Using a Reading Strategy to Foster Active Learning in Content Area Courses

Article excerpt

Research indicates that active learning is desirable in the college classroom in lieu of a passive lecture style. The dilemma of many professors is how to introduce active learning in a traditional lecture course. K-W-L, a reading strategy, which promotes active reading, is adapted to facilitate active learning in the traditional lecture classroom This strategy facilitates critical thinking, professor-student interaction and retention in the course and in college.

Inn today's college classrooms, active learning is becoming increasingly important in teaching most subjects. Paulson and Faust (2000) define active learning as any activities students do in a classroom other than just listening to the instructor's lecture. Research shows that students understand the material better and retain it longer if they can react to lecture or course material actively (Paulson & Faust; Romig & Allbee, 2000). Active learning techniques allow instructors to assess the students and their level of learning throughout the course. When students learn actively, they become more connected to the subject matter, practice critical thinking and interact more with the professor and class members, which make them more likely to stay in college and graduate. Research indicates that the student-faculty interaction that develops as a part of active learning fosters the retention of students in the class and in college (Seeler, Turnwald & Bull, 1994).

It is difficult to initiate active learning, promote a positive student-faculty interaction, and utilize non-threatening assessment in traditional lecture courses. Faculty can institute the changes in curriculum and teaching styles that are necessary to foster active learning and initiate student-faculty interaction by using the reading strategy, What I Know--What I Want to Know--What I Learned (K-W-L), at the beginning and end of each unit taught in a college lecture course. The traditional K-W-L reading strategy can be adapted to transform the traditional lecture class to an interactive.

K-W-L As A Reading Strategy

The K-W-L strategy is a method devised to teach students to read actively by engaging previous knowledge, asking questions, and recalling important information in the text to enhance comprehension (Carr & Ogle, 1987). In the K-W-L strategy, the students are asked to list what they know about the subject and the questions they may have about the subject before reading the text selection. Then after reading the selection, the students are asked to write what they have learned about the subject. This strategy prompts the students to identify previous knowledge, to consider what they want or need to know and list the useful information learned from the selection during reading (Aldridge, 1989; Carr & Ogle, 1987; Simpson, 1996). This strategy expects the students to evaluate what they know and learn. The student may take the information learned in the selection and use it in a concept map or outline or as a summary of the selection (Carr & Ogle). This strategy promotes active learning through reading, writing, discussing and/or problem solving. Research shows that active learning strategies like K-W-L lead students to engage in higher-order thinking such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation (Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Muskingum College, 1999). These higher levels of thinking are necessary.

Adapting K-W-L As an Active Learning Strategy

K-W-L can be adapted to transform the lecture style college course into an active learning environment. Although most college professors accept that students learn from interaction with the faculty and classmates, the college lecture course is not designed to foster that interaction. The problem lies in developing instructional strategies that allow for interactive sharing of previous knowledge, inquiry, thought processes and analysis of learned material (Williamson & Greenwood, 1989). …