Saturday, April 19, 2014

The DNA of a Student-Centered Classroom

This is the second 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.  Future posts will focus on the roles of teachers and students in student-centered classrooms, 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.

In conducting my research on student-centered classrooms, certain characteristics continually showed up.  I have listed the ideas that I found most often below, see if you notice any patterns.

  1. Relationships Matter
    The building of a strong relationship between a teacher and student to take greater risks, ask questions, and make mistakes.  This is essential in a student-centered classroom as the students will be called upon to take a more active role in their learning.
  2. Students Ask the Questions (More of the questions)
    At the root of a student-centered classroom is curiosity.  Students that ask good questions and are curious about the material are able to interact with the subject matter at a deeper level.  If students are not interested enough to ask questions, odds are that they are not making connections with the material.  Teachers play a pivotal role in crafting good questions through modeling and guiding the students in learning this valuable skill.
  3. Instructional Methods are Varied
    Cooperative learning, inquiry-based learning, project based learning, peer-to-peer learning, occasional direct instruction, are just some of the instructional methods that are used in a student-centered classroom.  With the vast amount of content, one single instructional method is not sufficient to achieve the learning goals of the students.  Students can even engage in selecting
  4. Learning is Personalized
    Teachers take the time to learn about the best ways that their students learn in a student-centered classroom.  While this is hopefully done in all classes, it is imperative in a student-centered classroom because it allows teachers to tailor their instruction in ways that their students learn best.  The future of education will largely be focused on personalized learning, and it currently is a key component of student-centered learning environments.
  5. Assessment is Varied
    Assessments in a student centered classroom come in all shapes and sizes.  Formal, informal, projects, demonstrations, and observations are just a few of the types of assessments that are utilized in a student-centered classroom.  Again, allowing the students to provide input on the type of assessment used, or to even create the assessment, is a possible option.
  6. Ideas Come from a Variety of Places
    Ideas for lessons, projects, etc. come from a variety of places.  This prevents the classroom from becoming stale and predictable for the students.  The variety of sources- colleagues, mentors, Twitter/PLN, students, to name a few, increase the likelihood that the work that is done in the classroom will appeal to the students.
  7. Ample Opportunities for Practice
    Given a multitude of opportunities to work with a specific topic or skill gives the students more opportunities to learn, make mistakes, and demonstrate their mastery of the content.  The key here is for the feedback to not be punitive in nature, practice needs to be provided for learning purposes.
  8. Student Choice
    This is a large component of a student-centered classroom.  Instead of dictating what the end product will look like for any given task, teachers allow the students to utilize their own creativity to decide how best to demonstrate their learning of a specific topic or skill.  This goes along with the personalization of the students' learning.
  9. Feedback is Prevalent
    The teacher in a student-centered classroom spends less of class time lecturing or giving direct instruction.  This frees up more time for the teacher to be interacting with their students while they work, and increases the amount of formative feedback - not grades- that the students can use to grow.
  10. Students Set Learning Goals
    In a student-centered classroom, students set their own learning goals.  This act further personalizes the learning for the students because they are working towards goals that they have identified as important for them.  This activity is something that the teacher will need to demonstrate and guide the students in for the early part of the year, as the year progresses the students will become better equipped at setting their own learning goals.

image attribution flickr user Michael Knowles

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