When I was first introduced to the methods of student-centered learning, it was very much “trial by fire”. We were told to do it, but we weren’t told HOW to do it (sound familiar?) Over the years, I began truly seeing the value in learner-centered education and was determined to get it right. When I would hit a home run, the kids loved what we were doing and were learning SO MUCH MORE than I could have ever taught them in a teacher-centered environment…but when it bombed, it BOMBED.
Why wasn’t there anything out there that explains how to be student-centered every day…all the time?? Fortunately for you, now there is. Welcome to Student-Centered World, where we focus on all things learner-centered education and methods of student-centered learning.
What is student-centered learning?
In a traditional classroom, a teacher directs everything that goes on in the classroom. It puts a LOT of pressure on them to get it just right…and given the laundry list of demands that seem to show up each year in larger amounts than the last, this creates an environment ripe for burnout.
In a student-centered classroom, while the teacher helps to facilitate everything and make sure each and every lesson is perfectly targetted to hit whatever recommended standards are required, it is the student who is responsible for the execution of that (and would you believe me if I told you that not only do they do this once they understand how it works, but they enjoy it??).
A learner-centered education empowers your students with soft skills that today’s Generation Z has a tendency to lack and it helps them to learn independently. Gone are the days where we can talk at our students….the average 20-minute attention span has been reduced to 7 seconds (yes seconds…that isn’t a typo). Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to make sure they’re actually learning the way they do best….not the way students in the past have? With these methods of student-centered learning, we can.
The Student-Centered model boosts lifelong learning because it teaches the student HOW to learn, not just WHAT to learn. It creates an environment of critical thinking, not passive learning and the methods of student-centered learning will resonate with your students for years to come.
This is all manageable (no matter what demographic you are working with) because the needs of the student come first. While yes, there’s a written curriculum and specific standards each student must master, they can do so in ways that interest them or at a pace or level that fits them best.
Student-centered learning naturally differentiates for each and every student in your classroom, and as the teacher, once you have it set up, it runs on auto-pilot.
Differences Between Learner-Centered Education and Traditional Learning
We ALL learned in a traditional model, even if your school was progressive, at one time or another. When you think of a stereotypical classroom, that’s it. You have rows of desks, all facing the “sage on the stage”, who tells you what you need to know, expects you to write it down, memorize it, and then spit it back. The pace, content, and methodology are all dictated by the teacher.
TODAY’S STUDENTS DON’T LEARN THAT WAY!
They respond best when they feel they have a vested interest in what they are doing. Projects or specific work set by the teacher is NOT student-centered learning! However, in the learner-centered education model, the responsibility, pace, and execution are all in the hands of the student.
But wait…how in the world do you make this possible? There’s a GREAT article by Literacy and Language Center Media titled, “What exactly is student-centered learning?” that really does a phenomenal job breaking all of this down. One particular section titled “How can a child’s interests be incorporated into their education?” explains it with perfection. They state:
There are a myriad of ways that interests can be incorporated. That interest in their favorite video game or cartoon can easily be incorporated into a points sheet, reward system, or other instructional materials. Have a student with a taste for all things Minecraft? You can make Minecraft themed flashcards to review common reading and spelling rules. This helps students buy into their learning process.
Fascinations and interests easily lend themselves to fun projects and reward systems, just as they lend themselves to the development of literacy via an ever-present thirst for knowledge. Educational and research tasks can be centered around topics that a child already holds a high amount of interest in.
Once you get to know your students, this becomes easier and easier to accomplish. By the end of the year, your classroom is a well-oiled machine.
Methods of Student-Centered Learning: The student-centered learning environment
The most simplistic way to put it, a student-centered environment needs to encourage collaboration and movement. Flexible seating should be available for students who need to move around or engage in different seating arrangements to be the most productive.
As a (comical) rule of thumb, if you can ask your students where the front of the classroom is and they can’t figure it out right away, you’re doing it right! Having a fully student-centered classroom environment is much easier than you think (and does NOT have to be expensive).
(Interested in some of the items above? Check out our article: Top 10 Teacher Supplies YOU NEED)
Methods of Student-Centered Learning: Lesson Design
One of the biggest questions asks how a teacher can be certain that basic content is learned amongst all students if they don’t lecture or otherwise give them that information. I’m a HUGE promoter in the flipped classroom, which is another model that goes off like a well-oiled machine once it is implemented appropriately.
Another important aspect is to continually utilize student choice.
When students are given this choice, their learning becomes much more authentic. Again, they are all learning the same things and demonstrating the same objectives, but in different ways.
If nothing else, it makes grading so much more entertaining when you have a variety of different assignments coming back at you and you are not grading the same monotonous assignment repeatedly.
While the standards are the same and the exact same elements of learning need to be displayed, it will come forth in ways that really allow the students to flourish with their own unique styles, and this is done through simple elements of student choice.
Methods of Student-Centered Learning: Best Practices of Student-Centered Learning
There are a lot of myths that surround learner-centered education and methods of student-centered learning. One of the biggest ones is that the teacher just kicks back and does nothing while the students do all the work. This is so far beyond not true it’s frustrating to hear. There is a lot of planning that goes into a well-executed learner-centered lesson.
The learner must know lesson goals and skills on how to reach them. These aren’t just pulled out of the air. There is a lot of skill work that goes into it. Activities must consistently reflect high-order thinking and address the interests of the students on a consistent basis. Those activities should also reflect outside of the walls of the classroom. Have a great project? Invite other classes to watch or have your administrators come in. Display the work in the hallways so other students can take a look. The possibilities are really endless with the options and methods of student-centered learning.
Assessments are also very different. While some traditional testing works, there are multiple, varied assessments that go on on a daily basis so the teacher can truly know if a student is grasping the content or not, and it allows the teacher to revisit elements as necessary for specific students.
So Yes, Learner-Centered Education Works
The number one hang-up people normally have when switching to a student-centered model and varying methods of student-centered learning is the idea that “this would NEVER work in my classroom”.
I assure you, it will.
For the last several years I worked at a Title-IX school where graduation rates were mediocre at best and most students went to school just to get away from home. That right there is one thing that always kept me going….they were at school, which is half the battle.
It takes a minute to get buy-in, but once the scales tip and more students are “in” than aren’t, it really begins to fall together.
I’ve had so many students who have come up to me at the end of the school year telling me how much more they’ve learned in my class than any other class they’ve taken before, all due to the execution of various methods of student-centered learning. I’ve had students tell me that my class is the only one they didn’t have to study all hours of the night before an exam because they were confident they already knew the material. I’ve also had students that everyone else had given up on, but because of the nature of my class, they saw me as a confidante and I was able to watch them graduate when all the odds were stacked against them.
If you’re in the business of teaching to watch your students thrive and succeed, then implementing methods of student-centered learning is the direction you want to go.
Student-Centered learning is learner facilitated, which implies the student has just as much of a vested interest in their education that a teacher, parent, or administrator would have. It is up to THEM to ensure their achievement. It is solely directed by rubrics and general criteria for the assignment (think: how will this help show a learned standard) and is the only consistent piece that should be consolidated into all students’ work.
Your students will finally take pride in what they are doing because they have a vested interest in it, and yours will be the class they all want to be in.
Student-Centered World Podcast Transcript
Below is the transcript for the Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 3.29: “My Journey to Student-Centered Learning”
Hey friends, and welcome to another week of the Student-Centered World podcast. Today I wanted to talk about me. No, but seriously, a lot of people ask how I got here. So, I talk about the fact that I created Student-Centered World to try to help teachers not have to go through what I went through to find out students that are learning and blended learning and the flipped classroom and all of that. But today, I wanted to take a couple of minutes to actually tell you my story with how I got to this point in hopes that you realize that you can get to this point as well.
Welcome to the Student-Centered World podcast where we talk about all things hands-on teaching and keeping your energy and sanity in the classroom. This teacher turned consultant is making it her mission to help as many teachers as possible become the best version of themselves and keep their passion for teaching on fire. It’s her hope that we never forget why we desire to have a passion for educational progress. This is Student-Centered World, and this is Jenn Breisacher.
Today, I wanted to take a couple of minutes, because I wanted to tell you what my own journey to blended learning was like. So, it took me about five years to really nail down what the blended student-centered model looks like and find a system that worked for every group of kids at every level that I had coming in and that’s the journey that I’m going to bring you on today. So, when I first started teaching in 2007, I came up with a good system. So, as a background, I taught high school history. So, you think of what your high school history class looked like and that’s probably what my classroom started as.
So, I would show a PowerPoint and lecture about the content material, because in my head how else would the kids know it if I wasn’t telling it to them, I would then have them, once we got through all the content, do some type of a hands-on project. Usually, it was a group project just so they could collaborate and learn those skills as well. Then after that, I would try to find a movie that was like a legitimate movie out in movie theaters at some point so they could see what that looked like on the big screen. But they could also compare and contrast what actual history was versus the Hollywood version of history. It was just sort of a nice little break in the routine.
So, I was maybe three years into teaching and our administration came forward and said you need to switch everything to a student-centered model. We said, well, what does that look like? And they said you’re going to go ahead and make things student-centered. We said, okay, but what does that look like? They’re like, well, they can just Google everything and we said, okay, so what does the classroom look like? How would you teach this? They said, well just make it student-centered. Nobody had any idea what that meant. So, some tried it, some just said, I’m going to shut my door and do my thing. It is what it is. But I knew when I gave the kids their projects, and when they had the background information, and they were working on things, generally engagement was high.
They were really showing how they understood the material. They were clarifying things that they didn’t necessarily understand from my lecturing, and I knew there was a benefit in it. So, I figured I’m going to give this a shot. I’m going to try to figure it out and my take on student-centered learning was, as long as I wasn’t teaching it to the students, I wasn’t telling them what they needed to know that it was student-centered. It was student-led. So, I came up with the idea of I’m going to have different packets that they can work on at home. That was my first plan. So, I came up with a reading packet for each unit, and then an activity packet, which was basically a whole bunch of worksheets stapled together for the unit as well. I would give them a schedule, okay, by this day, you’re going to do this, this day, you’re going to do that.
But the problem with that was that there was absolutely no way for me to actually know whether or not the kids had done their homework, or if they had either just (a) not done it, or (b) just copied it from somebody else which wasn’t giving them the content material that they needed in order to move forward and have any idea what they were doing in the classroom. So, that’s when I decided, okay, I’ll bring it all in the classroom. We won’t do homework at all anymore. I was never a huge promoter of homework. I believe in the data that it only makes sense sometimes and we can have that conversation a different day if you’re interested. But I brought everything in the classroom. So, they would come to class and I would give them all kinds of like worksheets and stuff. Because again, if I wasn’t telling them the information then I figured it was student-centered, which it wasn’t.
So, then I saw the kids disconnect and I heard their rumblings of like, oh, we don’t ever do anything in this class, and she just sits there, and I knew There was something wrong. This method couldn’t have the data surrounding it that it’s so wonderful if this was the response I was getting from my students. So, at that point, I decided to turn more project-based total. So, we would have a project, that would be the unit. I would have the kids do a whole lot of research, to be able to get the background information, and then we would do the project. So, it became very research-heavy, which is a good skill in its own right. I still even when I morphed into my final version of the blended student-led model, I did a lot of research still, but it wasn’t as research-heavy.
So, I was trying to balance that, trying to figure out what to do when I ended up going to a workshop, talking about the flipped classroom. I had heard of the flipped classroom before but at that point, I was teaching in school. I taught in two different schools in my career, I was teaching in a school that consistently did not do homework. Kids would tell you straight up, don’t do homework, you can assign whatever you want, not going to do it. So, I went there and my whole mentality was okay, but what about the kids that don’t do the homework? How are you going to flip your classroom where they’re learning what they need to know, outside. I tried that before with the packets. There was no way to know whether the kids did it.
Most of the time they didn’t, or they just copied it from a kid that did. So, that obviously didn’t work. So, in that workshop, that was the first question that came up and the guy laughed because he knew that that was going to be the first question that everybody had. He explained how to make sure that they’re doing the work and that they’re engaged with a flip. How to troubleshoot if they didn’t do the work and the way he put it made so much sense that I went home from the workshop that day and I pieced together my next unit using this model, using the tools that he suggested, and it worked. So again, teaching in a school where kids don’t do homework, I flipped my classroom and then had fully hands-on student-led. So, we weren’t really doing content in the classroom, we were to an extent.
Again, I tried to keep a little bit balanced and there were some troubleshooting pieces in there as well, if the kids didn’t do the work at home, having the opportunity to do it in the classroom. I finally found the model that worked. So, the kids learn the content at home and then they came in and did the hands-on deeper understanding work in the classroom. The whole concept there was if you do a traditional model where the kids learn the content in the classroom and you send them home with homework, generally, that’s when the questions come up that they weren’t sure of, especially if you’re just doing reinforcement activities. Then they come back to class with either the homework not done because they were frustrated or more questions that you have to stop and go over as opposed to moving forward.
So, this takes out that middleman altogether. I figured it out when that five years was finally up, and I found this method that worked over and over again. You can do it 100% as well. I wanted to try to explain to teachers because of the misconceptions that I’ve talked about before it’s double the work, it’s harder, the kids don’t do anything. Flat out, it’s not going to work. It does. So, that is, in fact, my journey through student-led learning blended learning how I made it work, how I got it to work all the time. A lot of questions come up of well, you were a high school teacher so that’s different. It’s not.
I had kids that are of elementary age and I’ve seen this stuff that their teachers have done. They’ve also been in two different schools and different teachers do different things, but I’ve seen how they have handled that in some cases. Then with them being home, doing the different versions of distance learning or whatnot, I’ve been helping guide them and seeing the things that they have questions with and what they’re engaging in, and what they want more time with. It is 100% possible. The teachers that I have worked with have told me how it’s a game-changer and how it works. I’m so happy especially in this moment when so much uncertainty, and so much confusion and so many things that people have questions about. To have something that I can give to all of you to help you manage all of that and to take that just level of heavy stress off of your shoulders.
So, I hope that this was a little bit of motivation for you about how I was able to do it. So, that’s why I want to help you as much as I can. So, with that have a wonderful day if you have questions or anything like always, I would be happy to chat. If there are any pieces of this that you would like more information on mention that too because I’d love to bring that up because as we know in teaching usually if one person has a question, multiple people have the same one. So, please feel free to reach out and on that note, I will catch you again next Saturday at 9 am Eastern Standard Time.