Ask any educator and they’ll tell you they want to do what’s best for every learner in their classroom, their school, their district. The best way to make that happen? Student-centered, personalized learning.
It might seem like a big job, and it is, but it’s possible to take small steps at the start of the school year to begin the work of building a school and classroom culture that supports students as unique individuals.
1. When planning lessons or activities for your classroom, ask yourself, who is doing the work?
If you are, consider if you need to be the one who is doing it, or if there is a way to turn it over to the students. When you give students some control in the classroom and over decision-making, they can begin to take ownership of their learning and better understand themselves as learners. Building in this time for reflection as an educator is an important step in inviting student voice and choice into the classroom.
2. Co-construct classroom rules and standard-operating procedures.
When learners take part in deciding appropriate behavior and consequences for the classroom, they feel a greater sense of connection to the classroom environment as something that belongs to them – and more of a responsibility to hold each other accountable to uphold procedures they’ve decided on together, rather than rules that were just posted in the classroom by their teacher on the first day of school.
3. Consider using flexible seating.
Giving students the freedom to move around and learn where they learn best is an easy first step toward making your classroom more student-centered. Some might need to sit on an exercise ball or a swivel seat, to move around in a way that isn’t disruptive to the rest of the class. Some may prefer a desk, table or even to lay out on the floor with their work.
4. Let learners be the experts.
It’s natural as an educator to want to be able to answer every question, but it’s okay not to know everything. If you know that there are students in your classroom who have mastered certain topics, let them help each other. Students love to be the teacher – and you’re freed to facilitate learning, rather than being in a position to deliver direct instruction.
5. Foster a growth mindset.
As adults, we recognize that failure is just a part of the learning process – some might even argue that it’s the most important part. When students are also given the freedom to try something new without fear of being penalized if it doesn’t work out, they have greater confidence in themselves as learners. Encourage the use of language that stresses “not yet” rather than “I can’t.”