Easy Tips for Student-Centered Education in the 21st Century

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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 student-centered education 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).

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 (if 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.

student-centered education

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…student-centered education 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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Executing Student-Centered Education the Right Way

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 upfront 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.

Executing student-centered education in the correct way takes some finesse, but once you make that switch comfortably, you’ll never go back to traditional teaching methods. So how can you move from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered one?

Here are five tips that will help:

Incorporate formative assessment into your lessons

If you haven’t heard of formative assessment, it’s time to sit up and pay attention. Formative assessments are a range of planned activities used to assess learners during a lesson or unit of instruction.

These assessments provide immediate feedback, enabling teachers to adjust lessons on the fly for maximum student benefit. You can also use these assessments to find out if students are understanding what you’re teaching them.

For example, if your class is learning about photosynthesis and you’re trying a new method of teaching the information, you can use formative assessments to figure out how well your students are absorbing all that info.

Offer opportunities for collaboration and discussion on a regular basis

In student-centered classrooms, it’s crucial to offer conversation regularly. Create opportunities for your students to collaborate and discuss their thoughts with each other.

One method that I used, is to pass out index cards and have my students write down their responses to a question. Then, they must organize the cards into related groups. This provides an easy way for teachers to see who’s getting what and even allows them to move around the classroom to answer any questions students may have.

Make group learning a priority

Here’s where you’ll have to make some concessions. When teachers are used to lecturing, it can be hard for them to move away from that one-directional approach.

However, moving forward with student-centered education requires that they relinquish at least some of their control over the classroom dynamic. Allow your students to work in groups on a regular basis, and provide support for them as they do.

When planning the structure of your new classroom, make sure that you allot time for students to speak with each other and work together. This will show you which students need additional one-on-one help outside of class.

Try to get to know your students better

When teachers take the time to learn about their students, they unlock a crucial element in teaching: motivation. That’s because when teachers make an effort to remember students’ interests and goals, it becomes easier for them to connect with those kids and talk about what matters most to them.

If you’re not sure where to begin, try holding a class discussion about the students’ interests. Have them share their favorite hobbies or activities, and encourage everyone in your class to participate. This can help you create an environment where everyone feels free to express themselves.

Don’t feel guilty about asking for help

If you’re not used to working with student-centered education, it can feel weird to ask for help. But the truth is, everyone needs a hand sometimes.

Even veteran teachers who are adept at student-centered teaching might have trouble with certain activities or concepts. If you get stuck on something, don’t worry about asking your colleagues for advice or feedback, or feel free to reach out to me (Instagram or Facebook).

Teachers are at the heart of each student-centered classroom, so it’s crucial that they feel empowered to make their students’ experiences effective and positive. If you take these steps, you’ll be well on your way to creating a dynamic learning environment.

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 touch on so many aspects of student-centered education 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 education IS effective and WILL show results in your classroom.

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

Student-Centered Education and the 4 Keys

Adapting to student-centered education in your classroom isn’t difficult, it just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom.

If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.

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