As you implement active learning strategies in your classroom, you may be worried about student resistance. This situation may not directly be about the new strategies you use in class but rather that:

  • Students may be experiencing active learning strategies with little to no training or practical experience in how to participate as a student in this situation;
  • Busy students may not be used to teaching approaches that require them to do homework that goes beyond textbook reading;
  • Students may not easily or immediately perceive the learning advantage of active learning strategies;
  • Students might still struggle with their preconceived idea of what it means to be a student in a classroom, namely: a student’s role is to sit, listen and take notes, so why am I being asked to work?

To prevent student resistance before it begins, teachers may use different strategies.

  • Framing: it is very important (even critical) to be explicit about your reasoning behind your pedagogical choices. Consider sharing findings from studies about the efficacy of active learning. Or, perhaps engaging your students in a reflective activity about how they learn. And, you might consider explicitly teaching the behavior expected from the students during a new activity exploiting an active learning strategy;
  • Teacher immediacy: as simple as it may seem, teachers who decrease the social distance between themselves and the student experience less resistance from their students. Does the teacher smile? Does the teacher know the student’s name? Does the teacher make eye contact? Does the teacher move around the classroom (“breaking the plan” as Doug Lemov puts it in his book Teach like a Champion) decreasing physical distance?
  • Fairness in student-student interaction: the social phenomenon of engaging in group activities is often a source of resistance from the students. To increase positive student-student interactions, you might consider decreasing: the group size, the scope of the project; and, providing mechanisms for peer evaluation;
  • Fairness in grading: perceptions of “fairness in the grading procedures” are more influential in how students feel about their evaluation than the actual grade a student receives. So, it is suggested that teachers make public their rubrics throughout the learning process.

Of course, these strategies will not transform a classroom into a “heaven on earth” learning environment but it will surely make the semester happier and more satisfying.

Reference: Seidel, S. B. & Tanner, K. D. What if students revolt?—Considering Student Resistance: Origins, Options, and Opportunities for Investigation, CBE—Life Sciences Education, Vol. 12, 586–595,Winter 2013 available at:

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