Fairness and Equality in Active Learning Processes

How can we make active learning fruitful in every classroom? This is a question I constantly ponder upon. Understanding active learning means figuring out the best ways in which students learn. This reminds me of my years in grad school when a professor asked us if as educators we thought  we should give the same opportunities to each of our students- immediately we responded: yes, of course.

Later, he asked us to comment on differences we considered between fairness and equality. We thought about it for a while and then he made us reflect about those two words. I started reminiscing about my childhood and thought about the Christmas gifts my brother and I used to get. An uncle of mine used to give us envelopes on special occasions- we knew envelopes contained money and always got excited about those gifts. Long ago, being a 10 yr old and getting Lps. 20 as a Christmas gift was a big deal, so I was quite happy until my brother opened his envelope and he got Lps. 100. My brother is 7 yrs older than me and my mom then explained my brother needed more money than what I did hence the difference in the amount of money in the envelopes.

When my professor asked about fairness and equality I couldn’t avoid thinking about the Christmas envelopes. My uncle was clever in giving each what we needed. He treated us equally by giving us both gifts and was fair enough to give us what we each needed. My brother was at an age where he would go out with friends and spend more, I wasn´t- as I would hang out with my mom at all times.

When thinking about active learning processes, educational opportunities and activities that will enhance learning I realize it’s the same fairness and equality that we have to take into account when planning and teaching. Not everyone learns the same way, not everyone has the same needs.

Planning to fit student´s needs is a great beginning point to be fair and equal with every learner.  Some students learn best after the teacher´s explanation, others with a peer, others are visual learners and others learn by doing. So I wonder, why don´t we give each student what they need. How are you being fair and equal in your class? Think about time for exercises, type of questions one gives-analyze your strategies. There are so many ways in which we believe we are giving everyone the same but are we really?

Active learning is a simple and effective way to ensure everyone learns. While some interact with peers, I can give an instruction to the ones who need it most; I may vary the activities so that each student gets a chance to grasp learning. In other words, through active learning I allow the student to process at his/her own time and ability what just happened in the classroom. Let´s try it!

As for me, I will keep thinking about what I have been doing in the classroom, how can I make it a better learning environment for all, about the activities I plan, are they adequate to all the learning styles my students have? Tough cookie but a real challenge for teachers like us, right?