Student centered learning is all the rage, and for good reason. Student centered learning is not new, but the shift from teacher focused action to student focused action is becoming the norm.
This shift in education reminds me of when my mother finally let me grow my hair long. She wanted me to wear a pixie haircut because she believed it was best for me (not to mention easier for her). With hair freedom came some hair-raising hairdos. Sometimes I didn’t get all the shampoo out when I washed it which left me with an odd greasy-like sheen. Dealing with snarls and bad hair days added an extra challenge each morning. My mom made a few suggestions, but allowed me to struggle with my decisions. While I still have my fair share of bad hair days, I’m glad my mother let me make my own decisions, or I’d probably be sporting a short curly perm for the rest of my life.
As our students take more responsibility for their learning, they will experience some snarly, greasy problems. We will coach them and make suggestions, but we will need to let our students struggle and comb out the problems.
One easy way for students to choose how they will demonstrate their learning is to display a checklist poster. Use highlighter tape to box-off the skills you want students to master. Students can access the skills they will need to demonstrate without searching their lockers or the dark recesses of their backpacks for handouts. The skills will always be visible and not reliant on digital availability.
When my students demonstrated their presentation skills, I selected the Speaking and Listening poster and highlighted the “I can” statements they needed to master. Students reviewed the skills and considered various options for presentations. Many students took pictures with their phones so they could review the skills at home. They chose one of their argumentative writing pieces to present. (Anti-bullying and animal abuse were popular topics.) Many students wanted to work in small groups, and a few students wanted to work alone. Several groups created public service announcements, many students wanted to try giving a TED style talk, and some students wanted to create a live commercial for their community. Presentations were varied, but they all had one thing in common – they created an opportunity for students to show their stuff. It was fun to watch their self reliance grow as they solved problems and stayed engaged in learning.
Student centered learning is a great way to allow for differentiation. When I dictated the format for presentations, I endured some mind-numbing performances which I now admit was my fault. It was like walking through a sea of curly perms. Because I use a student centered approach,I’m treated to buzz cuts, shags, cornrows, and even Mohawks.