In the traditional classroom, a teacher is in charge of the curricular goals for the day and provides content in a lecture-style format. How does that teacher know if the goals are met? Typically, some form of graded work product is used to assess the level of comprehension. While this method may work fine for some students, many others are left behind.
Traditional models of education require all students to adapt to a particular classroom structure. The problem is that not all students are the same. Some students are not challenged enough, while others can’t keep up. In some cases, all students are passed on to new grade levels whether they have achieved mastery of the previous year’s content or not. Some continue to get left behind.
A student-centered classroom “flips the script” when it comes to education. It allows the student’s talents, interests, and personal background to guide the way curricular goals are set and content is taught. Students with varying abilities and interests experience success and become engaged learners.
Here are a few of the elements of student-centered learning that contribute to an optimal environment for all students:
Learning by doing is the way that many of us acquire skills, even after formal education. When starting a new job, we often have to jump right in to figure out how to apply what we know in a new setting. If this what will be expected of students later in life, why not start modeling it now?
Hands-on learning allows students have ownership of their learning experience. They are challenged to figure out how to apply a set of skills in their own way. Students become the main character in the story, instead of just reading about someone else’s experience.
Instead of reading about how a bill becomes law, why not visit elected officials and civil servants to see how the process works, then, write a bill? Experiential learning takes students off the sidelines and puts them into the game.
Individualized Learning Plans
Many traditional classrooms can be described as “one size fits all.” Students are all assessed in the same way, despite differences in learning styles, background, and experiences. If a student receives a low grade on an exam, they may still be expected to continue to the next unit. A high performing student, bored by the ease with which they are mastering the material, may start to disengage.
With student-centered learning, individualized academic plans take into account a student's skills and interests. The student must demonstrate mastery of the content before moving on to the next unit. The difficulty level can be modified to address the student’s specific needs; whether they require more time to understand a concept, or are ready for more challenging content.
Individualized and focused course work, particularly if combined with small class size, allows for students to succeed in the classroom, at their own pace.
In many traditional settings, fitting in can be hard for students. Teenagers are in a phase of life where they are exploring their identity and trying to figure out who they are. This process is important as it lays the groundwork for a healthy adulthood. For students that don’t fit in, who feel different from their classmates or peers, this can be challenging. In student-centered learning environments, who the student is and who they want to be is just as important as the rest of the curriculum.
Student-centered learning encourages teens to be engaged in their learning experience. The individual student is the most important factor in the curricular equation. Learning outcomes are developed in a way that meets the student's needs. Student-centered learning allows for finding the "right fit" instead of "fitting in."