How I Use It
To date, I have used this tool with students in my ninth grade Honors World History class. This is a Pre-AP class that is a precursor to AP® World History. Actively Learn helps me to quickly diagnose student reading deficiencies. It allows me to identify individual student reading weaknesses, so that I can work more effectively with students who struggle with complex text but show high-level thinking skills in class discussions. The new AP® test format emphasizes these skills, making me believe that my students will perform better on the multiple-choice section of the re-designed test that they will take in 2017. For example, in teaching the idea of periodization, I used parts of David Christian’s book, This Fleeting World that I posted to the Actively Learn site. I wanted to introduce students to the idea of geological time and humanity’s place in the long duration of universal history. They accomplished this on their own time, and brought their ideas into class discussions about the age of foragers and early agrarian era. The richness of the examples that many students brought to class convinced me that Actively Learn’s technology has the potential to, not only make my classroom more effective educationally, but transform my students into active historians.
I highly recommend Actively Learn. My sole reservation is with the text it supplies. If adding personal materials puts teachers in violation of copyright law, the site becomes less useful. I would urge the product’s designers to ask teachers what they can use in the various disciplines and secure the necessary permission to use all or parts of these necessary texts.
Actively Learn is an application that provides teachers with resources to work with students in close reading techniques in literature and informational text. Graphite lists the site as an English/Language Arts tool; however, that is not an entirely fair assessment. While Language Arts instruction is often done in English classes, social studies teachers (like myself), and others outside the traditional English classroom who are committed to integrating reading and writing skills into all the disciplines, can advantage their students by using this tool.
Actively Learn has a number of useful features that allow teachers to assess student progress using innovative techniques. Teachers can incorporate questions and comments in the text that point students to the areas of greatest importance from the reading. Students can highlight the text as well. This feature teaches students to identify important ideas (a lost art in reading history texts). Individual learners can interact with classmates and the teacher on questions of content or issues. The site’s designers have also incorporated places at the end of each page for teachers to ask questions and evaluate students’ understanding of the meaning of a passage or passages. Actively Learn’s creators provide questions within free texts from the site. These questions, based on Common Core Standards, free teachers (especially novices) from some of the difficulty of forming higher-level questions for their students. More importantly, the developers provide skilled instructors with ways to align teacher-developed questions to common core standards in readings that the teacher can add to text in his site. This enables instructors potentially to collaborate on the same text, theoretically resulting in higher quality assignments.
The data one is able to collect from student interaction with selected material is rich, plentiful and useful. One can evaluate how much time each student spent reading the assignment. They can also answer questions within the text that teachers can assess for student understanding, and provide four point, rubric-based assessment that directs students to ideas they are expressing well and those that need additional work. Performance data can be acquired for the whole class or for individual students, making Actively Learn an ideal tool for formative assessment in reading and writing.
Despite its many excellent features, Actively Learn has some drawbacks. Teacher-added materials may be in violation of copyright law, so it would be prudent to make oneself aware of the Fair Use statutes before using teacher-reproduced materials on this site. Further, it can be difficult to use teacher uploaded Portable Document Format (PDF) items with this application. These appear to be minor issues in a site that has so much potential to improve students’ learning.