Student-centered learning--we've all been hearing this term thrown around in the educational community. Just what does this really mean? How do we know that the classroom strategies that we are utilizing are student-centered or not? This article will answer these two essential questions.
The Focus Is On the Students
A definition can easily be extracted from the term itself--student-centered learning (SCL) gives more focus on the students and the ways by which they learn. Highly abstract, eh? How do you know that you are giving focus on your students whenever you teach? What are the best practices for student-centered learning?
The key to student-centered learning is for the teacher to allow the students to learn concepts on their own with minimal teacher intervention and supervision. Ideally, the teacher's role inside his/her classroom is to facilitate, and not feed, learning. SCL is all about the students using their abilities to absorb and make meaning out of lessons. It's about using their unique set of learning styles and experiences to discover and enrich their learning. This practice is highly connected to constructivist teaching practices wherein the teacher allows the students to experience learning for themselves instead of the students hearing everything mechanically from the teacher.
Student-centered learning involves making the students experience learning. This can be initiated and sustained by the teacher in his/her classroom by making sure that (1) the students' interest is captured (2) the students' unique skills are maximized in their attempt to learn and (3) the teacher scaffolds at the proper time. In this article, I will heavily emphasize the use of the mutiple intelligences, constructivism, and learning styles to create student-centered learning activities in the classroom.
Best Practices for Student-Centered Learning
1. Tap into the students' interests. Are they heavily into reading? Make use of the library and the wealth of available books to facilitate your lesson activities. Are they competitive, heavily kinesthetic and fun-loving? Include mobile games that allow them to think and move about. Do they derive sheer joy out of performing? Assign them tasks that give them opportunities to showcase their performances. I strongly believe--and I see this work all the time--that the key to motivate the students to learn and explore on their own is to make learning fun for them. They are not going to want to learn if the teacher constantly makes them do tasks that they don't want to do. Introducing a lesson in a way that doesn't capture their interest is the greatest failure and breakdown in learning, for the enthusiasm to want to learn more is voided by packaging learning in a distasteful manner.
2. Once you've captured the students' attention, personalize learning by providing opportunities for your students to use their learning styles in comprehending concepts. Differentiated instruction using multiple intelligences is always a great way to go about this. Recognize who your actors, writers, artists, dancers, singers, journalists, and conversationalists are and allow your students to express their understanding and learning of a concept in the way that they know best--by utilizing their innate abilities.
3. Bear in mind the theory of constructivist learning and teaching.
According to University of Saskatchewan Masters graduate Audrey Gray in her research:
A Construcivist Classroom is a Student-Centered Classroom. The student-centeredness of a constructivist classroom is clearly apparent in a reader response approach to literature. Recognizing the significance of the unique experiences that each reader brings to the reading of a selection of literature, the teacher in a response-centered approach seeks to explore the transaction between the student and the text to promote or extract a meaningful response (Rosenblatt, 1978). This places the student in a central position in the classroom since exploring this transaction seems unlikely to occur unless the teacher is willing to relinquish the traditional position of sole authority, thereby legitimating the unique experiences that all members of the class bring to the reading rather than just those experiences the teacher brings. The resulting perception and effect in the classroom is evident in students' recognition that the discussion is a legitimate one involving questions to which nobody knows the answer. It isn't a treasure hunting game where they are trying to guess what is in their teacher's head, but a process that creates meaning and knowledge.
(Read more here about constructivist teaching ideas.)
The ultimate test on whether or not you are using the best practices for student-centered learning in your room is if your students start to autonomously produce outputs that result from their understanding of your lesson. In order to succeed in SCL, bear in mind three things: (1) learning styles (2) multiple intelligences and (3) constructivist teaching. After all, being a teacher is having the ability to produce students that can think about and act on their learning on their own.