Active learning and sense of belonging in the class

Based on the definition, active learning is “an approach to education that does not consider students the passive recipients of knowledge transmitted from an expert, but rather, active agents in their own learning.” The approach of active learning offers two major benefits to the students: (1) making them improve their understanding by pushing them to make connections between their prior knowledge and the new concepts offered in the class, and (2) increasing their engagement which could augment the sense of belonging and participation, particularly for highly introvert students and those from marginalized groups. Marginalized students are those who are different from the majority due to their gender, sexuality, religion, race, socioeconomic class, etc., and research has shown that such students are highly potential to feel excluded from learning spaces (see, e.g., Tanner, 2013). Another group of students that might get excluded is the highly introverted ones. Such exclusion can be problematic for academic performance and even can spiral out of control, through a “negative recursive cycle…where psychological threat and poor performance feed off one another, leading to ever-worsening performance” (Cohen et al., 2006). In this short essay, I offer a closer look at the usefulness of the active learning process to increase the sense of belonging for highly introverted students and those from marginalized groups. I focus on the “pausing and asking question” technique as an example of a teaching technique that induces the active learning process.

By pausing from time-to-time and asking questions from the students during our teaching, we give the class the feeling that as a teacher, we care about them. Furthermore, it makes the students feel that they exist, and are their presence is important to us as a teacher and to the class as a whole. This process not only contributes to enhancing the self-esteem of the students but also gives them a sense of belonging to the class. In this regard, the “pausing and asking question” technique, as a subcategory of teaching styles that induce active learning, can lead to an increase in the academic performance of the students. Yet, to maximize this effect, especially on marginalized and introvert students, there exist some subtleties that one must take into consideration, as explained in the following paragraph.

First, the questions must be asked from random different students rather than just allowing the highly extrovert ones to talk, such that we can deliver the mentioned sense of belonging to all the students rather than just a few. Second, one should be careful to give neither less nor extra attention to the students from marginalized groups as giving the extra attention makes them feel we are pitying them, and giving less attention can easily make them feel discriminated against. Third, it is a good idea to learn the names of students (if possible) and address them by their names, as it both can enhance the feeling of friendship in the atmosphere and also gives the impression that we personally care about each of the students rather than all of them as a bunch. Finally, it might help to give bonus points for the questions we ask to indirectly encourage the students to pre-study the subject before coming to the class. Simultaneously, it is better to avoid any penalty to not induce an atmosphere of fear and hiding.

In summary, I explained how one can take advantage of the active learning process to enhance the academic performance of marginalized groups and highly-introvert students by creating a friendly atmosphere that the students feel belong to. I particularly analyzed the “pausing and asking question” technique as a generic method to promote the active learning process.

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3 Responses to Active learning and sense of belonging in the class

  1. austingarren01 says:


    While I understand the points you are making, I wanted to address what you said about calling on random students in the classroom to ask questions. For me, this is one of my biggest pet peeves. I learn by sitting back and listening to all points or sides of an argument, then carefully forming opinions and thoughts after I feel I have enough information on the topic. Then, if I have something meaningful to add to the conversation, I will do so. However, when a teacher just randomly calls on me expecting me to give a thought or an answer, any thought or answer, it goes against my learning method and forces me to either say something generic or meaningless, or something that may not necessarily reflect how I actually feel. While I understand that people need to participate in discussions for the whole class to learn, it is also my experience that if it is truly a topic that people are interested in learning about and/or needs to be discussed, then there will be people who are willing to more openly discuss their thought process. This allows people like me to learn in the ways that we learn, while also allowing others in the group to learn. Obviously there may be times where the instructor has to stimulate the conversation to keep it going, but I believe that if a discussion is able to move along freely among more vocal people, then it should be allowed to.

    Austin Garren

    • alisafi says:

      Thanks for sharing your view, Austin! By your explanations, I can see that the situation is more complicated than I thought. The reason I believe in asking for opinions from random people is that if I only talk to certain people in my class, other students might feel that they do not exist or I do not care about them. On the other hand, I can see that for some people, like yourself, being forced to suddenly comment on something might be annoying. What I always do to at least partially alleviate the pressure is this: If the idea of the student is incorrect, I never say “you are wrong”. Instead, I try to find something meaningful in what they say and then build my conversation on that. So I usually say “Good! you are partially correct”. The purpose of these questions is just to spark the interest of the class and show the students that I care about them, in contrast to judging them. I will be glad and appreciate to see your feedback on my response.

  2. Rania says:

    Hi Ali,
    Thanks for your post. Active learning is an important instructional method that engages students in the learning process. There are many strategies could be effective in active learning. Since my background is related to education. I know it should be no longer a passive student in their learning process. The learning environment should be built on learning theories and models that encourages students’ engagement with the learning environment as well as meaningful peer to peer and peer to teacher interaction during the in class learning process. What you mentioned about pausing and asking question is great. I agree with you, active learning activities should be devoted in each class such as questions and answers, discussions, debates, constant feedback, etc. when these activities managed equally and deliberately, they will promote the sense of belonging. What you mentioned about marginalized groups or highly-introvert students is reflected well in what Florian and Black-Hawkins’s indicated “instead of providing something different or additional for learners who experience difficulties in their learning, inclusive pedagogy seeks to extend what is ordinarily available to everybody”.

    Florian, L., & Black‐Hawkins, K. (2011). Exploring inclusive pedagogy. British Educational Research Journal, 37(5), 813–828.

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