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Interactive Learning: The Latest Classroom Transformer

Jennifer Root Wilger

"I really like the idea of letting kids do group work," Ruth said, "but every time I try it, they get off task." Ruth isn't alone in her experience. She's heard about the benefits of interactive learning and wants to try it in her classroom. So she lets the kids interact, and before she knows it, the kids are interacting about everything but the lesson! How can we train teachers to get interactive learning to work for them instead of against them?

Interactive learning, also known as cooperative learning, is the latest thing in public school educational methodology. In interactive learning, kids learn together in groups. Unlike traditional "group activities," which can be dominated by outgoing students, interactive learning requires each student to contribute to the group's success. Students in interactive learning groups understand that they'll "sink or swim" together.

WHY IT WORKS

Interactive learning offers kids the following benefits:

Social skills-In interactive learning classrooms, kids develop positive social skills as they depend on one another to complete a task. Interactive learning also provides an excellent model of life in the body of Christ. Kids learn firsthand that each person in the church performs a different but equally important function.

Increased learning-Kids learn more by pooling their knowledge. They're motivated to learn by the joy of discovery rather than the prodding of a teacher. And they remember more of what they've learned because they've discovered answers for themselves.

Positive peer relationships-As children work together, they get to know their classmates and often form lasting friendships. The formation of positive Christian friendships equips kids to help each other live out their Christian faith.

HOW IT WORKS

Establishing and maintaining interactive classrooms isn't easy, but the results are well worth the effort. The following guidelines will help you train teachers to use interactive learning in their classrooms.

Have a heart. Commit to helping teachers establish interactive classrooms. Think about the kids in your ministry and how the benefits of interactive learning will affect each child. Pray that God will guide teachers and students as they journey together toward authentic learning.

Set up classrooms. Have teachers move the furniture in their rooms to allow kids to interact. Kids in each group need to be close enough to see and talk to each other without raising their voices. Groups need to be situated far enough apart so they don't distract each other.

Establish guidelines. For successful interactive learning, help teachers form a plan to deal with situations that may get out of control. Have teachers explain to children that they'll be trying a different way of learning. Tell kids that this new way of learning might be a little noisier, and ask them to think of rules that'll keep them from disturbing other classes.

Choose an attention-getting signal. An attention-getting signal can be a simple noisemaker, a rhythmic clap, or a raised hand. Explain that when kids hear the signal, they should stop what they're doing, give the response, and listen quietly for the next instructions. Kids can respond by raising their hands, clapping, or giving you a "thumbs up" sign.

Form base groups. Groups can vary in size from two to four. Have teachers consider children's wishes in group formation but definitely have the final say. Put male and female, active and passive, and reading and nonreading students together. Visitors can jump into an existing group with friendly regulars who know the routine.

Use interactive learning techniques. Simply assigning kids to groups doesn't guarantee that they'll cooperate and work together. Structure group interaction for optimal learning experiences. See the "Interactive Learning Structures" box for ideas.

Reward positive groups. Tell teachers not to give all their attention to a rowdy group. Rather, focus on the group that seems to exhibit the greatest degree of cooperative interaction. Praise that group's success. Soon other groups will follow their example.

Encourage problem-solving. Have teachers refrain from jumping in to save the day if there's a problem. Have kids consult with each other, then with another group, before teachers offer help. Cheryl Reames, a certified elementary teacher, suggests having kids use problem-solving steps such as "listen to everyone's side," "don't interrupt while someone is explaining," and "try to find a solution that'll make everyone happy." If you're constantly intervening, evaluate the situation with kids. Ask why they think things aren't working. Often, kids will say, "We don't understand what we're supposed to do." Clarify any questions kids have, and encourage them to move on.

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