What is that mysterious Active Learning?

Students Experience in Active-Learning Literature Classes

Take a look at a clear picture of what active learning actually is and what pros and cons it has. Discover the real students’ experience in active learning.

What is that mysterious Active Learning?

Can you think about the most inclusive learning technique? And no, it is not “carrot and stick” method but active learning. This approach has been shown to be super-effective and entertaining during the last decade. The explosion of interest to that pedagogical technique we can easily explain as it leads to several positive outcomes, such as the improvement of students’ academic success, engagement, and attitudes. This article is useful because it is crucial to describe the most salient and common benefits of this learning method as it applies to studying literature.

Active Learning – the exact definition and main categories

The technique of active learning is defined as any pedagogical strategy which encourages students to engage in a useful material, in meaningful activities that support the course’s desired outcomes.

We have a lot of great examples of active learning in the real life, essays are one of these. They make students reflect on a particular topic and accompany teacher’s thoughts and general facts with their own ideas to create a clear picture of the subject being studied. Writing essays is not a piece of cake, especially academic ones, but in the modern world, it requires less effort to teach yourself with the help of the Internet and other sources. When a student writes an academic essay using the 10page essay about the Manhattan project, for sure, he or she shows perfect results at writing and does his best at the active learning process.

The pros of active learning are definitely obvious. Even in “Understanding by Design” by the researchers Wiggins and McTighe, the authors emphasize that such learning activities help develop a good understanding of the ideas of great importance to be learned.

Referring to the classification formulated by the competent researchers Faust and Paulson, active learning is divided into three types:

  • a practice of listening (students tend to remember more information they have heard either from a teacher or some groupmates)
  • student writing exercises (students react to a lecture by leaving their thoughts on paper)
  • exercises within a group (students look at real-life problems and describe possible solutions using lecture materials)

The use of Active Learning in Literature Classes

Active learning is a key factor in engaging the learner with literary works in class. It increases students’ engagement and provides forums for learning to be more personal, meaningful, and memorable. As we know, literature classes tend to be more traditional than the other ones, ignoring the advantages of a cooperative and interactive teaching style characteristic of active learning. But it is not so easy in different cases and countries.

Romanian students example

The studies conducted among 90 Philology students in Romania show that most students are familiar with the concept of ‘Active Learning. But almost 44% of them also said that their teachers hardly ever use this approach during literature classes. Nevertheless, 33% answered that they appreciate the most frequently applied literature activities among which are: clarification pauses, discussion, and the famous Socratic Method which means answering questions in pairs to stimulate the students’ critical thinking.

Peer teaching experiences

An interesting fact was found in the students’ answers to the question “How frequently did you take part in peer teaching classes” – some teachers do not attach much importance to collaborative teaching and prefer individual teaching activities. The high proportion of those who chose ‘never’ demonstrates once again the traditional type of the instructional process that literature teachers apply in their classes. When asked about reasons for that, students point to teachers’ lack of interest, the difficulty in preparing such an active type of literature classes.

Positive view and examples

Their positive view is again supported by the significant percentage of respondents who believe in the effectiveness of active learning techniques as a means of solid preparation for a successful professional life. As a result, students consider that they would give great importance to such a teaching style, which in their view may contribute to the acquisition and development of the competencies needed for their future career.

Active Learning Seminars

As this survey data shows, a good thing is that at least during seminars students have the chance to take part in literature classes that are based on active learning techniques. Even though less than half of the respondents indicated that this is not the case during literature courses, they are, however, familiar with such a technique, showing their preference for this learning method.

What can we get from it?

As the conclusion to our findings, we admit that traditional methods are still present during literature classes in the academic environment. Although teachers are aware of the fact that active learning can increase students’ performance, they still believe in the efficiency of traditional lectures, as surveys show.

Without a doubt, it is important to emphasize that students who engage in critical reflection through active learning gain the ability to generate their own original ideas. Literature, in this case, constitutes an extraordinary tool to be used. Active learning through the study of literary works and the role of the teacher are therefore the key elements in the development of the students’ proficiency level in any other discipline. That is why active learning methods in literature should have a stronger presence in any academical schedule.

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