Thoughts on the student centered classroom
Educator, creator of SIMPLY Shakespeare
The new role for the teacher is a complete shift away from the “sage on the stage” to one that features a “guide on the side” mentality. The effective classroom features a multi-sensory approach, one that allows for individualized pacing that is student controlled. In the student centered classroom, the teacher is a coach and mentor, a support person who troubleshoots and problem-solves when students need such help. The students ask questions, the teacher addresses these questions as they arise. After direct instruction the students work with the materials at hand, beginning with knowledge, where the students become acquainted with the lessons’ expectations and materials. After questioning themselves, each other, and the teacher they work their way through comprehension into application, bringing a student-led activity to complete fruition.
The teacher manages instructional time by floating amidst a classroom that is entirely individualized. Student centered classrooms generally creates a more inquisitive environment on the part of the students. Students use peers for understanding, are permitted to leave their seats, locate peer help, and return to their seats.
Not only is each student exposed to a unique curriculum, the pacing of that curriculum is also unique. Student centered classrooms place the responsibility onto the student to seek the necessary information as apposed to teacher centered classrooms where students passively receive and submissively interact with the lesson. My classroom competes against the existing paradigm in serve existing LSHS students. Many of my students struggle with altering their habit of sitting in the traditional didactic classroom.
Classroom standardization is the impetus for the teacher-centered classroom, a place where a teacher rules the classroom roost, using a prescribed approach to teach a generic curriculum to everyone in the classroom at the same time. Classroom standardization docks the teacher for having begun the class before the observer enters. Classroom standardization causes the observer to confuse student questions with complaints. The student centered classroom forces students to be inquisitive. Curiosity is something educators strive for. Curiosity is the opposite of apathy. Within the student centered classroom apathy has no place. Student centered classrooms spark that innate inquisitive nature of human beings, ramping up classroom rigor. Thus, students seek clarification. This creates the struggle of leaning. Working through the struggle is education. There is no rigor if there is no struggle. How prepared are students to struggle? When the classroom swings from passive learning to active learning, great effort is thrust upon the students to exert both their time and energy into the lesson. Depending on the value they place on learning will determine how much effort they are willing to exert. If learning doesn’t require student exertion, how much value does the education have?
Will there be students more content passively receiving instruction instead of having to be engaged? Sure. In observing the learning process it may be apparent that some students will grumble and even whine. Pushing the apathetic students outside of their comfort zone can be met with resistance. Requiring students to figure things out themselves under the guidance of the teacher is sometimes shocking to students, just ask them. Expecting students to re-assess the value of education can also be met with student resistance. However, preparing students for the real world might mean pushing them out of their comfort zones, making them expect more from themselves, grooming them to place value on what matters. Therefore, they might be willing to struggle through the learning curve in order to accomplish their goals. Meeting goals has value.
Not all teachers fit into the classroom standardization didactic paradigm. The teacher, who engages students, is dynamically forcing apathetic students to partake in activities and will alter the didactic paradigm from teacher centered to student centered classroom. Nevertheless, learning is enhanced when students are engaged in the learning process. Our challenge as teachers is to find creative ways to design dynamic learning environments that involve students in doing their own thinking about the lesson. Students practiced in the teacher centered classroom either welcome or reject their new role in the educational process. If the students struggle, if the students question, if the students ponder they are engaged.
In a student centered classroom, students are encouraged to participate actively in learning the material as it is presented rather than being passive and perhaps taking notes quietly. In the student centered classroom students are involved throughout the class time in activities that help them construct their understanding of the material that is presented. The instructor no longer delivers a vast amount of information, but uses a variety of hands-on activities to promote learning. I use student collaboration. I require my students to participate, to seek understanding, to learn, and to succeed. As an ongoing assessment technique I require peer presentations where the group learns a strategy, works it into an activity, and then teaches the class using their activity. The activity, noise and physical dislocation can be unsettling and chaotic to a didactic teacher/observer. As students collaborate and share resources, moving in and out of peer groups, the classroom can easily become a messy place when desks and benches are pushed together. Student centered classrooms support student investigations.
I require my students to be active participants in the classroom from the very first days of class; I encourage my students to engage in shaping their development over the course of the semester or year. While my students are seeking answers/understanding they are engaged. Unfortunately a few students are still struggling with their new student role (7 weeks into the semester). Just ask them, they can easily tell you in the early stages of any lesson they are confused. Being self motivated learners seeking solutions is a daunting expectation. However, it’s my job to unsettle their minds and their job to work through their confusion. That’s the learning process and the cornerstone of problem-based learning. If a lesson is the path, the culmination of an activity is the destination. I keep student work as the best incentive, the best reason for continuing with student centered classroom activities.
Implementing student-centered learning takes work. It’s always easier and less time consuming for teachers to lecture. But, in doing so, we are shortchanging our students. We’re denying them the opportunity to take charge of their learning and the freedom to direct their own learning. But educators, who are comfortable in teacher-centered classrooms, often feel out of place in a student-centered classroom. Many times in determining whether or not an academic environment is effective we look to the teacher’s performance. There’s nothing like theatrics to impress.
However we need to discard the notion of the teacher centered classroom, resisting the urge to revert back to didactic teaching. So, how do teachers become more comfortable and confident in student-centered classrooms, using pedagogies like project-based and problem-based learning? Several factors influence the transition from teacher-centered to student-centered, teacher-facilitated instruction. While these factors may seem discreet, there is constant interaction among them within a classroom and in the larger school context.
As teachers transition to student-centered instructional strategies, they have to recognize and accept their new roles and responsibilities as a facilitator. A teacher’s dominant responsibility for and control of learning is reduced in a student-centered classroom. What the teacher teaches also shifts. A teacher may teach more “soft skills,” such as time management and group negotiations. In addition, the pressure for a teacher to be the sole source of content is relieved. As students direct their own projects, the teacher assists in decisions about learning, such as prerequisite knowledge and skills, potential resources, scope, depth and critical thinking.
A teacher also has to achieve comfort in his new student-centered learning environment. Some classes lend themselves more easily to student centered responsibilities. Students who struggle with both personal and social responsibility will also struggle with academic responsibility. School administration plays a huge role in this adjustment. When the school administration trusts the effectiveness of the teacher the transition can easily occur.
Classroom management is also different in the student centered learning environment. There’s more flexibility inherent to student-centered learning. In directed classrooms, learning management is controlled by the teacher. Student-centered learning has students exploring areas of responsibility that might be unfamiliar to the didactic teacher. The teacher has to reconcile with himself the management of this dynamic environment.
Finally, a teacher has to incorporate student-centered learning within the realities of the larger school culture. As teachers, we want our students to succeed. However, some students may struggle with the added responsibilities and changes in their roles. We have to be prepared to support these students. We have to be prepared to send them right back into the group and expect they work through the learning process because everyone wants the students in every high school to succeed.