How the Student Centered Classroom Can Change Learning

It’s All About Engagement

Student centered ClassroomMalcolm Gladwell; esteemed journalist, author, and all around interesting person discusses “The Stickiness Principle” in his book The Tipping Point. Why do some ideas have spread and staying power when others don’t?

Educators frame this question differently and ask, why do my students remember some of what I teach but not all of what I teach? What we really should be asking is, why do my students remember some of what they learn but not all of what they learn?

The word change in the sentences may seem like a game in semantics, but it is an important semantic change. In the second question, the role is shifted from the teacher to the student. Gladwell said, “If you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them. Students don’t remember what they’ve learned when they are not engaged.”

Gladwell’s Stickiness Principles states that:

  • Engagement and learning depend on understanding.
  • Learning is maximized when children are engaged and active.
  • Providing physical representations of our teaching helps retention.
  • Repetition is critical. 

These ideas are not revolutionary or new to education, but the challenge that most teachers face is in the application. How do I engage my learner? Last month, Jessica Bianculli discussed Inquiry Based Learning and the work of Sugata Mitra’s and his Self Organized Learning Environments. IBL is a great way to engage learners. Another process or concept that will engage learners is designing a student-centered classroom .

What is a student centered classroom?

According to Leo Jones, author of The Student Centered Classroom (2007), “In a student-centered class, students don’t depend on their teacher all the time, waiting for instructions, words of approval, correction, advice, or praise. They don’t ignore each other, but look at each other and communicate with each other. They value each other’s contributions; they cooperate, learn from each other, and help each other. When in difficulty or in doubt, they do ask the teacher for help or advice, but only after they have tried to solve the problem among themselves. The emphasis is on working together, in pairs, in groups, and as a whole class.”

All student centered classrooms include the same elements:

  • Active learning
  • Cooperative learning
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Inductive teaching and learning
  • Engagement
  • Problem-based learning
  • Project-based assessments
  • Quality feedback
  • Teacher acting as a facilitator of learning

In his TED talk, Eric Goldstein takes these ideas one step further and elaborates on the efficacy of the elements of a student centered classroom.

These theories, ideas, and elements sound great, but how can you transform your classroom into a student centered classroom? Start with the idea of Inquiry Based Learning. Try to encourage intrinsic motivation. “Intrinsic motivation occurs when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials.” (Coon & Mitterer, 2010).

When you develop your learning activities and objectives, use WEBB’s Depth of Knowledge Levels of Thinking to ensure that you are requiring your students to use Higher Order Thinking Skills. Instead of class discussions, hold a Socratic seminar. Next time you develop an assessment try a Project Based Assessment.

With the adoption of the Common Core, teachers and students are being asked to increase their levels of thinking and work. The Common Core State Standards website states that the standards “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”

It is not feasible or realistic to try to transform a classroom overnight, but each time you write a new unit or lesson plan try to adapt an element of a student centered classroom. Designing a student centered classroom will create robust and relevant learning, instructional, and assessment strategies and will increase engagement and “stickiness” in your classroom.

We will have to wait and see if this new teaching methodology has its own stickiness factor!

*Start your own inquiry based learning project and explore some of the links in this post!

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