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What Do Best Practices in Student-Centered Teaching Look Like?

I frequently get asked two questions as it relates to pedagogy or instruction within the classroom. First, “what is the difference between student-centered or student-directed learning versus traditional?” The second question is always inevitably, “well what does it look like in the classroom?” Or “what are you looking for when you visit my classroom?”

What we are really talking about is the difference in teaching or cognitive styles of teachers and the ability in which children learn.

QUESTION: So let’s start with the first question. What is student-centered learning?

ANSWER: Student-centered learning is a style of teaching where the student is in control of their learning. The students have a voice in their learning, they share decisions, and they provide input to the teacher to help lead and direct their learning. Basically, this puts the learning needs of students above teachers that feel they need to ‘Drill and Kill’ a lesson or topic.

Traditional, teacher-directed learning is often times referred to as the ‘Sage on the Stage’. This means that the teacher spends most of the time at the front of the room providing the whole group lecture to the class. This is where the teacher is lecturing and the kids are taking notes for an extended period of time.

Now don’t get me wrong. Rarely, there a need for that super-direct whole class instruction. Sometimes we need it to get a lesson going to provide direction for kids to get them started. That’s fine, but release responsibility and let students explore their own skills to learn the lesson. Allow students the ability to learn and grow as they need to learn.

Let’s address the second question.

QUESTION: What does student centered-learning look like in the classroom?

ANSWER: “Look Fors” in student directed-learning showed evidence of the following: Students…

  • Engage in a higher percentage of talk time than the teacher. If you are in the classroom for 20 minutes, what percentage of the time is the teacher talking vs. the students?
  • Are highly engaged in the lesson. What this looks like? Our students are talking about, reading about, and are focused on the lesson. What this does not look like… our students with wandering eyeballs looking around will room, fidgeting with toys in their desk, or trying to make a mini-weapon out of their pen in some far away galaxy their mind is in.
  • Know what they are learning and why they are learning it. We all know students understand the difference between busywork and learning something new.
  • Receive feedback by both the teacher and peers. This is where constructive criticism and complements come in. Teachers need to teach students the skill of both of these so that children do it in a constructive manner rather than a hurtful manner.
  • Choose project medium based on their learning needs and interests. For example, let your techie kids make a video, podcast, or social media and let your tactile kids construct their project with their hands.
  • Select an array of social venues in which to learn. This gives them a choice conducting individual, collaborative, small or large group work. Some kids are extroverts, some are introverts.
  • Feel challenged in their learning and can work at their own pace. This allows for differentiation or individualization of instruction. Add more complexity for students that are your gifted and talented, and allow those that work a little bit more slowly to go at their own pace so they get what they need out of the learning skill. Same skill, different difficulty level. This will also help with classroom management when students are engaged!

What’s the loophole?

Believe it or not, parents can become very emotional about how their students are learning. Remember, a lot of us grew up with the desks in a row and teachers lecturing at the front of the room in a traditional style of teaching.

Student-centered learning may be a new concept for parents. Some are even familiar with student centered learning and feel very strongly that their students learn using this teaching or cognitive style of pedagogy.

How do work around this issue? Educate your parents. Provide clarity around what your expectations are related to instructional pedagogy. Provide them with examples, conduct a parent night, even give them a quiz to see how they learned and if they know the difference between traditional and student centered learning. Tell them how they can support their child’s learning.

When students feel they have a voice in their education, it becomes more personalized learning. When it’s more personalized, kids are engaged and remember what they learn. It becomes internalized. We are in this business to help kids learn and make them the best they can be, so why not adjust what we need to do in order to give them the best education possible?

Share your opinion on teacher versus student centered learning. What lessons have you engaged with using teacher directed learning?  Let us know how your lesson went! We would like to hear from you! Don’t forget to share this lesson on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest with your ideas as well!