What is Student-Centered Education & Who Does it Work for?

student-centered approach

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The buzz surrounding it has educators all over the world asking one simple question, “what is Student-Centered Education“? The student-centered approach to teaching is the change in the classroom that education has been searching for. The student-centered approach puts the responsibility of learning on the student (and the responsibility of the unique distribution of that content on the teacher).

Though the data proves that our current student body is excelling with the student-centered approach to teaching, there are still people who fear to leave their comfort zone and as soon as something in this model doesn’t go as planned, they blame the model and go back to what they’ve always known. They answer their question of, “What is Student-Centered Education” in a fashion that doesn’t actually answer that question in a meaningful or sustainable way, and thus the confusion and dismissal begins.

I read an article recently that really got under my skin. It was all about how the student-centered approach is nothing but a showboating experience and it doesn’t work. The answer to this is to go back to more traditional teaching methods (ie. teacher-led LECTURE).

what is Student-Centered Education

There are constant trends in education that come and go. Mostly it is because some talking heads come up with a new method that will be “great”, don’t do much (of any) data-driven trial with it before thrusting it into practice and insisting that everyone must immediately switch to this method.

After a while, it seems like that method doesn’t really work as it was first thought that it would (like my go-to statement says, “It looks good on paper, but so does Communism”) and it is thrown away to move on to the next big thing.

Putting questions like, “What is Student-Centered Education” out into the world seems like just another trend thrown out by someone who hasn’t been in the classroom in years.

See, here’s the problem (and the reason why Student-Centered World even exists in the first place). There IS data behind the student-centered approach. It is a FANTASTIC method of instruction that, when done right, has outcomes that far exceed expectations.

I have had students, troubled students, come to me and tell me they learned more in my class than they ever had before. While they may be reluctant at first, once they buy-in, they’re hooked.

But here’s the thing…the student-centered approach has to be executed the right way…and no one out there really tells you HOW to do that. Isn’t that often the case with education? We are supposed to be seen as experts in our field, but so often we are told to do things differently but aren’t truly given the guidance to explain not only how that looks, but how to make it happen successfully.

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What is Student-Centered Education?

When I first started with the student-centered approach, my district at the time was really pushing it. Before the school year began, we were told that we should switch to this model. It sounded good, but every time we asked HOW we were told: “just make it student-centered”.

Well, great. What in the world does that mean?!

My first few years running a student-centered classroom were AWFUL. I just gave students busywork ultimately because it was my understanding that if they were doing the work, then the lesson was not teacher-led. The kids hated it, I hated it, and I was getting burned out fast.

However, I saw all the great stories about how well it worked. I knew there was a lot of validity behind WHY it was necessary to flip to a student-centered model given the clientele we have in the classroom. No one can argue against the fact that that students who have been raised in the digital age learn things and do things differently than past generations have.

I decided to just go for it. My sincerest apologies to those first classes of students. I am confident that they learned, but it was haphazard at best.

I literally did trial and error for five years before I figured it out. I did a ton of research on my own. What is student choice? How can I make sure I am differentiating? Is it really possible to work with so many students one-on-one? What about the pushback of the kids who just don’t want to do the work?

Every time I was hit with a problem, I tried to find a solution. Is student-centered learning perfect? No. Does it work to engage students on a level that other methods of instruction lack? YES.

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The student-centered approach needs to be done PROPERLY though, and that takes time and work on behalf of the teacher. There is more work up front to prepare a student-centered lesson, but it’s easier to do in the classroom.

You have the leisure to interact with your students and really help them on an individual scale. You can create lessons based on their individual needs and interests and appeal to all of them…while understanding that not every student needs to be doing the same thing as the student next to them….and that’s okay!

And it’s NOT harder for you to manage. I would like to think all educators in the classroom have an interest in the content they are teaching, right? Wouldn’t it be more exciting to see each student’s individual take on that content? Seeing that they all got that baseline knowledge that you wanted them to get, but then seeing the different avenues they all dove deeper into?

You can’t do this with other styles of teaching. Not only does it engage the students, but it rekindles the teacher’s own passion for their work.

So yes, anyone who says that the student-centered approach to teaching and learning is merely for show….nothing but games and cosmetic hoopla…is simply not doing student-centered learning.

They just didn’t answer their own question of, “what is Student-Centered Education”…they were looking for an excuse to not do it.

I don’t knock these educators though because there really isn’t much out there that specifically explains HOW to create true, authentic student-centered experiences in the classroom.

We’ve all heard about it….many may have even dabbled in it….but to truly know how to do it PROPERLY is a difficult task to master. This is why we started Student-Centered World. We wanted a place that educators could go to and find out the why AND the how. We hope we are succeeding!

I really encourage you to look around our blog. We touch on so many aspects of the student-centered approach that I truly hope will motivate you to give it a go and might dispel some concerns that you have about it.

Again, Student-Centered World exists purely because it isn’t fair that people don’t fully understand how to create a truly student-centered classroom experience and the help out there is minimal.

Let us help you out and prove to you that student-centered learning IS effective and WILL show results in your classroom.

I hope this helped answer your question (what is student-centered education). Thanks for reading.

Interested in some books that will also fuel your motivation? Check out some of my favorites below (ad).

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