Review of Teaching in the Fast Lane: How to Create Active Learning Experiences, by Suzy Pepper Rollins
Review of Teaching in the Fast Lane: How to Create Active Learning Experiences, by Suzy Pepper Rollins, 2017. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, paper.
The author compiles and illustrates some very helpful classroom activities and strategies for turning students into active learners in the classroom. Using such approaches as stations, sorts, and cooperative learning, Rollins shows how to set up some very interesting scenarios in which students can be the ones standing and moving and learning in the classroom. The teacher can sit down and do more planning.
This is a brief book, but it contains clear and suitable examples of the learning situations of the kind helpful in getting more students out of their seats to participate in the process. The book is so brief, in fact, that it gives me a chance to offer some examples out of a subject that can dovetail into the ones used here. The stations, for example, can be used to help students learn under the national world language teaching standards ‘Making Connections” strand to connect with other disciplines: Making Connections: Learners build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using the language to develop critical thinking and to solve problems creatively (ACTFL Standards Summary, https://www.actfl.org/publications/all/world-readiness-standards-learning-languages/standards-summary). In the Illinois Learning Standards, this would be Foreign Language Goals strand 29 D: Understand history of areas where the target language is spoken (https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Foreign-Languages-Standards.aspx).
Let us say one of the themes of the curriculum is war and dictatorships. The station approached could be used in a variety of ways for students to learn about this topic, and history, and skills and content of using the target language. The first element of the station would be recordings in the target language, such as speeches and newscasts about World War II in Nazi Germany. These could be played on a recorder or from a DVD source in a station on this topic. The information would be in German, not English. There would also be some flyers or sample newspapers announcing current war information in Germany or abroad. Students would have various tasks such as searching for details about bombings, news of changes in the direction of the war, and troop movements in Europe. Students could also design units for other students in lower levels, using German, so that they become language teachers and testers in addition to learning the material. They could also listen to German songs and sample a German snack while at the station. This is a natural for making real use of the target language.
Rollins has a good handle on how to use such activities to help students learn. I can see how teachers could make good use of this short book. Rollins also talks about “sorts” in the classroom. Sorts can be used for large categories of information, as the author suggests, but I would maintain they could be used for very small pieces of information, also, such as in exercises like math story problems. Sorting to get to the main cause of a problem and then stacking and arranging small pieces of paper to be able to come up with a well-organized approach to solving the puzzle could be helpful. In a world language or English as a second language immersion classroom, the math puzzle could be done in the target language, with the vocabulary of the sorting being part of the lesson—and part of the information the students must be learning.
For example, the Illinois Learning Standards (especially Goals 29 and 30) include benchmarks in which students review in the second language the math skills and content they have learned at lower levels in their first language. This is a way to reinforce knowledge of math ant the same time they are learning the second language. What’s more, the teacher can broaden and deepen the learning content and skills by requiring students to learn the vocabulary needed to set up the sort in the first place—learning vocabulary such as paper, cutting, squares, and content—and then putting the words to use in the target language as they do their sort.
I would recommend the book for a wide variety of uses, including professional development sessions with only a couple meetings. The book is short enough, and the examples clear enough, that it could be used in one day or one weekend, with teachers coming up with examples from their subjects. Language teachers, math teachers, and other educators will no doubt come up with their own uses for what is laid out by Rollins in this short book. I would like to use it sometime and watch not just the teachers explain how they could use the book to create but also propose ways in which the students themselves could use the activities to create.
Thomas Hansen, Ph.D., is an Independent Consultant with a variety of roles in Advocacy, Education, and Social Justice. He is involved in Grant Writing, teaching others to Write Grants, and serving as a Grant Reviewer in federal programs. He has written well over 100 articles, book reviews, and essays. He often teaches as an adjunct in nearby colleges and universities.