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.