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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Chapter 4: Active Learning


The search for meaning is innate and occurs through patterning (Caine & Caine, 1991; 1997; Jensen, 1998). Curiosity and hunger for novelty, discovery and challenge are present in all students, and learning takes place constantly, sometimes despite our intentions.

Long ago, and soon after our move to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, we were surprised to find our 4-year-old son playing "monsters" with his new found friend. The two boys were draped in dark-colored bathrobes, hands extended with palms facing forward, making ghostly sounds, "Aa-a-a-a-gh."

This particular make-believe game had not previously been part of our son's repertoire so we asked about it. "There's monsters out there," he said, pointing outside our apartment building, "lots of them." Puzzled, we asked more questions. "All over," he said, "they're everywhere." We discovered, to our embarrassment, that our son was referring to the Saudi women he had seen, who, without exception were covered from head to toe in black abayas and veils. Without a facial context in which to anchor his perceptions, our son's interpretation of sensory material had led him to an off-target conclusion. However, his lack of preparation for Saudi female dress had not stopped him from actively attempting to make sense of constantly incoming stimuli. This was an example of powerful learning (Brandt, 1998).

In the inclusive classroom, our intention is to harness this innate search for meaning so that it is directed and focused and students are actively engaged in the process. Learning opportunities in the inclusive classroom are carefully organized and orchestrated for both content and delivery so that learning is not accidental or haphazard, but intentional, with content material made accessible to all students.

Colleagues have asked, "What would I see in an inclusive classroom?" In an inclusive classroom, we see students participating in their own learning, asking questions of the teacher and each other, integrating new facts or challenging previous learning, trying out new knowledge and daring to change their minds.

"Employers and community leaders want citizens who are active learners and collaborators as well as individuals who possess the personal confidence and ability to contribute to a changing society."

Carnevale, Gainer & Meltzer, 1990

We hear paraphrasing and follow-up questions, perhaps best described as the development of metacognitive skills. We see the teacher as an active participant in the learning process, someone who sets a tone of inquiry, excitement and puzzlement.

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