Active learning is one of those things that can make some teachers feel an overwhelming sense of unease. When children are in the classroom, shouldn’t they sit in orderly groups or else surely they won’t behave?
As a former PE teacher, I spent the vast majority of my time in school promoting the benefits of being active. Fine, I hear you cry – we get it! A nation of overweight and obese children spending too long looking at screens and not getting the recommended daily amount of activity but what about all the pressure of what needs to be taught in the curriculum. Where can we find the time to be more active in school? Well, two hours of PE lessons per week is a start but that can only take you so far.
In my mind, it’s simple - children are moving less, so we need to get them sitting less and moving more. Apart from being active in PE, clubs and breaks, the average child stays sitting for a lot of the school day, but this doesn’t have to be the case. By introducing simple movements into lessons, teachers can engage students and help them to learn in a fun way. That’s where active learning comes in. It could be for the purpose of ‘re-set and re-focus’ to help children concentrate better when they become fidgety and lose concentration. Rather than labeling these children would it not be better to support their learning by allowing them ‘time to move’ which will then enable them to focus better?
Lots of teachers may feel this approach is going to disrupt lessons, but it can have the opposite effect. If children move more, then they will concentrate better and focus on their learning and have a healthier body and mind. A study on primary aged children by Charles Hillman, professor at the University of Illinois, found that physical activity may increase students cognitive control or ability to pay attention, resulting in a better performance on academic tests. And this was all from testing pupils brain behaviour when they were tested sitting and then doing the same test the next day, but walking around.
At Youth Sport Trust, we’ve recently been working with Loughborough University on an Active Learning project; CLASS PAL. Our role was to train teachers and get them enthused and engaged about active learning. Not much research has been done in this country on active learning, but Loughborough University secured funding for a three year research project and it’s great to be part of it. To find out more about the project and access the resources website, just go to the website here.
We are also offering our own training workshop with online resources to help teachers introduce active learning into their classrooms. All info can be found here.
What about English I hear you cry? Surely they need to be sitting down to write?! Of course not.
We recently worked with Dan Freedman, author of the popular Jamie Johnson series, on an Active Literacy course. The course featured a story about a footballer which Dan wrote specially for us to target boys and girls in upper key stage 2 who may have switched off from reading. National trends tell us that ten year old boys specifically don’t want to sit down and read or write, so we developed a resource for teachers that sits alongside the book to encourage practical learning approaches for teaching of English – reading and writing.
Instead of sitting and discussing, boys were encouraged to stand up and walk around acting out scenes in the book and punctuation was done with whole body movements rather than sitting to learn about it. And this was all done in the classroom, the same space. No gym or hall needed, just actions to get them moving whilst helping them learn about English.
For me, the ambition here is to change the culture in a school and for teachers to understand that it’s ok for their pupils to move around and learn. Everyone needs a break from learning, especially if it actually helps you to learn.