The Case for an Active Classroom

October 6, 2014
Allen Rabinovich

Photo Credit: queensu

Is Mr. Robinson still standing in front of a classroom reciting the same lecture from last year’s algebra class? Moreover, is there a guarantee that he teaches math in a way a student will understand and enjoy? In the Internet age, we should not take these trade-offs and let a lottery decide who wins a first-class education. We owe 21st century students the best lecture they can possibly get their hands on, and the reality is that it’s already out there, free of charge!

The Current State of Affairs

In a traditional public school classroom, most students are reduced to copying down the teacher’s notes, word for word, while trying to grasp a new concept at the same time. As a result, most of the subject matter is lost within a few hours after the lecture is complete. Not only are students failing to understand the material, but this format also discourages raising their hands for help. Imagine the embarrassment of asking a “stupid” question in front of 30 classmates: why even bother? The classic lecture is a passive approach to classroom instruction, both on the part of the student and the teacher. It’s a tradition that stems from the days when schoolteachers were indeed the holders of exclusive knowledge. In those times, if you happened to be assigned a poor lecturer, incapable of piquing your interests, you were just stuck with him. You had no other choice, since information was hard to come by any other way. Thank goodness in the age of the Internet, those days are long gone—or are they?

The Active State

I argue that the teacher should call an audible. It’s not too late to rethink his or her position as the facilitator of knowledge. Passing on information is outdated, since there is no limit to the knowledge available freely to students with an Internet connection. By contrast, the individual need of the student is still very much in fashion: her current proficiency, learning style, natural ability, etc. Understanding these idiosyncrasies and using them to guide the classroom ought to be the main job for the modern instructor. For an online lecture to gain popularity, it means the learning community has vouched for its quality.

The teacher should be a maestro of the classroom, curating these high quality (and free) videos to suit the needs of her diverse student base. Instead of offering a one-size-fits-all lecture, the teacher could assign videos to her students based on their skill level and learning style. In class the next day, instead of jotting down notes on autopilot, the kids will work through different problem sets. Since there is no fear of being ostracized by her busy classmates, the student is much faster to admit that she’s not following the material. She may ask for 1-on-1 help from the teacher who is afforded the time to show her attention. Group work is an integral part of the active classroom as well. Peer mentoring can be encouraged if you combine the overachievers with the students who are struggling. Often times, a person who’s just learned the material is the most apt to explain it to a fellow learner: let’s take advantage of this underutilized resource!

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