Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) in Scotland places at its core four capacities that aim ‘to enable each child or young person to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor’ (Curriculum Review Group, 2004). Active learning is generally defined as any pedagogy that engages students in their own learning. Or, as Prince (2004) put it, ‘in short, active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing’ and is generally offered as an alternative to the traditional instructional methodologies of lecture and plenary lessons. Defined thus, it is clear that active learning is a pedagogical theory in line with the CfE and therefore will play a key role within the future of education in Scotland.
This being the case, I have been keen to encourage more active learning in my classroom and have identified the first step as promotion of self-responsibility and reliance in the learning environment (Cohen, 1994). Pupil discussion is vital in the English classroom and it is here that this ownership can, and should, begin. Pupil talk engages a range of mental processes including the ability to synthesize information which, in turn, allows for deeper thought processes and the ability to utilize and transfer this information from one subject or discussion to another (Pay, 2016). The aim of this type of classroom discussion is to teach a number of valuable skills, many of which have been outlined by Johnson et al (2014) as central tenets of active, cooperative learning. Students have a high level of autonomy and, according to Gillies (2014), this level of deep, constructive conversation is essential to higher level thinking and learning allowing opportunity for gradual movement through the stages of Bloom’s taxonomy.
Achieving this level of meaningful talk is not a natural evolution of the type of instruction that is most common in the classroom. In order to combat this and develop the desired culture of pupil-led discussion It was concluded that well thought out scaffolding must be put in place and a clear structure or technique must be taught and revisited regularly. Reinforcing the structure would be particularly important as most theorists, including Johnson and Johnson (2009), Sharan (1994) and Wilson & Wing Jan (2008) take care to specifically outline the value in teaching and re-teaching techniques in order to avoid student complacency from affecting the efficacy of the pedagogy and leading to a situation whereby we assume active learning is taking place when, in reality, it only appears to be.
- To focus on the impact of increasing pupil-led discussion through the introduction of a simple structure for same; Respond, Contribute, Continue.
- To evaluate the impact of this introduction on the quality of classroom discussion.
- To observe any changes to the classroom culture.