3 Tips for Shifting to a Student-Centered Classroom
By Joshua Arnold
There are plenty of guru-led ideas in education right now that you can have trouble finding one that works for your classroom. Most of these ideas are backed by teaching methods that have been tried and have shown success. Whatever path you choose for your learners, be sure to keep in mind that each choice should bring your classroom one step closer to being student-centered.
Here are three tips for shifting to a student-centered classroom:
Begin learning with your students
Every state has its own set of standards that students are expected to master before the testing season. Start with unpacking the learning with students and have them draft a set of their own inquiry questions. Follow this with the idea that students can create their own curriculum using design thinking and project based learning. Think of the standard as the “problem” in the design thinking process.
My own experimenting with design thinking led me to see that students needed to spend more time looking at the standard. My own teaching wasn’t sufficient enough in letting students know that the standard was the starting and end point in learning. This doubled with the fact that students often want to skip some of the steps in design thinking and go right to the prototype and testing steps. However, it is easy to see why students might do this, they love hands-on learning and will want to go right to that part of the process.
Allow students to go at their own pace
Students are great problem solvers. In the classroom, they need to be free to investigate learning at their own speed. By the time you have unpacked standards and guided students through the inquiry process, you are ready for the gradual release of students to learn on their own. Granted the teacher is still present during the remaining steps in design thinking but as a facilitator and co-learner. Sometimes the best thing a teacher can do is help the students ask the right question without revealing the right answer.
Overall I noticed a few things when letting students go at their own pace in the classroom. The first is that the teacher is free to walk around the room, to talk to students one on one or chat with a small group. This freedom can be used in different ways. Many I have yet to discover. The second is that some students will want to work on typical activities we had done all year while some thought outside the box a little and got into very interesting and creative projects. Both these observations net more freedom for the classroom. Teacher and student alike are able to do more things. The drawback is that some students don’t know how to handle freedom and the usual issues of off-task behavior still exist. These are things that can be managed and should not be looked at as a reason to not attempt project-based learning or design thinking in the classroom. Sure there will be chaos as students figure out how to problem solve and work towards a working prototype. That’s real life. Students are gathering skills at managing their own activity and working independently. When students are busy problem solving and coming up with new ideas to reach the endpoint in learning they are practicing real-world skills.
Balance testing demands with the project-based classroom
While students are working on their own projects in the classroom a schedule of frequent formative testing should be made. Keeping the testing low stakes takes the pressure off your students and can help gather authentic data on their learning. If students are placing too much value on the actual grade itself and discounting the learning and creative process, then the value of project based learning may not be achieved. The teacher should be mindful of using data to shape instruction by creating mini-lessons such as offering short videos explaining concepts.
In my own classroom, I have been disappointed in seeing summative test scores based on content the students are learning. At one point I was so discouraged with many students doing poorly on a summative quiz that I was starting to think that this was a massive failure.
Then I started thinking that if grades were based on learning and learning is a continuous process then students needed additional opportunities to succeed. Instead of putting a failing grade into the grade book, students can be pointed in the right direction to make improvements. The notion that at the end of a few weeks of learning we drop everything and take a quiz just to move on and say “that’s all there is” on that subject is just not good enough for today’s students. If we truly want to change the mindset of students to develop habits where they are eager to acquire new skills and information on their own, then we need to allow greater opportunity to do so.
About the Author:
Josh Arnold is an 18 year teaching veteran living and working in Florida. He blogs about all topic in education and teaches civic education. Over the past two years he has worked on inquiry, design thinking, and developing student-friendly classrooms. You can find Josh on twitter @GuyCivics.