One of the most challenging tasks in any classroom is fully meeting the needs of every student there. Teachers in the past several years have been expected to do more with less, meet an ever-evolving number of expectations (both realistic and unrealistic), and to do so with class sizes increasing and basic materials decreasing. Any student can be “on” or “off” on any given day (just like adults), but it is the expectation that the teacher can compensate for that. As a teacher, isn’t it somewhat difficult to do this if you are not having interactive experiences with each of your students? This alone allows for the advantages of student centered learning to outweigh any type of resistance to changing educational styles.
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I remember when I first began teaching. All I knew was lecture, PowerPoint, any questions? This is how I was taught to teach and, minus adding in some technological elements, is how people had been teaching for years. I used to think, “How can I possibly talk to each of the 27 kids in here AND get all this content taken care of?”. It was overwhelming and the expectations seemed unrealistic, yet they were getting more intense each year that passed.
Then I discovered student centered learning.
Student centered learning occurs when the teacher is no longer the “sage on the stage”. Whereas in a traditional classroom, the teacher is telling the students the specific content they need to know, in a student centered classroom the students are taking that information and USING it, which develops a deeper understanding of the topic. When your students are completing hands-on activities that have peaked their interests, your job is not to be instructing them on what to do, but to be facilitating their activities. This is done by circulating around, sitting down with them, and having those one-on-one conversations. It is not done by trying to manage everyone at once in unison. It alleviates the classroom management issues of having each student sitting quietly and paying full attention to each detail you are trying to tell them is important. Let’s be honest….they’re not all at the same exact position in a number of different ways (intellectually, socially, emotionally, etc.), so why is the expectation that they will all be learning at the same level at the same time? One of the main advantages of student centered learning is that it is a method that naturally differentiates for each student in your classroom, giving the time and the tools that are best for them to be able to learn a specific concept.
The issue with why it is taking so long for student centered learning to really catch on in a really mainstream way is because education has been pretty consistent for the past several decades. There is a hierarchical idea of what the classroom looks like: the teacher is the one with the information and that information needs to be inserted into the brains of the students, thus the only way for this to happen is by the “sage on the stage” force feeding content to students. This leads to burnt out teachers, bored students, and frustrated parents because that methodology simply does not work in today’s society. Frankly, Generation Z does not work this way. Shouldn’t we be amending our styles to be certain our students are learning best…not just sticking with something because it’s worked for others?
How student-centered learning benefits the class
Take away the realization that we are living in an ever digital world. The idea that education needs to change stems from the concept that students cannot concentrate because their faces are perpetually in a screen. While there is some validity to that, it isn’t the main focus of this change. LIFE is changing, SOCIETY is changing, and the WORKFORCE is changing in ways that it never has before. If the purpose of education is to prepare our youth for these next steps in life, we need to be certain we are doing that to their benefit.
In 2014, Jacob Morgan, Principal & Co-Founder of Chess Media Group, was featured in this Forbes article highlighting his book
The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization. In this article, he published the following graphic:
Image courtesy of Chess Media Group
Frankly, the old way of teaching does not prepare our students for what awaits them in the real world.
By giving the students’ voice, choice, and somewhat allowing them to work at their own pace (depending on the nature of the activity), not only can you have more interactive experiences with each one of them on a personal level, but they are able to learn in a way that best suits them at a speed that works best for their own personal learning needs, which is what they deserve. Honestly, if you’re looking for a great read that will have you asking yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” when it comes to your classroom and your interactions with students, pick up a copy of “Kids Deserve It” by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome. It is one of my favorite teaching books that really help keep your momentum going and reignites your passion for the classroom.
The outcomes and advantages of student centered learning are astonishing. It seems like a scary leap to take, but once you see “that kid” participating or having a great contribution to a lesson or just improving their grade, it makes it all worthwhile. It does not matter what level a student is on any of those “ways” I listed above…by giving them the leeway of the student-centered environment, they are able to achieve more. This is especially the case with lower-income or otherwise disadvantaged students. Again, the student-centered learning benefits outweigh any trepidations to move forward.
In a study conducted by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), the data concretely shows the benefit of this model for students who are underprivileged compared to their peers. In an article by Barbara McKenna (found here), the SCORE Faculty Director Linda Darling-Hammond explains the data from this phenomena best:
“The numbers are compelling…students in the study schools exhibited greater gains in achievement than their peers, had higher graduation rates, were better prepared for college, and showed greater persistence in college. Student-centered learning proves to be especially beneficial to economically disadvantaged students and students whose parents have not attended college.”
For what we are expected to be able to do in the classroom as teachers, this is HUGE.
By just switching a frame of mind and the way instruction is driven, students who may struggle otherwise have the potential to actually surpass their peers in achievement. As an educator, anything that could have results like has to be intriguing at the very least. After all, isn’t student achievement what we all wish to see in the end? Truly, the advantages of student centered learning benefits are easily noticeable the very first time someone tries it out in the classroom. See for yourself. Thanks for reading.