Giving Your Students an Edge with Student-Centered Learning

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The advantages of learner-centered teaching far surpass any concerns one should have about implementing this model of teaching.  The characteristics of the learner-centered approach are distinct, yet easily manageable if applied properly. If you’re trying to find student-centered learning examples, Student-Centered World has you covered.  Along with all the benefits of student centered learning, we also have a lot of tips and learner-centered approach examples.

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.

Teacher sitting at desk, rubbing temple, looking complete exhausted under the question, "Are you ready to find a positive balance in the classroom for you and your students?"

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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 the benefits of 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 benefits 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.

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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:

Graphic shows 11 points of the evolution of employee expectations from the past and into the future

Image courtesy of Chess Media Group

Much of this graphic shows the distinct stereotype of what we have always known in the workforce, such as a 9-5 position, the work already being defined, and going to the office daily as ideas in the past.  The future ideas of an employee area already starting to become more commonplace, such as working remotely from any device, focusing on collaboration and adaptation, and work being customized to the situation at hand.  We’re currently in a place where both the past and the future are relevant, but as time progresses, more and more companies are seeing the ideas of the “future” as more sustainable for their needs and frankly, their bottom lines.

Due to this, the old way of teaching does not prepare our students for what awaits them in the real world.

Young professional in suit points to the question "are your students truly preparing for the world that awaits them?"

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.

Cover of the book "Kids Deserve It" by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome

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.

Inspired to create your own student-centered classroom? Click to check out Student-Centered World's online professional development opportunities to help you become the student-centered teacher you wish to be

About Jenn

After moving from a teacher-dominated classroom to a student-regulated one, Jenn found herself helping colleagues who wanted to follow her lead.  In 2018 she decided to expand outside of her school walls and help those out there who were also trying to figure out this fantastic method of instruction.  She realized that, even though there was a ton of information out there about why student-centered learning is beneficial in the classroom, there wasn't a lot about how to go about making the transition to this method; thus Student-Centered World was born.

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24 Comments on “Giving Your Students an Edge with Student-Centered Learning”

  1. I do remember the days of when the teacher stood in front of the class, lectured, and assigned the seat work! A more student-centered approach prepares students for the many distractions and challenges of adulthood. Students will gain a better understanding of their own learning styles and increases self-esteem, as well! Thanks for a well written article!

  2. I love the idea of student centered learning. In my opinion this is one of the best ways to ensure the students are actively thinking. Too often that “sage on the stage” you refer to spoon-feeds students information and the students simply memorize facts. Very little learning and thinking happens because students are simply doing what the teacher told them to do.

  3. This is such an interesting article! As a special education teacher, I am constantly exploring new ways to engage my students and help them reach their fullest potential. This was very informative. I have a lot of student-centered learning in my K-5 resource room now, but I’d love to hear about more potential lessons and activities!

    1. Awesome! My focus for the next several months is to rock Teachers Pay Teachers. Make sure you sign up for our mailing list to keep up to date with what we have 🙂

  4. Wow! I found this post to be so helpful in understand exactly what student centered learning is and why it is so important. Thank you for inspiring me to dig deeper into this topic and how I can apply it to my own teaching. I can’t wait to continue to learn more and will be back for more ideas and strategies!

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with this! Students learn more by discovering and doing than by being told. It is much different than the way we were taught as students, but a shift that more should definitely consider!

    1. I think the biggest hang-up with teachers who don’t want to make the switch is because it’s not the way they were taught. Our students are very different than any generation before them, and our teaching needs to reflect that.

  6. I totally agree!
    As a “seasoned” educator, I find this method the most efficient and beneficial way to meet all student needs. The Student-Centered Learning environment is truly differentiating!

    1. Yes! It naturally differentiates for every single student in the classroom when implemented properly. What other method of teaching can do that?

  7. I agree that student-led teaching is more beneficial. We use it at home when our children are infants; watching their interests and using them to build sounds, words, teach shapes, letters, colors, etc. As parents, we know that what interests our child is a great motivator to learn. This concept doesn’t change as they get older. I appreciate your research and the data you included. This is a great article!

    1. Exactly…and when they’re little is when they’re learning so much! We need to cultivate that and keep it going throughout their school years.

  8. I so agree with everything that you said here! As educators we need to focus on student needs and let the lessons be interactive and engaging. We also need to let students take control too. While teaching I look for things they enjoy and things they need to learn and merge it together to really speak to and inspire my students.

    1. One of the aspects of student-centered teaching to remember is to be flexible with your lesson plan. If you see something working for your students, run with it! If you don’t, change it. How else will your students find their way to complete engagement, right?

  9. Thanks for writing such a well-researched and thoughtful article – definitely needed when it can be difficult to actually put student-centered learning into practice! I teach 1:1 online ESL lessons and while the format makes it easier to put the student first, there’s still sometimes the pressure to finish the slides, etc. despite the student’s level. I’ll have to brainstorm more on how to put their needs before just covering every question on every slide!

  10. A student centered learning environment is so pivotal to the learning process! I remember, as a child, sitting in rows and being assigned worksheet after worksheet. I’m so glad we’ve moved out of that phase in education!

  11. What a wonderful article. I totally agree we need to let our students take a larger role in the learning process. When we create student-centered lessons we allow students to learn more and teach each other. Our job as teachers should be to push students into the driver’s seat and we need to ride along and help them if they need it.

  12. Making my room student centered was always a must because kindergarten kiddos function best that way. Voice and choice makes a huge difference! Thanks for the book recommendations! I haven’t read those yet!

  13. Switching to student-centered learning in my classroom has allowed me to differentiate my instruction to better meet the needs of all my students. I’m able to get to know them and use their strengths and interests to make my lessons more engaging. This is a wonderful post and will hopefully encourage other teachers to make the switch.

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