5 Student-Centered Course Ideas to Implement Tomorrow
September 24, 2016
Want your students to love learning and help themselves learn?
Student-centered classrooms have become the hallmark of a seasoned teacher's course. Strategies to help students become more autonomous and independent are important to their growth and achievement.
Here are some ideas for creating a student-centered course:
1. Flexible grouping
This strategy has been around for a long time but it has recently been given the official name of "flexible grouping". Good teachers know how to form groups and to keep them dynamic, changing them often as the course activities change. The concept of flexible grouping is known as a differentiation strategy. Students may be regrouped as often as daily, depending on the activity.
Examples might include large groups, small groups, dyads (pairs), triads (groups of three) or individuals. These groups might be formed by ability level, interest or student choice. The idea is to keep changing up groups. Don't forget to hold students accountable for their group and individual contributions.
2. Offer choices
Choices are another strategy often associated with differentiation and personalized learning. Although there is some controversy around learning styles, there are many other forms that choices can take.
According to Carol Tomlinson, a differentiation guru, choices may be structured around process, product, content, environment or technology.
Process choices might include reading from a book, listening to a podcast, watching a video or a group discussion.
Product choices could involve students creating brochures, children's books, website, posters, digital stories or tutorials.
Content choices may include variations of the standards. For example, if the standards call for students to learn about the Civil War in general, you may offer students options to learn about the political landscape of the time, personal; stories from soldiers or a study of the literature of the time. All of the choices meet the standards but each choice has a different twist on the content.
Environmental choices would include learning in a traditional classroom, in the library, at home, on a computer, or perhaps reading under a tree on the school grounds.
Technology choices could include learning from curated sources like a teacher-chosen website, a Diigo list, a Wiki page, or even hardware options like a laptop or an iPad.
3. Norm together
At the start of the year, share your expectations with students then create the course policies and procedures together. Students that help to make the rules are more likely to follow them.
Consider opening a Google Doc where all students can contribute their ideas. Start with a list of your expectations and allow students to suggest specific policies and procedures to meet it. Narrow down the list to suggestions that you, as the teacher, can live with. Then allow the students to vote on the final decisions. This will greatly increase your relationships with students and the number of rule violations will greatly decrease.
After many years of using this activity, I find my students to be much more strict that I am! Their suggestions tend to be more punitive yet creative. Your students might surprise you with some great ideas that you can add to your teaching toolbox!
4. Personalize learning
Every student is different. Each will have a different path and pace through the content. Don't fear this, benefit from it! Students who are engaged in the content will learn more, be easier to manage and will, ultimately, achieve higher.
Many educators confuse personalized learning with differentiation or individualization. Although similar in some ways, they are remarkable difference in other ways. Check your understanding with handy-dandy chart from PersonalizedLearning.com.
Begin with the end in mind. As a teacher, you have standards and objectives to follow. Allow your students to create their own goals to increase accountability and engagement. Rely on your formative assessments throughout the learning to guide your teaching/facilitation and your student's learning. If there is a gap, help the student fill it. As students progress through cycles of personalized learning, they are expected to become independent and eventually help themselves fill gaps as needed.
5. Start Slow
As with any educational method, feel free to dip a toe in the water as opposed to jumping in head first. Find a piece of the student-centered course method that you are comfortable with, like allowing students to set their own pace through a unit, as long as they finish by the unit exam.
Small steps lead to great strides. Build your skills slowly to build your confidence.
Creating a student-centered classroom can be a challenge for those of us used to being in a teacher-directed course. With each small step you take towards student ownership and flexibility, the higher student achievement and engagement you will see. What steps have you taken towards a student-centered classroom?