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When You Know Better, Do Better: Four Ways to Start Making Your Classroom Student-Centered

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Topics: Helping Teachers, Vision and Culture

Making the move from a traditional teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom can be daunting. But, when we do empower our students, their potential is unleashed. School and learning are no longer thing that are done to students; it’s done with them.

Here are four practices teachers can implement in the classroom to help make learning more student-centered.

Choice Boards

Providing students with the opportunity for choice has always been a keystone of differentiated instruction. In my own classroom instruction, I provided kids a menu or choice board where they chose the product they wanted to create as evidence of learning. In English language arts instruction, students could choose to demonstrate comprehension of a novel of their choice by writing another chapter in the novel or developing a different ending, comparing the protagonist to the antagonist, illustrating the setting or creating a storyboard detailing the conflict. While that was a good start, because I did give the students choice, I wonder how the learning may have been deeper and more personalized if I had gone deeper.

If I were teaching those same classes now, I might start the choice board with the standard and learning target, used pre-assessment data to determine a learner’s pathway and then provided leveled choices for the learning activities and tasks. When I work with teachers in our partner districts, we work together to make this same sort of shift.

Learner Profiles and Data Notebooks

Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Drive, reminds us that we must first know our learners and then we must help our learners know themselves. Many of the teachers I work with use data notebooks with their students as a way of involving the kids in goal setting and progress monitoring. What if we included learner profiles in the notebooks, having our learners set goals and reflect on the ways in which they best learn? “Do I learn my math facts when I am using flashcards or working with a partner?” “What do I need to do my best on this task?” Making the most of the data notebooks can support out learners in knowing how they can become expert at learning.

Student Agency

Developing and supporting agency in our kids begins with us! That means we’re helping student to learn to advocate for themselves, to make choices, to practice self-awareness and develop an understanding of themselves as learners. Without taking a graduate level course or reading a series of professional books (although both are good choices!), ask yourself this question: What am I currently doing for my students that they could do themselves?

Our nature is to run to the rescue, solve problems, and to compose, conduct and orchestrate every minute of the learning. Where can you step back and let your learners step up? Look for ways to provide opportunities for the kids to make decisions about what happens in the classroom and in their learning.

Flexible Learning Environment

Flexing the space in classrooms is a component of personalized learning. As a basic step in implementing this component, teachers are providing their students with seating options. That small step can make a big difference! Gone are the uniformed desks in rows facing forward. Table legs have been adjusted for the size of the learners. Places to sit have been expanded to include carpet squares, bean bags, large exercise balls, swivel stools, camp chairs and milk crates with cushions

When teachers help students make purposeful choices about where and how to work, student agency grows. “Where will you sit that will help you do your best work?” Students can then reflect on their choices. “Did that work for me? What did I learn about myself? How will that help me decide for the next time?”

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." - Maya Angelou

This quote from Maya Angelou has been a guiding principle for me both in my work in the classroom and for life in general. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” It’s what we ask of our students and it’s what we all need to strive for in our own practice.

Our Culture Toolkit will help sustain a student-centered culture year-round.