As a first-year teacher, I often stood in front of the classroom lecturing while my students sat at their seats and copied notes. While I knew this wasn’t the most effective nor engaging way to teach, I wasn’t sure of what else to do. Moreover, with limited time and resources fueled by first-year teacher survival mode, my boring lectures prevailed. I lacked strong examples of student-centered learning. Fortunately, by my second year, I began to shift my instruction from teacher-centered to student-centered. To begin with, we’ll discuss the difference between these two types of instruction. Next, I’ll describe three empowering and engaging examples of student-centered learning. Finally, we’ll focus on the next steps in implementing the aforementioned examples of student-centered learning.
What is Teacher-Centered Learning?
So what is teacher-centered learning anyway? According to teach.com in teacher-centered learning, “Students are viewed as empty vessels who passively receive knowledge from their teachers through lectures and direct instruction, with an end goal of positive results from testing and assessment.” Although research suggests that students often feel they’ve learned more from teacher-centered learning, the data tells us otherwise. According to The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at The University of Michigan, “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to instructors, memorizing assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.” Obviously, when students are not learning much, it’s time to rethink our instruction. Enter student-centered learning.
What is Student-Centered Learning?
Comparatively, in student-centered learning, students are active participants in their learning. I think we would all agree that as teachers we should maintain some degree of authority. This is true. The difference in student-centered learning is that the teacher acknowledges and leverages students’ prior knowledge, strengths, and skills. Concurrently, students actively participate in their learning as the teacher guides and facilitates. This form of learning is engaging and empowers students to value their assets and take ownership of their learning. According to a study conducted by The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, students engaged in student-centered practices in the classroom had higher graduation rates, were better prepared for college, and showed greater persistence in college.
Examples of Student-Centered Learning Activities
Most teachers instinctively understand the core of student-centered learning as well as its benefits. However, the thought of getting started or staying consistent can be overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be. Here’s how you can begin to shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning in your classroom.
1. Activity Guides
One of the easiest ways to transition from teacher-centered to student-centered instruction is through the use of activity guides. An activity guide is simply a collection of specific graphic organizers that guide students through the activities of the lesson. In a teacher-centered lesson, the teacher might lecture from a Powerpoint presentation while students take notes. In a more student-centered version of the same lesson, the teacher creates an activity guide that chunks the lesson into collaborative and individual activities that enable students to construct their learning around a topic. What I like about activity guides is that they allow direct instruction when necessary. However, students are able to practice, apply their learning, and collaborate with their peers immediately following a small “mini-lecture.”
In a stations activity, students complete tasks collaboratively with guided support from the teacher. In a teacher-centered lab safety lesson, the teacher lectures about lab safety rules, students copy and memorize the rules, and take a quiz to test their new lab safety knowledge. In a student-centered lab safety stations activity, student groups travel to different stations around the lab, write down their observations, and create lab safety rules. Working at stations empowers students to collaborate, use prior knowledge, and think critically as they create a set of norms that they will refer back to throughout the year.
3. Design Challenges
In a design challenge, students solve a problem by creating a prototype. They develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. Design challenges can be content-specific (like designing a prototype of a water well for a community that doesn’t have clean access to water in a social studies class) or they can focus on teaching students how to collaborate simply through their participation in the challenge (like at a beginning of the year ice-breaker). It’s important to remember that while the teacher acts as a facilitator during the design challenge, he or she is still responsible for giving the students the constraints or parameters for the design and guiding students through the steps of the engineering design process.
Implementing Examples of Student-Centered Learning
In a nutshell, student-centered learning makes students active participants in their learning. Overall, student-centered lessons guide students in constructing knowledge, rather than passively receiving it. Thus increasing student engagement and retention of information. Although the teacher acts as a facilitator in student-centered classrooms, there is still a great deal of planning involved in creating student-centered lessons.
If the thought of transitioning from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-Centered classroom terrifies you, take a deep breath. Start small. Give yourself grace as you transition to this new way of teaching. Bumps along the road mean you’re doing it right. The goal is progress, not perfection.
Strapped for time? Check out these student-centered resources.