it through I know I can go one better with a quote from Confucius some 2000 years earlier: ‘I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand.’

Simply put, when we are actively engaged in our own learning we tend to take more in. Some quote research that suggests we take in only 10% of what we read but up to 90% of what we do.

When active learning strategies are employed, we have a far greater opportunity to tap into deeper learning. So much of what we do in the classroom, through no fault of our own, is very much on a superficial level getting not much further than the bottom rungs of Bloom’s taxonomy of communicating knowledge and understanding. What’s far more satisfying is to be able to teach students how to think, how to step back and ask questions of what they are learning in order to:

  1. Promote analysis;
  2. Make connections;
  3. Generate explanations;
  4. Challenge ideas;
  5. Consider different perspectives.

This can be through a range of activities including group or project-based work, technology-rich and online activities, peer teaching, and so on. Students who are actively participating in and reflecting on these type of activities will generally enhance their higher order thinking capabilities. But alas, when we are burdened with content heavy curricula, it’s so easy to fall back into direct instruction mode. Integrating any form of technology into your teaching practice, however, can transform learning outcomes.

Through passive strategies, students learn how to ‘repeat and do’. Through active learning strategies involving inquiry, problem-solving, and collaboration, students control their own learning and transfer their knowledge beyond the classroom.

Not everyone is completely convinced though. Of the 250 plus factors impacting on learning, Professor John Hattie has researched that the greatest impact comes from the interaction between a student and teacher. Hattie’s top 10 strategies include direct instruction, teaching metacognitive skills, mastery learning, concept mapping, spaced practice, and note taking.

In his research on Visible Learning, Professor John Hattie rates active learning highly, but he is a far greater fan of direct instruction than he is of collaborative or peer-led learning modalities or inquiry-based and problem-solving techniques, which many thinking strategies and principles promote. While I value Hattie’s research and expertise, the takeaway for me is that some approaches work better than others. The key is to vary delivery and instruction.

As teachers, we are far more likely to have a large and positive impact, both cognitively and effectively if we:

  • Are passionate about helping kids learn;
  • Forge positive relations with our students;
  • Personalise the learning experience;
  • Actively seek to constantly improve and build on our own teaching experience.

When we employ video learning, both in the classroom and at home with a resource like Atomi, we not only enable teachers to go beyond merely teaching content, but also allow time for teaching the application of skills. All of our students know how to think, but we can use class time to develop their thinking more creatively, critically and deeply. The key is making connections.

At the core of the Visible Thinking pedagogy are practices that help make thinking visible with routines that guide learners' thought processes and encourage active engagement like analysing; separating or breaking a whole into parts; applying standards; discriminating; reasoning, and prediction.

In a counter to Hattie’s lower regard for collaborative and peer learning, it is refreshing to read Maryellen Weimer, PhD's paper, Five Key Principles of Active Learning (2012) which suggests among her top five that:

  1. Individuals are likely to learn more when they learn with others than when they learn alone;
  2. Meaningful learning is facilitated by articulating explanations, whether to one’s self, peers, or teachers.

My top tips for using Atomi videos in an active way to stimulate thinking are:

  • Nothing will work if your students aren’t accountable for their own learning - test their learning and understanding to ensure they have actually watched and learned from a video;
  • Challenge students to prepare for a lesson or topic with some pre-learning - view it yourself first and allocate it to your class along with your own worksheet to complete along the way. That in itself can be a form of assessment;
  • Incorporate our technology-based and online resource as long as you do so to enhance the delivery;
  • Employ group activities and collaborative tasks in class, balanced with direct instruction and other modes - mix it up;
  • Personalise the learning experience - gather data on viewership and understanding, which Atomi now does for you, and amend your delivery accordingly;
  • Build in regular feedback in a variety of modes;
  • Encourage independent learning and ownership;
  • Chisel away at making that classroom experience the most effective and efficient you can.

I would love to know how you incorporate video learning and in particular the Atomi videos into your classroom. Feel free to email me to share your success.

Try Atomi for free and receive regular updates from the Staffroom.

Learn More