Active learning – it isn’t easy, but it’s fun!

Johnson encourages a group of students and visitors as they plan a series of lessons about rivers, and ensure access to these lessons for all learners.

Johnson encourages a group of students and visitors as they plan a series of lessons about rivers, and ensure access to these lessons for all learners.

“This is a different way of learning to that which we have usually experienced”. This was a comment from a visitor yesterday to a session on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme here in Bangalore. It was one of many that we received of this ilk, and came from an enthusiastic young teacher who was curious to find out whether the things she had heard about the course were true.

As tutors on the course we are firm believers in the notion that you learn most when you put ideas into action. Hence the pattern of a typical session comprises some input by a tutor, followed by a little discussion and debate, then a practical activity in which we attempt to put an idea into practice in a simulated school situation, before coming together for more input and a questioning of what has been learned.

During some of our modules we have an open day during which we open the doors to visitors who are curious about the course. Yesterday nineteen such individuals passed through the doors, many choosing to spend the whole day with us (they had probably heard about the quality of the lunch provided), whilst a few stayed for just a couple of hours. A morning activity was focused upon lesson planning and recognising how the varying individual needs of pupils can be addressed within whole class situations. Students developed innovative ideas for providing effective learning for pupils with a wide range of needs in mathematics lessons focused on measurement, geography lessons about rivers, and science activities investigating insects.

One of our students Sathyasree commented on social media that:

The activity was a real challenge! but yet a lot of learning outcomes and better understanding in creating a lesson plan to meet each individual need.

The assertion of challenge is one that I like. After all, as we keep reminding all of our students, at the end of this course of study you obtain a master’s degree, this needs to be earned!

Our ambition in developing this course was that the students who complete the degree would have become critical thinkers, challenging many of the ideas that have been a part of teaching and learning for many years. We believe that inclusive schools will be achieved through the leadership of individuals who are able to see the strengths brought to the learning situation by all pupils, and who have the skills and confidence to adjust their teaching accordingly. This requires the ability to critique current existing approaches to classroom management and teaching approaches, to become more reflective as professionals, and then to apply ideas in the classroom. We have been very fortunate in having students coming on to this course over the past four years, who respond positively to this challenge. These are certainly education activists. whose leadership will make a significant difference to education here in India.

We know that not all of the visitors who attended the sessions yesterday will become students on this course. Though we would obviously make them most welcome if they did. For some, the challenges of joining a venture such as this are too great at this time, and maybe even into the future. We are not critical of these colleagues, who come from a range of circumstances and teaching backgrounds; we are simply grateful that they have shown an interest in the work of our students and the ways in which we try to support and encourage them in this venture.

Today we will continue to look at the ways in which we may develop inclusive classrooms. In particular we will explore the management of group work that encourages pupil learning at many levels. Theories around jigsawing and envoying as techniques for the facilitation of group work will be explored, but the greatest learning will take place when the students are actively engaged in developing these methods in our simulated classroom groups.

Whilst most of our students tell us that this is a way of working that differs greatly from their previous experiences, they also make it clear that that they feel confident in both the theoretical aspects of the course and the application of ideas into real classrooms. The evidence for this comes from those students who were the very first to attend and complete this Bangalore based course. Each time we arrive in the city they are eager to meet with us and tell us about the changes that they are bringing about in their classrooms, and the benefits that they see for their pupils.

As she was leaving today, one of our visitors commented that.

This was a very challenging way of learning today – but it was great fun!

If everyone involved in this programme leaves with the message that learning should be an enjoyable experience for all concerned, then hopefully we are getting something right.