Student-centered learning is one of the biggest “buzzes” in education currently. Maybe you went to a professional development and they spoke about it, or perhaps your district is moving towards that model. Maybe you’ve heard about it and want to know more…or maybe you’ve even been working with the model but want to hone in on your craft. No matter what position you fall under, one thing is for sure….
Student-centered learning is here for the long haul….but there is not a lot out there on how to actually “do” it.
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This could quite possibly be the most frustrating part of the idea behind student-centered learning. As teachers, it seems we hear from every possible authority that a student-centered model is the best way for our students to learn. There is data backing it and just given the nature of Generation Z, it really does seem to make sense. The issue, however, isn’t that we know that it benefits our students; it is finding out simply “how” to do student-centered learning correctly. Fortunately, this is the entire reason why Student-Centered World exists….to fill that gap in knowledge and make it easier for each and every teacher to move to this model without skipping a beat.
A quick internet search will show you a ton of information about the benefits of a student-centered learning environment. I am sure you have heard someone or another rave about how well students work with this approach. Maybe you’re skeptical like it’s too good to be true. Is student-centered learning foolproof? No…not by a long stretch. It takes a lot of prep work and just like with any other method, sometimes a lesson will flop. That’s the nature of teaching; however, the outcomes of student understanding far surpass those from a traditional class.
There is a great article by Julie K. Brown (that can be found here) where she puts it perfectly:
“Put simply, student-centered instruction is when the planning, teaching, and assessment revolve around the needs and abilities of the students. The teacher shares control of the classroom, and students are allowed to explore, experiment, and discover on their own.”
If the thought of this just made you a tiny bit nauseous, fear not. I promise you this is ORGANIZED CHAOS and it is fabulous.
What is student-centered learning “like”?
A student-centered classroom might be loud, but it helps create an environment that naturally differentiates for each student and allows them to leave a more traditional, passive role in the classroom. They are active participants in the learning process and orchestrate their own discovery of information. They are given choice and voice with what works for their learning as individuals and what they need in order to be successful. Every student who walks through the doors is able to have their needs met at their exact level of ability. It’s fascinating.
The great thing about student-centered learning it is that it doesn’t discriminate. It can be used effectively at any grade level in any subject. By trade, I am a Social Studies teacher. When I tell my students on the first day of the semester they will never watch one PowerPoint presentation or listen to me lecture, they can’t wrap their head around it. Granted, that’s when the “Stages of Grief” (as I like to call it) begins, but that is for another post. But the system works. I am constantly told at the end of the semester, “This was my favorite class!” and “I’ve never learned so much in a history class before”. It’s contagious.
It involves creating a different mindset from all stakeholders…teachers, students, administrators, parents…you name it. There is an idea of what school is supposed to be, and student-centered classrooms throw all of that out the window. The curriculum is looked at in a new light, pedagogy and assessment are amended to work with each individual student in their own personal systems. Technology is utilized with best practices as opposed to being its own solitary focus….it is a tool, not a crutch.
Sometimes it is hard to wrap your head around why it is necessary to change what has been done in a classroom since formal education began. Why is this student-centered model so great? Think back to some of your favorite memories as a kid in school. What popped into your head? Was it sitting in a traditional classroom, quietly taking notes? Or was it some type of project…or something interactive…or that teacher that thought WAY outside of the box?
Think of it this way….
Imagine if someone explained to you how to ride a bike. You read and learned everything you could and knew it inside and out. You get a traditional test afterward and could easily ace it explaining concepts and perhaps even drawing diagrams. You knew how to ride a bike.
But….could you actually ride a bike?
Some would argue that the point of the course wouldn’t necessarily be riding the bike, but knowing how to. Overall, is that what education is actually about? Don’t we want our students to actually GET IT, not just spit it back? When a student inevitably rolls their eyes and says, “are we EVER going to have to actually know how to do this in real life?”, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to smile and say, “Well, if you need to be able to ride a bike, then yes.” (with the obvious equivalent to what is happening in the classroom).
We live in a world where information is at our fingertips. Alexa or Siri can spit back any type of contextual questions we have. However, does having baseline knowledge actually help in the real world? How many times have we heard (or said) “When will we ever use this in life?”. By taking the content and wrapping it into the student-centered model, it piques the student’s curiosity and allows them to dive deeper into the content, applying it to real life scenarios and connecting at a much more intellectual level…..all “by accident”, as I like to call it. The teacher helps to develop these experiences and the students then take them and make them their own.
Something I heard recently really honed it in for me on why this isn’t just a method to dabble in, but the way of the future…
We’re currently preparing our students for jobs that don’t exist yet.
Really sit and consider that statement. Though the blue and white collar jobs that have been around for ages will most likely still be viable options, most of our students will be taking on jobs that haven’t even been developed yet. THAT is where we are as a society. Isn’t it our jobs as educators to prepare them for the “real world”?
How do we prepare them for a world we don’t yet know?
Easy…prepare them to get their hands dirty and think critically. The best way to evolve that mindset? You guessed it….student-centered learning.
By creating the paradigm shift, the entire culture of learning can change. The expectation of what education is adapts to the changing times and culture that we live in. Students can use technology to complement them instead of controlling them. Differentiation happens naturally and the students begin to learn at a deeper level than ever before without having to pull teeth. This prepares them for higher education and the workforce so much better than any type of passive learning model ever could. The benefits of student-centered learning far outweigh any negativity surrounding it. I encourage you to give it a try.