Developing and encouraging active learners

"If we position our students to be successful, they will be successful." Pauline Gibbons 

Active learners – learners who are able to take ownership of their own learning – are becoming successful lifelong learners.

Active learners believe in themselves as learners and understand that they are able to exert control over their learning. They know that if they try, they can learn more, and that they can make a difference to their learning. They are building a sense of themselves as learners and developing their agency.

How do we develop and encourage active learning?

Teachers and leaders often talk to me about their ‘focus’ or ‘target’ students, and how these students seem to be passive. These are students who seem difficult to engage in their learning; students who don’t participate much in the classroom or offer much orally.

The key to engaging these students in their learning is simple; teachers must hold high expectations for their students as successful learners and communicate these expectations to their students. These expectations are best communicated by building positive learning focused relationships that invite and expect learners to be active in their learning and to be able to reflect on and talk about it.

Classroom strategies for promoting active learning

My recommendations for encouraging active learning:

  • Make the learning clear to learners: Get your students to talk about their learning so that you both have a shared understanding of where the student is at. Set learning goals with learners to enable them to take control of their own learning.
  • Give your students opportunities to collaborate and learn with their peers, and respond to their needs: Use flexible grouping in your teaching as you notice the needs of learners and next teaching steps. Invite other learners to join the teaching and learning group. Grouping or pairing learners with mixed abilities fosters learning with and from others – this gives students choices in whom they learn and work with.
  • Give and provide opportunities for regular feedback on the learning: Use a range of feedback prompts to scaffold and respond to your range of learners. You can use reminder, scaffold or example prompts. Increase the feedback in your classroom by teaching your learners how to use these prompts in their feedback.
  • Stretch students by planning learning that will challenge them: Encourage your students, and acknowledge that the learning may be challenging. Urge and support them to persevere and put in the effort – and praise them for this effort.
  • Expect learners to participate, make choices and be active: Give learners time to talk about and demonstrate their learning with each other, and then make time so they can evaluate their learning.

Build a positive learning environment focused on learning, provide the opportunities above, and use deliberate teaching strategies – and you will engage and motivate your students. In turn, students will become more active and see themselves as learners. They will build their confidence and be able to talk about their learning.

They will develop learner agency – increasingly taking ownership of their learning.


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