A common misconception about #studentcenteredlearning is about the teacher’s role in the student-centered classroom. Many people think of student-centered teaching as the easy way out for a teacher as they print off some worksheets and camp out for the class period. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Though most of the active work of lesson planning goes on behind the scenes (and it takes a LOT of prep work to have the student-centered model running smoothly!), the teacher is not home free once their students walk in the door. Student-centered teaching is probably one of the most rewarding ways to teach.
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Student-Centered Teaching in the Everyday Classroom
So then what does all this mean for the teacher? If an educator engages in the concept of student-centered teaching, how do they run his or her class? Well, it honestly depends on the students. In the beginning, it is important to be holding their hands metaphorically through the process. I generally plan out activities day-by-day and we work on them together. As time progresses, the activities become longer and more open-ended. The students receive more and more choice in what they are doing and though I am accessible for any type of clarification they need, I have in essence “trained” them to be off to the races when they walk through my door. It’s like a tipping point once this happens, and it is a beautiful thing to witness. It truly is student-centered learning at its finest hour.
Once the students get to this point in the system, often I am found at my desk monitoring what the students are working on digitally. If you are using EdPuzzle or Google Classroom, for instance, you have real-time monitoring of exactly where your students are in their process. If they are working on something hands-on, I am taking notes from a distance on where each student is on their own timeline. The key to student-centered teaching is constantly collecting data and crafting how the class will be proceeding in the coming days based on what they are seeing. Going quicker than expected? Slower? Are the students collectively getting hung up on something, whether it be a concept or an activity? I use all of this to drive the class moving forward.
Your students may not be honest about this if you ask them, but if you’re watching them in some form without them realizing it, it becomes crystal clear what their thoughts actually are. It is important to be engaged in their learning process without them noticing….creatures in their “natural habitat” if you will. Not always, but sometimes the best way to see how something is progressing in the classroom is by making the students believe no one is watching. It makes me realize that the activity that I have them working on is simply not up to snuff….we’ve all been there. Maybe they’re just not feeling it or maybe it’s too difficult for them. Regardless, it’s not working and why try to trudge through with something that no one is enjoying? The important thing to remember in student-centered teaching is that the educator needs to be flexible; the trick is to try to make the change seamless and like it was planned, but every once in a while you need to be real, through your hands up and let them know you’re changing up the game. They don’t see it as weakness….generally, they see it as a relief (and I have gotten some pretty hearty “thank you!”s when I’ve gotten to that point).
Now, if we’re all living in the real world and not fantasyland, I can say with full confidence that once your students have bought-in to student-centered instruction and are trucking through say, day 4 of a project, they may not need your assistance…or if they do, it’s concise and they know exactly what they need you for. I like to make sure that at these moments, I am not accidentally micromanaging them. I let them off to explore on their own a bit. They know I’m nearby if they need me, but I am not going to hover. I know in many circles, they say that the teacher should still be heavily involved at all times. I don’t necessarily agree with that. Even the Mama Bird gives her babies the boot from the nest when she knows they’re ready. I want to see how these kids who understand the method and are working the processes can do on their own. If I see them struggling, I will make sure I am doing what I can for them, but can they really grow in any way if they’re being constantly managed and not able to try things out on their own? This is a concept that so many of the kids that have gone through our classrooms have been missing in their lives and it does them a HUGE disservice moving forward into the world.
Again, #studentcenteredlearning is all about honing in on your students’ soft-skills and 21st-century learning competencies. If we are telling them exactly what is expected of them and micromanaging them with those expectations, those skills are not being crafted as well as they could be. They need to be able to take direction and determine how to solve the problem they have been given in a way that they will perform their best. So many of today’s Generation Z have the drive to do this, yet we often stifle their ability to do so in the classroom. Let’s do what we can to make sure that we are preparing this newest generation to go out into the world in front of them and not only do great things but do them well. Give them a task in the classroom and let them run…they’re up to the challenge. You might even be surprised at the results you receive as your expectations are surpassed in ways that you didn’t even know your students were capable of achieving. Give it a try…let your students surprise you. Thanks for reading.