We have all sat through classes where we learned little, except the facts and to be quiet. We also have been part of classes where we actively learned by being challenged by teachers and the subject to learn for ourselves. Although classes often seem outwardly alike in having a teacher, in having some students and in producing some results, the differences between passive and active classes are enormous.
The passive kind of class usually has a teacher who lectures, puts outlines and terms on the chalkboard, and dispenses information to the students. Like my sophomore biology teacher Mrs. Noguida, who rarely looked up from the orange notebook in which she had carefully typed all her lectures, a teacher in a passive classroom simply dictates information and answers. They tell the students how to think and what to think. They pour facts into the students like water into a sieve. The students are forced, usually by the teacher's authority, to sit, listen, take notes, and regurgitate only what the teacher has said.
The only kinds of questions are about form: "What is the work in subpoint 3, a, (1)?" Or "How do you spell photosynthesis?" The results in such a class are measured by multiple-choice or true-false questions, or questions that require memorized answers: "What is Newton's First Law?" "What are the three causes or the American Civil War?" The results in such classes are also measured by the quickness with which students forget the facts they had poured into them.
The other kind of class, the active kind, usually has a teacher who stimulates students to learn for themselves by asking questions, by posing problems, and most of all by being a student, too. Such a teacher might plan the outline of a course, but doesn't force the...