Turned on to Learning? 'Active Learning' at the Start of Primary School

Christine Stephen, Jennifer Ellis, Joan Martlew

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The initial phase of this project (part of the Applied Educational Research Scheme, Scotland)
explored children’s ideas about engagement in learning during the first year at primary and
secondary school. The children’s accounts suggested that doing or making 'things', playing
and being with friends were the most engaging activities and that adults had a less central
place in their perspectives on learning than teachers and parents might expect. In this paper
we will give a brief account of the findings from the initial stage then explore the evidence
from phase two which looks in detail at experiences during the first year of primary school in
five classrooms that have adopted a pedagogical approach usually described as ‘Active
Learning’. Our evidence comes from interviews with teachers, school managers and parents,
repeated periods of systematic observation in the classrooms and structured conversations
with the young learners (five-year olds). Although apparently adopting the same pedagogical
approach, practice varied across the classrooms, as did children’s experiences of ‘activity’ or
‘play’. From our evidence we will problematise the concepts of activity and play, consider
the interplay of core, and possibly contradictory, ideas about the role of the teacher, authority
and choice and raise questions about the outcomes and dispositions expected or achieved
through active learning (Carr, 2001). Centred on a socio-cultural understanding of the
learning experience (e.g. Rogoff, 1990) our study takes up the conference theme of looking
again at early childhood learning to address questions related to children’s play and learning
in institutional contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Event2008, Eighteenth European Conference on the Quality of Early Childhood Education - Stavanger, Norway
Duration: 3 Oct 20086 Oct 2008


Conference2008, Eighteenth European Conference on the Quality of Early Childhood Education


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