20/02/2018 • 4 min read
Student-Centered Learning: Allowing Students Autonomy over their Work
This post was guest-written by Emi Sharma. Emi is the Founder/Teacher of Zeki Jaan in Delhi, an after-school LEGO Robotics space. Before founding Zeki Jann, Emi has taught K-8 students in general education and LEGO classes, students with special needs and IB PYP students.
Student-centered learning is a hot topic in education these days. Educators often hear the mantra that students should own their learning, be intrinsically motivated and curious, all while being well-behaved. When I was a new teacher I was curious about how student-centered learning actually worked. My worst fear was to be in an out-of-control classroom, but I was also tired of lecturing. I knew there was a world to be discovered via technology, but how was I going to guide my students through that world? What do classrooms that foster student-centered learning look like? How much does the teacher need to lecture? What is the appropriate amount of time to allocate for student enquiry? How do you manage a classroom where students must govern themselves? How do you assess that they are actually learning what they are supposed to?
We must always remember that we are teaching children. No matter their age, they want to play. They also want to be grown up. I try to make my classroom model situations in the real world. For instance, assigning individual roles to students in a group activity, while all working together. These jobs (or others) can be created to fit the context of your content and the goal of the exercise. Every student has an assigned job and purpose within the group. It is fun for the kids to have their own job titles. They get a kick out it, but also take their roles very seriously. Do make sure that jobs are switched around so students don’t always do the same role. And I also make sure that girls get an equal chance at everything, because I have noticed the boys tend to overpower the girls. Make the lessons game-like. Make them fun.
Lecturing vs. Enquiry
As much as I do not want to lecture, I still have to dedicate at least 10 to 15 minutes of my lesson to introducing a new topic. They also get to answer any doubts they may have. This time is also important for forming relationships with your students. You’ll get an opportunity to see which students are the extroverts, introverts and who might work well together. So yes, that time is focused on content work, but also a chance to learn about who your students are.
The remainder of the class is left for the students to break into groups and complete anywhere from 3 to 8 assignments given. They can go as fast or as slow as they want to. They monitor their own progress by checking off the work they have completed on a chart on paper or on the whiteboard. They love seeing their progress as they work through the tasks and are able to check off an item from their to-do list. Although I do require them to bring it to me so I can assess it before they check the item off, so I can see if it is done correctly and then they can move forward.
Students appreciate when adults trust them. However, not all situations are ideal and as adults we must sometimes intervene. When a group is having an issue they immediately go into defence-mode, because they are afraid of punishment. They immediately start blaming each other and get very tense.
It’s important to calm them down and reassure them that they are not going to get in trouble for anything. That we are talking about an issue that needs to be solved. Students will instinctively tell YOU what the problem is when they are able to calmly tell the other person what the problem is. These are great opportunities for life lessons in teaching students how to communicate with someone during times of miscommunication. As long as students feel safe, they will let their guard down and open up emotionally.