4 Secrets to "Selling" Your Kids on Active Learning
group magazine: February, 1994
From: February 1994 GROUP Magazine
Keywords: Learning Active Resistance Preparation
4 Secrets to "Selling" Your Kids on Active Learning
When you plan active-learning programs, do your kids rebel? Maybe it's time for a little proactive preparation.
BY TIMOTHY SANFORD
"I'm not gonna do that!"
"This is stupid!"
"Whoever thought of this activity?"
"No way; not me!"
Ever notice that no matter how creative you are with active-learning ideas, you get blank stares and not-so-subtle resistance from some kids? Active learning works...but only if your kids will do it.
You can bypass kids' resistance by following these four principles:
1. Create a safe place. You have to set the stage if kids are going to take a risk with active learning. Seasoned youth worker Mike Worley says a leader should know the name and basic personality of every young person in his or her group. Why? Because successful activities are based on the relationships you've already established.
"If your kids are comfortable with you as a person," says Worley, "they'll be comfortable with the learning activity-no matter how crazy it may be."
Spending time with each young person gives kids the message that they're okay. They'll remember that message when it's time for an off-the-wall activity.
2. Change the rules. Think about why kids may not want to do active learning. Basically, it's the age-old concern, "I don't want to look stupid." So put a new twist on an old activity. Make an activity harder for everyone by assigning limits to the entire group or to certain people.
For example, for the entire group, make a rule that no one can talk or everyone must stay connected as a group. For individuals, blindfold everyone, require that each person be carried everywhere, or say that people can't use their hands. These limits force kids to adjust to limitations and imperfections in themselves or others. This is also a great way to make kids equal with the more athletic or vocal individuals.
You can also change the rules by changing the goal. Instead of "whoever is first wins," make it "whenever everyone gets there, you all win." This discourages self-centeredness and encourages kids to share their spiritual gifts and talents with the group.
3. Teach along the way. You know the formula: Kids experience an active-learning activity and then they discuss it. But using this formula over and over becomes counterproductive. Always waiting to debrief after the activity takes the punch out of learning.
Change your style every now and then and debrief during the activity. It can be more profitable to bring up topics midstream than to wait until the activity is all over. You can do this in two ways. First, stop the entire group during the activity and discuss what's happening at that exact moment. What actions, feelings, or perceptions are they aware of? Ask, "What are you feeling right now?" or "What do you see happening to the group?" This is a great time to ask kids what they want to change or keep the same as the activity continues.
You can also talk individually with kids as the activity progresses. Do this quietly so you don't disturb other kids. Listen to young people's language. Suggest to kids that they use "I" instead of "you," "I don't want to" rather than "I can't," and "I think" in place of "I know." Encourage kids to try out the lessons you're teaching and report their findings back to you or the group.
By debriefing in the middle of the action, you increase kids' awareness, talk through faulty thinking, and actually let kids make the changes they need to make for optimal learning. Learning to discuss the "right now" with your group takes practice. Soon you'll find that teaching along the way is far more impacting than just talking about it after the fact.
4. Focus on learning. If the activity bombs, great! All eyes will be on you. Swallow your pride and teach on humility, honesty, learning to laugh at your mistakes, or God's sovereignty. Youth minister Joe Hesh suggests opening your revised lesson with, "I didn't really expect it to end like this. What do you think we could've done differently?" There's your introduction. You'll miss many valuable lessons if you focus only on the intended outcome. Instead, focus on learning.
Active learning gives you less control than in a lecture. But active learning gives God more control to guide the lessons. You must be willing to teach what God wants taught. The only guarantee in active learning is that something can be learned-though it may not be the lesson you'd planned.
Timothy Sanford is a counselor and youth worker in Colorado.
WHAT IS ACTIVE LEARNING?
Active learning is learning by doing. It may spring from a real-life experience or from a created or simulated experience in the classroom. For example, kids may hide under a blanket to discover insights about hiding from God, or they may build newspaper walls around themselves to learn about cliques.
In Do It! Active Learning in Youth Ministry, Thom and Joani Schultz describe seven characteristics of active learning. Active learning
1. Is an adventure-You can't predict what'll happen once you embark on the journey.
2. Is fun and/or captivating-Because it intrigues kids, they're more open to learning.
3. Involves everyone-If everyone is actively involved, everyone learns.
4. Is student-based, not teacher-based-Active learning depends on students making discoveries rather than teachers imparting facts and ideas.
5. Is process-oriented-Kids live an experience and then debrief with a skilled leader's help.
6. Is focused through debriefing-Evaluating an experience by discussing it in pairs or small groups helps focus the experience and articulate its meaning.
7. Is relational-Young people share an experience and together debrief.
Copyrightę 1994 Group Publishing, Inc. / GROUP Magazine