Active Learning to Increasing Student Engagement and Retention

At times even the term “active learning” can be daunting.  But research clearly shows that moving from passive information delivery to any form of engaged classroom has a significant impact on long term student learning and retention. 
Many effective active learning techniques can be readily incorporated into existing class structures.  This week’s tip focuses on the “Think, Pair, Share” concept and I’d ask you to consider giving it a try.
Faculty are very good at asking thoughtful questions in class.  Many students, however, just sit passively and wait for someone else to answer.  “Think, Pair, Share” is a simple approach that engages nearly all students in answering a question.
1.       Ask a question as usual. 
2.       Ask students to think about the answer for 30 seconds (or however long you chose).
3.       Have students pair, turn to a student near them. (10 seconds)
4.       Students share their answers with each other and improve the answer if they can. (1 – 3 minutes)
5.       Optional:  Call on one to three pairs to share their answer.

The process does take a little longer than just calling on one of the strong students (the ones who always raise their hands).  In exchange for this time, the entire class engages with the question; it also resets their attention span so they can focus again on the lecture content.
Consider trying a few Think, Pair, Share questions this semester if you aren’t otherwise already using active learning.  This kind of question is most successful if it is not too easy – challenge the students on a conceptually difficult idea or application.
Research shows that active learning approaches such as this increase student engagement, learning and retention of material.  For a good review paper see Michael Prince’s article “Does Active Learning Work?”