Make activities produce learning

an ordinary sized pumpkin
This pumpkin is under 400 pounds.

I read a newspaper article last week about an elementary school class in my area that had raised a 400-pound pumpkin, which will be displayed at the Hard Rock Cafe in Manhattan. It was a cute story, with a photo of cute kids with their pumpkin. I’m sure the kids enjoyed the experience or at least enjoyed having their photo in the newspaper.

The story got me thinking about projects English teachers do to help students engage with course content.

The “Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy” has this warning about using activities as teaching tools:

When the focus is placed on activities, students may be more interested in performing the activity than in learning from the activity.*

Classroom activities have a funny way of becoming an end in themselves. Unless teachers deliberately plan ways to make sure students learn from activities, they often don’t.  I remember some activities from high school that I thought were pointless busywork; the passage of time hasn’t changed my opinion.

Your time is too valuable to waste on activities that students remember as pointless busy work.

If you’re planning some activities for your classes this year, be sure you plan how to make sure students learn from the activity.  Begin by telling students what they’re supposed to learn. Is it information? A skill? A procedure? Some combination of those?

As much as it may grieve you to admit it, the only way to get some students to learn is to build learning assessments into the project itself. That doesn’t mean you have to give a test at the end of the activity.  Sometimes learning happens only when you force students to reflect on what they did, how they felt doing it, what results they achieved.

Giving students informal writing prompts at appropriate reflection points during the activity is one way to build in active learning.

Giving a formal writing prompt at the end of the activity can challenge students to analyze what they did, evaluate what they learned, and give you written documentation you can use both as a “final test” on what they learned from the activity and writing practice.

*The boldface is on page 233 of the original text of A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, L. W. Anderson and D.R. Krathwohl, et al, eds. (complete edition) 2001. Longman.

Image by Frauke Feind from Pixabay