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It just sounds good as it rolls out of the tongue, student-centered classroom. We’ve all heard the phrase coined before, but most teachers would agree that developing a student-centered classroom is becoming more of a necessity and norm these days than a luxury or innovative new teaching approach. The traditional classroom where students sit in their seats quietly and attentively, while the teacher pours vast amounts of wisdom and knowledge into their sponge like brains is over (assuming it has ever existed). This is particularly true for middle and high school classes where “teaching” can be a constant battle.
So what exactly is a student-centered classroom? In short, a student-centered classroom or student-centered learning environment is one in which the focus of instruction is shifted from the teacher to the student, with the ultimate goal of developing autonomous and independent students by placing the responsibility of learning in the students ‘ hands. Many student-centered learning advocates would argue that this is one of the most effective ways to help students develop the skills needed for independent lifelong learning and problem-solving.
The teacher plays the “active” role of teaching in the more traditional “teacher-centered learning” environment, while the students assume a more “passive” or receptive role. By contrast, the interests of the students take center stage in the student-centered learning environment, and the teacher gives students choice and voice, finding ways to deliver learning experiences that focus on what students value. Students play a more “active” role in the educational experience in the student-centered classroom.
Whether you’re a kindergarten teacher, high school instructor, or college professor, developing a student-centered learning environment will help your students become independent learners who ultimately take charge of their own education— students who are curious, eager to learn, and willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to develop a student-centered learning environment, especially if your experience is more traditional in learning. To many, it sounds great in theory to implement a student-centered learning environment, but putting it into practice is another story. Below we will explore some strategies, principles and offer some proven tips that can make the learning environment in your classroom a reality and success.
Turn your classroom into a community
The teacher speaks in a traditional classroom, the students listen. The students speak in a student-centered classroom, the teacher listens, interjects, and facilitates conversation when necessary, and then thanks the students for their involvement. Students begin to feel a sense of community by involving students directly in the educational process and enabling them to interact with each other. More importantly, they are shown that the most important thing is what they feel, what they value and what they think. The teacher acts not only as an educator in the student-centered classroom, but as both facilitator and activator.
Develop trust and communication
Without trust and open communication, a student-centered classroom or learning environment can not exist. By always being fair with students, listening to them and allowing them to speak, trust and open communication are achieved. Looks like a big order? Well, that’s it. And during the night it may not happen. However, if you start at the beginning of the year right away, it is much easier to develop a student-centered classroom. Starting at the beginning of the year sets the tone and let students know what the rest of the year is expecting from them.
Ask your students to discuss how they want their classroom experience to be at the beginning of each new school year. How is it supposed to sound, feel and work throughout the year? Are there any rules that should be put in place to ensure that their expectations are met by the classroom experience? Give the students 15 minutes to talk to each other and then write on the whiteboard their suggestions. How many rules students will come up with will surprise you. As you fill your white board with their ideas and suggestions, you will find some common themes beginning to appear–your students want to be heard, seen, appreciated and respected.
This exercise, along with similar exercises that can be carried out throughout the year, communicates to students that what they say matters, and that their input is trusted and valued.
Find ways to integrate technology
The development of a classroom for the student-center is all about engagement. The better you can involve students in any activity or project, the more they become involved in the learning process. Technology is one of the most effective tools to engage students in today’s world. It is not the future of technology, it is the present. All kids do these days is about technology— especially mobile technology. Allow and invite students to present, curate, and share information using free web tools. When students have the opportunity to integrate exciting web tools and technology into the learning process, they become anxious and eager participant in almost any learning activity.
Create an environment where mutual respect and a quest for knowledge guide behavior–not rules
A classroom that has no rules? Looks a bit far-fetched, isn’t it? Well, it may be if you’re planning to have a teacher-centered classroom where students spend half of their time learning and the other half trying to keep their skulls from being bored. So what is the key to the approach to “no rules?” Engagement! If you continue to engage in activities, behavior is rarely going to be a problem. Having an engaging environment in the classroom, involving projects, engaging activities and engaging discussions will foster mutual respect and encourage learning that leaves little time for disruption.
Replace homework with engaging project-based learning activities
The jury is still out on homework efficiency as it has to do with improved grades and test scores. Some studies show a positive correlation between homework and improved grades and test scores, while others suggest little correlation. All the premise for these studies, however, is based on the assumption that grades and test scores are a precise barometer for academic achievement and learning. Class learning and student productivity are lower in the teacher-centered classroom, making homework more necessary and regular testing essential for measuring learning and performance. Students become much more eager to learn in the student-centered classroom, where activities and projects are engaging, and productivity in the classroom is much higher. Where students complete schoolwork in a student-centered learning environment outside the classroom, this is typically because they want to complete projects they are working on inside the classroom.
Many teachers now use engaging project-based learning (PBL) to teach their students math standards, sciences, technology, and other core subjects and increase student productivity and learning efficiency in the classroom. So what exactly is learning based on the project? In short, it’s learning by identifying programs in the real world and developing solutions in the real world. Not only is project-based learning extremely engaging when properly implemented, but students also learn how to travel through the whole project. Project-based learning also relies heavily on technology, where projects are driven by interactive web tools, and multimedia approach solutions are presented.
Project-based learning can replace the need for out – of-class homework when implemented effectively, and it becomes more productive in class learning.
Develop ongoing projects
One of the keys to developing a learning environment and a student-centered classroom is to create ongoing projects for students. Continuing projects promote the mastery of teaching and learning subject matter. Learning objectives and standards can be achieved through well-designed projects and activities for just about any subject matter. And providing different project choices to students enables them to demonstrate what they are learning.
Allow students to share in decision making
Creating a classroom centered on students requires collaboration. It requires placing students at the center of their own learning environment by allowing them to participate in deciding why, what, and how to shape their learning experience.
Before students are willing to invest the mental, emotional and physical effort that requires real learning, they need to know why what they are learning is relevant to their lives, their desires and their needs. Explaining to students that they need to study a topic “because it’s necessary because they’re grade level,” or “they need to know it to get to college” doesn’t explain why from the perspective of students in terms of relevance. Such explanations lead to lack of brilliant performance, low motivation and poor learning.
The selection of content materials used to teach skills and concepts should be determined or guided by the students. What is taught and learned in a classroom centered on the students becomes a function of the interests of the students and involves collaboration between the students and the teacher-student. For example, students might decide a class play when learning about Pakistan’s history, where each student acts as a key historical figure, it would be preferable to write a traditional report or bibliography. Not only do students take ownership of the learning process in this example, all students benefit from other students ‘ decisions.
How is just as important in a student-centered learning environment as the why and what. Students process, understand and learn information in various ways. It will allow each student to adopt the learning method that will be most comfortable and effective for them by offering students the option of how they will learn. It also enables students to feel more invested in the process of learning. Teachers should consider offering different performance-based learning options to students that meet academic needs.
Give students the opportunity to lead
It is a great way to develop a student-centered learning environment that fosters engagement, growth and empowers students to take ownership of the learning experience. Each day, consider allowing a few students to take responsibility for an individual activity, even if the activity requires content skills beyond the students ‘ level. Then rotate students among leadership roles so that each student gets a chance to lead an activity. You may even consider introducing the leadership role, or activity that they will lead, to each student the day before so they will have time to prepare and take ownership of their activity.
Get students involved in their performance evaluation
In a traditional classroom, performance evaluation and learning assessment are reduced through activities and standardized testing to a series of numbers, percentages, and letter grades that are regularly presented on report cards. These measures say little about what a student is learning and provide the student with little useful feedback in order to improve their performance and achieve mastery. The learning environment centered on students is based on a form of narrative feedback that encourages students to continue learning until they demonstrate mastery of a subject. This form of learning, feedback and evaluation encourages students to resubmit assignments and work on projects until the achievement of mastery.