Experiential learning is what the word sounds like – experiencing. Do I have to remind you of platitudes about ” ,,, is the best teacher” and Confucius’ saying that headlines the blog in the first place?
More specifically it speaks to lesson design by a teacher who is first of all largely willing to forego his sage -on-the-stage role in favor of “guide-on-the-side” where he creates opportunities, activities, situations, that force the learner to take charge, somehow, of their learning and even direct it to their own end.
Let’s use an experience to show what it can be. I had a new social studies teacher who was anxious to show me how he had mastered PowerPoint in his teaching. This was a time when using PowerPoint was pretty much state of the art technologically embedded instruction.
Pete had worked hard to find photographs of the most grisly parts of World War II. He had sequenced them well and used them to complement a lecture about the the war’s causes and its many effects.
I watched the students (10th graders). They were attentive for sure. They took some notes here and there and seemed to have appreciated the teacher’s hard work.
After the lesson was done I praised him for taking what was for the time and that school culture a huge instructional risk. Then I asked him how he could have made the PowerPoint an experiential exercise.
Now I took a huge risk here too because I certainly didn’t want to deflate the man’s hard work. But what I also wanted to do was to scrape his creativity crust just enough to think about how he could have given the students the chances to take charge of the lesson experientially.
Thankfully he took the challenge in the spirit of how I presented it. We
– thought about the content of the slides he had created
– considered the types of messages each photograph might convey to the learner
– considered what the original intent of the photographs might have been
– thought about getting beyond the “content” slash facts of the photographs and thought about what concepts and thinking skills we could elicit.
It was Pete who volunteered something like this. “You know, instead of my creating the captions for each slide I could divide the class into pro- Ally and pro-German and have them write captions from each perspective.”
I asked, “Why would you want this to happen?”
He said, “I think I can highlight the content more strongly by having the students interact with each other by comparing the perspectives that they create. If I put them together in groups they could even get more creative!”
So we both agreed to try it and Pete did me one better. The next lesson I observed he provided the primary sources (again photographs and video) about Adolph Hitler and had the students develop and compare narration that was pro Hitler and anti Hitler.
Needless to say it wasn’t the presentations that drove the experiential values of the lesson as such. Instead it was the mighty exchange of different opinions about what they had created against the validity of the historical context.
That my friends is one example of experiential and maybe not even the best example.