How Active Learning Can Propel Kids to the Head of the Class

How Active Learning Can Propel Kids to the Head of the Class


To perhaps no one’s surprise, the pandemic didn’t exactly do wonders for student engagement.

A recently released EdWeek Research Center survey on the subject found that 88% of middle and high school teachers said students were less motivated because of the pandemic and 50% of students agreed.

But while the pandemic may have exacerbated the situation, difficulties in getting students engaged is nothing new, says Erika Twani (, author of Becoming Einstein’s Teacher: Awakening the Genius in Your Student.

“For too many students, school numbs their brains, causing dissatisfaction, boredom, stress and anxiety,” she says. “The result? Indifference, which they carry with them into the work world and turn into deliberate disengagement.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Twani, co-founder and CEO of Learning One to One, where she and others explore ways to foster achievement through Relational Learning, a more collaborative process between student and teacher.

“Relational Learning puts the student at the center of the process as an active, rather than a passive learner, with an increase in responsibility and accountability,” Twani says.

How does that play out in a classroom or at home? Twani says the secret is to develop students’ self-direction by the continuous practice to learn using the six steps of the Relational Learning framework. They are:

  • Goal setting and planning. Students learn to be specific when setting goals, picking achievable and measurable metrics, and planning precise tasks to reach each goal. This is important, Twani says, because specific daily planning develops goal-setting abilities, organization, work effectiveness, responsibility, accountability, and decision-making through prioritization.
  • Explore. Students reflect on a lesson’s theme and share their preexisting knowledge. Personal experiences, everyday life, expectations, questions, doubts, and curiosity become the starting point for this exploration.  “Encouraging students to explore helps them connect previous knowledge to new knowledge and accelerates learning considerably,” Twani says.
  • Research. When teachers provide all the answers, students come to always expect someone else to know things and to want an immediate solution for all their problems, Twani says. “If conditioned in that way throughout their school years, they will become experts at waiting for answers from someone else, such as an employer, a family member or the government,” she says. But as learners develop research skills, they discover knowledge is out there for them to explore and they hone critical thinking, reading, comprehension and discernment skills.
  • Practice. Traditional educational models jump almost directly to this step, after briefly exposing students to the subject’s theory through a lecture, Twani says. “As a result, the learning is unlikely to stick because the students are unable to identify what meaning and value the content has for them,” she says. In Relational Learning, the practice step fosters creativity, collaboration, leadership, and project-based learning through activities the teacher and students agree upon.
  • Relate. Here’s where students realize the real purpose and meaning of the unit by relating what they have learned to their own lives. “You can tell learners thousands of times why you think it’s important that they learn something, and they may remember the information for a test,” Twani says. “But unless they identify the use of this knowledge by themselves, they will simply not learn.” In this step, students relate new knowledge to their lives and discover its practical applicability by answering this question: How will I use what I learned?
  • Self-assess. Questions that can be posed to students to help them self-assess their performance include: How do you feel? How long did it take to finish your unit? Were your goals clear? Have you used more or less time than you allotted to this task? “Students should be encouraged to share their self-evaluation and what they will do differently next time,” Twani says.


“I believe students can learn efficiently when we tap into the No. 1 resource they all have: a brain,” Twani says. “I also believe learners are unstoppable when they find their intrinsic motivation.”


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