Let me begin by giving my definition of student-centered learning. I believe this approach shifts the focus of instruction being entirely teacher-driven to allowing instruction to focus on student needs, wants, and interests. That being said, I still believe the teacher must guide students through the process of a student-centered classroom. From the beginning of the year, I enjoy getting feedback on their learning styles, hobbies, career goals, personal aspirations, people they admire, jobs they're considering, things they want to know more about, and skills they'd like to learn. All of those questions help guide me. I obviously have content I need to cover, but I can include their hopes for the class into the material I need to teach.
Here are a few ways to keep your classroom student-centered throughout the year.
1. Student choice
Students love options. This is a simple way to create student buy-in. I know that choices aren't always the easiest to incorporate and can sometimes create more work for you. However, students thrive on options in their work. I have found that most students are more likely to complete their work, and do well on it when they feel they picked the work vs. me forcing them to do it.
One easy way to incorporate student choice is through assessments.
-Various assessment types might be projects (art, drawing, graphic, presentation, poster, etc.), tests, quizzes, discussions, group work, etc.
Those are all simple ways to offer choice in just the assessment. This could be taken even further in the day-to-day activities you do in your classroom.
2. Student collaboration
Some students enjoy collaborating and others don't--this will remain true forever. Students need to learn how to work together because collaboration is a part of life. I will never make one student carry the weight of an entire group. If I see a group member (or members) is slacking, I will not award them the same grade. But I do think it is ok to require collaboration in some form. If students want to pick their own groups, I usually let them. Most of the time my students are old enough (especially my juniors) to handle working with their friends.
3. Self-paced assignments
With the sporadic attendance of our students, my assignments have to be self-paced. I have students working at entirely different paces every single day. With that being said, I don't do a lot of "lecture" or "direct instruction" with my students. I do a lot of mini-lessons and break steps down because I am reteaching so much. All of the assignments I give them allow students to work at their own speed, on their own time. For example, since I have started doing 90% of their assignments digitally, on Google Classroom, they can work ahead on their digital worksheets without needing anything from me.
Projects are another way to incorporate a self-paced classroom. The one thing I will recommend is teaching students how to break down projects. My freshmen need steps to achieve a long-term goal. I cannot expect them to be able to use their time effectively when I give them several days for their work. One way to monitor projects is to have daily items they turn in to you. If there are three steps to a project, and they need three days, make them complete one step each day. Some students, my juniors, don't need me to break it down for them. I can give them a large writing assignment and tell them it's due on Friday and they're fine. It all depends on the group you have.
4. Community-based projects
I love this type of work, and from my experience, most students do too. There is an overall sense of accomplishment when you are working on a common goal to benefit a cause. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to incorporate community-based projects as much in this school (with students having such poor attendance, it makes it difficult).
Find out what your students are passionate about, what their hobbies are, or what they want to do after high school. Each of those questions should give you a good baseline of ideas for projects. For example, maybe your students are passionate about mental health. Find a local agency to partner with and see what they are doing in the community. Bring in a guest presenter, maybe a counselor, to talk about mental health. There are endless opportunities to involve the community in your classroom. In my experience, most community organizations will happily come to speak to a class about what their organization does.
5. Service-learning projects
Not only are there endless ways to have the community involved, but there are ways to incorporate service into your classroom. Sometimes community organizations and services can go hand-in-hand. Here is a previous blog post of mine entitled, "Service Projects for Students" where I share a variety of ways to incorporate service into the classroom.
In my experience, there are needs everywhere you look. Find a need and incorporate that into your classroom. I enjoy seeing what ideas students come up with for ways to serve their community and school. The habit of servicing is extremely valuable and will benefit your students in ways you might not even be able to see.
6. Guest presenters
I mentioned this above, but there are always people readily available to come and speak to your classroom. Here is a list of a few ideas for you.
-Colleges & technical schools
-Health care professionals
-Big Brothers, Big Sisters
-Nearly anyone (friends & family) with jobs
-Fitness instructors (yoga teachers, personal trainers, runners, etc.)
-Drug & alcohol prevention programs
I could keep going, but I'll leave you with that list. Reach out to these people and see how you can partner. I have never asked anyone to come in and had them say no.
7. Student reflection
I think student reflection is one of the most important steps, after any assessment. Students need time to identify what went well and what could have been better. I also think it's important to model reflection for them. It's ok to share what you think went well and what could have gone better with a lesson/unit. For example, if I think they did an excellent job with organization and creativity I will praise those skills. If I think not very many studied for their test or put forth effort into an assignment, I am not afraid to say so.
I also will share with them if I think I did a poor job explaining an assignment or a new concept. I have circled back to concepts because I could have explained them more effectively. They need to see their teachers reflecting too. Reflection cannot be expected without first modeling it well for them.
Another easy way to do this is to have students do a self-assessment before they submit a project. I will often hand out a rubric for them to grade themselves before they submit the project to me. I enjoy seeing how they would grade themselves and it helps them finalize their work before submission.
At the end of the year, I have my students complete a "Snapshot of Your Year" activity. I linked it for you in my TpT account. These questions help students reflect on their year, as a student and person. These guided questions are not only helpful for them, but they also help me to prepare for the next school year. These could easily be adapted to a Google Form, which I plan on doing this year.
8. Student goal setting
At the beginning of the year, I have students complete a survey which includes questions about their goals for the year. I like to see what they want to accomplish for the year. I also want to ask how I can assist them in setting/achieve those goals. I am happy to hold them accountable throughout the year, so they can achieve their goal. For example, maybe they want to be present more at school (attendance is something our students struggle with). I may ask them if they want me to check in on them regularly or call home when they start to get flakey. Students need accountability and I am always eager to assist them.
One of my favorite activities to introduce goal-setting is by Write on with Miss G. She has a resource called, "New Year's Resolutions & Growth Mindset Learning Stations" that I adore. I love coming back from winter break and introducing these stations. This lesson allows students to move to different stations and complete goal-oriented tasks. By the end of it, they will have read articles, established personal and academic goals, have chosen a word/mantra for the year, and have a sense of direction for the new season. This activity is an excellent way to push the restart button in the school year.
I hope you find this list of learning strategies to be helpful in incorporating student-centered learning. It's something I learn more about every single year. It takes time to incorporate and implement, but I promise the results will make it all worth it. Should you have any questions about how to make this happen in your classroom, please do not hesitate to ask. Happy learning!