We often hear the term “student-centered learning” and think that all schools operate this way – teachers work with students, so they should be student-centered by default, right? Contrarily, this is not the typical case. Student-centered learning is a teaching method that includes students in planning, implementation, and assessments. To make this work, teachers need to change their leadership style from directive to consultive. “Do as I say” needs to change to something like “Based on your needs, let’s create a learning plan together.” In order to make this change, teachers need to be heavily involved with student needs and believe in students’ capacity to lead.
A New Learning Structure
The average classroom is structured towards operational convenience rather than student needs. For example, bell schedules with 45-minute classes and four minutes to get to the next class are implemented with adult timeframes in mind. Classroom layouts with rows of desks and assigned seating are designed to keep things manageable for teachers and other school personnel.
To make things student-centered, teachers and faculty need to create a learning environment that puts student needs first. That means adjusting timed classes, eliminating permanent classroom seating structures, and thinking about academic advancement in a whole new way. What is convenient for adults is not always going to work in a student-centered environment. What is considered a “normal” school schedule and environment will need to be restructured to fit the needs of young learners. The question is, how can we make that happen?
A true student-centered classroom cannot exist without open communication and trust. It is up to the teacher to create a classroom atmosphere in which students feel safe to share their thoughts. It helps to get started on this at the very beginning of the school year to set the tone for what’s to come. During the first week of school, teachers should ask students how they would like their classroom experience to be during the upcoming school year. How should the classroom function and feel? Are there rules that need to be implemented to keep things in order? Allow students to discuss a few main points amongst themselves and then write down suggestions on a whiteboard. This exercise will help students discuss what matters to them and will build trust between themselves and their teacher.
These days, technology is one of the most effective tools for engaging students. Everything kids do revolve around technology, so it is essential to incorporate these tools into the classroom. Allow students to use free web tools to present and share information and encourage them to use whatever technology they need when creating a project. Students will become more eager to learn when they are given the opportunity to use their own creative skills.
Incorporate Project-Based Learning Activities
Grades and test scores aren’t the accurate barometers for academic achievement that we think they are. Studies show that quantitative grades diminish student interest in learning, reduce academic risk-taking, and decrease the quality of thinking. In a student-centered classroom, activities and projects are engaging, and in-class productivity is high. Instead of reading from a textbook and answering questions on a take-home worksheet, students will solve real-world problems and create projects that will prepare them for the future.
Leadership in the Classroom and Beyond
Giving students the opportunity to lead in the classroom is the perfect way to foster engagement. Each day, teachers can allow a few students to take charge of an activity that they choose. This will empower students to take ownership of their own learning experiences and will prepare them for taking the lead in the future. Creating the perfect student-centered learning classroom isn’t going to happen overnight, but with the right tools and mindset, teachers can integrate these learning practices into the lives of their students and create a better learning environment for everyone.