Monday, April 21, 2014

Rethinking Our Roles

This is the third in a series of posts about a movement that I am starting in my school.  My school predominantly instructs in a teacher-centered model, and my aim is to shift that to a student-centered instruction model.  This series will serve as a means to flesh out my ideas as I plan for professional development during the 2014-15 school year.

Today's post will examine the characteristics associated with a student-centered classroom. The first post focused on the reasons behind the movement.  The second post identified key characteristics of student-centered classrooms.  Future posts will focus on the resources available to help in planning for professional development and an outline of how I intend to structure my professional development sessions.  In the fall, I will revisit this series to assess how the professional learning is going, identify areas that I need to address, and share any lessons that I have learned.

Redefining Roles

Making the shift to a student-centered classroom requires redefining the roles of the teacher and the students.  As a result of the substantial change in the classroom structure and functionality, the roles that many are used to, and often comfortable with, playing will not be sufficient in the new model. Below, I have identified some of the roles that both teachers and students will need to assume as part of the shift to a student-centered environment.  Some of these new roles will be easy to adapt to, others less so.  While redefining their roles is crucial to successfully making this change, some of these roles will take longer to master than others.  All participants need to remain cognizant of this fact, and keep themselves from becoming easily dismayed as they make this monumental shift in their learning environment.

Teacher Roles

  1. Learning Alongside StudentsThe teacher no longer is the expert in the room, but one that is learning along with the students.  It is okay, even desirable, for teachers to utter the words 'I don't know' when presented with a question that stumps them!
  2. Establishing Positive Classroom CommunityThe student-centered classroom may get messy at times.  There may be some  disagreements between learners as they collaborate and grow together. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as the teacher has established a 'we' mentality in the classroom. If students can view their class as a community of supporters, they will be able to bounce back quicker from disruptions.
  3. Identifying How Their Students LearnA crucial component to the success in any student-centered classroom is for the teacher to identify how their students enjoy learning and learn best, then applying that information when structuring lessons.  The student-centered classroom is along a continuum that is headed towards personalized learning.  This is just step one!
  4. Varying Methods of InstructionWhile direct instruction may be dominant form of instruction in a teacher-centered classroom, variety is the spice of life inside a student-centered classroom.  Teachers need to use different methods of instruction- project based learning, cooperative learning, inquiry based learning- and make those decisions based on the content being studied and preferences of the students.
  5. Providing Constructive, not Punitive, FeedbackStudents in a student-centered classroom are provided plentiful practice opportunities, again depending on their individual needs.  As part of this practice routine, the feedback that they receive during the process needs to be focused on growth, not grading where they are at that moment.  By utilizing constructive feedback that the students can build off, teachers allow the students to move towards mastery.
  6. ReflectingThis is not going to be an easy shift to make.  There are going to be lots of challenges, mistakes, and frustrations.  But, those events should be viewed as learning opportunities, and if the teacher is reflective along the way, then they can use that information for future learning!  This will also allow the teachers to model reflection for the students.

Student Roles

  1. Asking QuestionsCuriosity is at the root of of student-centered classrooms, and a natural by-product of that is asking questions.  Along with curiosity, the focus on personalized learning demands students to ask their own questions as they interact with the content. Since they are in charge of their learning, students should be asking good questions to guide learning process.
  2. Active Participation
    I think this one is pretty straight forward.  PBL, inquiry-based learning, and cooperative learning will all require more activity from the students than sit and get does! 
  3. Accepting Feedback as Vehicle for Growth
    This role may be a bit more challenging for students to become accustomed to.  In many classrooms, the majority of feedback that students receive is in the form of a grade.  This will be vastly different in a student-centered classroom as the teacher will be asked to provide consistent, constructive feedback for learning.  The students may continue looking for their grade at first, but they'll get used to, and begin to appreciate, the change.
  4. Open Minded About Learning
    Many of our students are 'conditioned' in their learning while in school.  They will need to develop an open-mind about learning in new, active ways.  Something is telling me that this should not be hard for them to do!
  5. Accepting New Responsibilities and Roles
    The student-centered classroom will typically enable students to actively participate in their learning in ways that they prefer.  They will also, however, be asked to assume more responsibility for learning the content and, in turn, redistributing the information to their fellow classmates.
  6. Reflecting
    This will be a similar experience for the students and the teachers.  Some of the students will adapt to a student-centered learning environment quickly and effortlessly.  For others, it may be a bit difficult.  Regardless, part of any learning process must include quality time spent reflecting on what happened, and examining the process for lessons learned and experience gained.  For the students that are able to consistently self-reflect, they will have learned a lifelong skill that they can use to continue to grow well into adulthood!

image attributed to icanread

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