In the education world, the term student-centered classroom is one we hear a lot. And many educators would agree that when it comes to 21st-century learning, having a student-centered classroom is certainly a best practice.
Whether you instruct first grade or university students, take some time to think about where you are with creating a learning space where your students have ample voice, engage frequently with each other, and are given opportunities to make choices.
Use these questions to reflect on the learning environment you design for students:
- In what ways do students feel respected, feel valued, and feel part of the whole group?
- In what ways do students have ownership of the classroom? Do they ever make decisions about resources, environment, or use of time? When? How often?
- Do they have ownership in their learning? Do they have choices and options for projects, assignments, and partners for group work?
- When are students comfortable with expressing who they are and their thoughts and ideas? When are they not?
- When do you inquire about the needs of your students? How often do you do this? How often do you check for group understanding and adjust the instruction accordingly?
- How are desks arranged? Are students facing each other? Do they have multiple opportunities each week to share with fellow classmates, and to share with a variety of classmates?
- As the instructor, what is my "air time" each class session? How much direct instruction is there? How might I change some of that directing teaching to facilitating? (Here's a post I wrote on this topic, How to Transform Direct Instruction.)
Balancing Teacher Roles
So let's talk about that last question, and specifically, direct instruction versus facilitation. When considering various teaching approaches, balance is the key word. If we turn to the work of educational researchers Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and their seminal book, Understanding by Design (UbD), they suggest educators reflect on the ways they balance the following three teaching roles:
- Facilitation: open-ended questioning, problem posing, Socratic seminar, and guided inquiry
- Direct instruction: demonstration, modeling, and lecturing
- Coaching: providing feedback, conferencing, and guided practice
How do you decide on how much of one role and not enough of another? Well, when designing learning for your students, keep this is mind: There needs to be a healthy balance between student construction of meaning and teacher guidance.
In other words, yes, you need to tell them stuff and show them how to do things, but you also need to let your learners discover, experiment, and practice even if they miss the mark or target. Educational research tell us time and time again that all learners (young or old) need time to muddle through and make meaning of new content, ideas, and concepts with some coaching and guidance, but also independently.
In the comments section below, share with us your ideas and practices for fostering a learning environment that is student centered.