Resource Spotlight: Active Learning, A La Carte
When I think of professional development, I am hit with a visceral memory from my second year teaching. I had just walked back into my too-cold classroom with a stack of handouts from a PD session. In ten minutes my freshmen were going to walk in. I sat down at my desk. I looked at the stack of handouts. I looked at the bottom drawer of my desk. Finally, I looked at the black wire wastebasket at my feet. You can probably guess where that stack of papers went. To be honest, if I’d put the handouts in my desk drawer, they probably would have sat there untouched until I threw them out six months later.
I couldn’t even begin to tell you what that PD session was actually about. I know the handouts were printed copies of PowerPoint slides. I know I was vaguely interested in the strategies they were sharing, but was too overwhelmed to consider incorporating them into my planning for English 9 (especially my second period English 9 students, who were a bewilderingly grumpy group of 14 year olds). And I know I was irritated that I just spent my 90 minute planning period without doing any actual planning.
So what did prompt me to improve my practice? What sparked my growth as an educator, nudging me to work harder each year to engage my students? The answer lies with my “nextdoor neighbor” colleague. She walked into my classroom one afternoon and told me “I emailed you a template for this Choice Board thing I found. It’s cute. Let’s use it for the passage analysis for Chapter 7 of Paradise of the Blind.”
We sat down to work on creating choices for each square on the board and, twenty minutes later, I had an activity for the next day that would allow my students to make choices about how they demonstrated their knowledge and understanding of a text. I didn’t have to spend six hours figuring out how to completely transform the curriculum. I just needed a nudge from a colleague, a concrete place to start, and the willingness to take a small step.
Today I want to be your colleague in the classroom next door, and bring you a resource that will help you translate the concept of active learning into concrete strategies and actionable plans.
Active Learning can mean a lot of things, but to me it’s learning by doing, working with others, solving problems, and making choices. The resource I’m sharing actually models one of those: making choices. This Active Learning Menu provides a choice board of methods for you to expand your practice, one “meal” at a time.
What does it include?
- Active Learning Menu: each portion – Appetizer, Main Course, and Dessert – provides options for implementing active learning techniques in your classroom. The designations – whether something is the meat of the meal or just the cherry on top – indicate the level of planning required, as well as the type of impact it will have on your classroom.
- Appetizer and Main Course Recipes: This page of “recipes” provides named strategies for several of the suggested techniques on the menu. Most link to resources that explain the strategy or provide templates and examples.
Planning for and implementing active learning in your classroom doesn’t mean you need to toss all the plans you already have straight into a black wire wastebasket. Start small, with just an appetizer. See how it goes down, and come back to the menu for the next course.
Rachel is the Director of Professional Learning for Opportunity Education. Before her work in this role, she worked as both a Quest Forward Learning mentor and English curriculum designer. Rachel has over 15 years of experience in the education field, including a Master of Education in Secondary Education, as well as 11 years teaching English in both public and parochial high schools in Northern Virginia. She is committed to supporting teachers in their growth and loves collaborating with educators to increase student engagement.