What does an effective classroom look like? It is no secret that there have been some recent shifts in education, with one of the biggest involving the move from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom. This means that instead of lessons including mostly lectures, reading from textbooks and working silently on worksheets, lessons come alive with collaboration, discussions, hands-on experiences and the exploration of big ideas. If teachers want students to effectively communicate, collaborate, think critically and express creativity, this shift is a great first step.
Yet for some teachers, the shift to student-centered learning can seem like a daunting task, but if one views creating a student-centered classroom as making small changes over time, the shift to seeing increased student engagement and achievement doesn’t seem as overwhelming.
This type of teaching and learning is more natural than some might think. Implement the following four strategies to move your classroom from teacher-centered to more student-centered and watch your students soar to new levels.
1. Stop Being the Expert
While teachers must know the content well in order to teach it, they do not always need to act like the expert. For example, a teacher utilizing the student-centered approach might stop answering all of the students’ questions and doing things for students that they could do or figure out for themselves. Although it can be easier to tell students the answers or do a task for them to save time, it isn’t always what’s best for them. The goal is for students to learn and grow, and since self-discovery is a large part of that process, try prompting and guiding them rather than telling them.
2. Let Students Explore
Traditional lessons include introducing a topic, lecturing about it and asking students to complete a worksheet or activity to show they learned what was taught. Instead, teachers can make lessons come alive by introducing the topic and having students explore it through a hands-on task, problem-solving activity or any other collaborative project where students explore, think and communicate with their classmates.
Once the activity is done, have students share their ideas, answers and processes; facilitate a class discussion through questioning. During this discussion, the teacher should also help students connect the dots to the big idea of the lesson. Perhaps this involves using visuals and some interactive lecturing. The key here is that the teacher’s input comes after the students have a chance to explore, think and discuss their ideas. This is a powerful way to help the content stick. One poignant saying said it best: “Teaching is telling; told isn’t taught.”
3. Plan Strategic Questions
Planning strategic questions prior to lessons can be a game-changer. As mentioned previously, teachers do not have to give students as much information as traditional lessons often encourage. Instead, teachers should try prompting and guiding students to self-discovery through strategic questions. One of the best ways to plan strategic questions that help students move towards mastery of the lesson objective is to identify misconceptions they might have related to the objective. From there, develop questions that help students think through those misconceptions and move past them. This is empowering for students and helps develop their self-esteem since they are able to navigate challenges themselves, rather than being told the answers or remaining stuck.
For example, when teaching a math lesson about adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators, it is common for students to have a misconception about which numbers to add or subtract, often adding the numerators and adding the denominators. To help students work through this, the teacher can add context to the fractions and ask questions like, “What does the numerator represent?” and “What does the denominator represent?”
Once students can explain that the numerator represents a part of a whole and the denominator represents the whole, they can begin to understand through even more prompting and questioning that the denominator needs to be the same in order to do the computation. Instead of the teacher telling students to memorize a formula or telling them how to do the problem, they can empower students through questioning to create a more student-centered learning environment.
4. Use Cooperative Learning Structures
What better way to engage students in the important 21st century skills emphasized in a student-centered classroom than to use cooperative learning structures? By using structures like Think-Pair-Share, Quiz-Quiz-Trade, Round Robin and Numbered Heads Together, groups of students are able to develop all of these skills while engaging in the lesson content. The structured component of this teaching strategy allows all students to participate in non-threatening ways and encourages them to stay on task. Overall, cooperative learning structures are an effective way to get students thinking and talking more.
By implementing these strategies, you will empower the students to effectively engage in learning experiences that will eventually enable them to be productive and contributing members of their communities in the 21st century.
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