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Student-Centered Teaching and Learning
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Student-Centered Learning: The Core of Redesign

Student Engagement and Ownership Raises Motivation

The loss of students along the education pathway, especially at adolescence, suggests that for all the things we are doing right in education, there are things we could be doing much better. There is a growing body of thought in education circles that as we raise the standards we expect students to meet, we need to do more to customize the learning experience so it becomes more understandable, meaningful, and engaging to them—and so they become more motivated and responsible for their part in making it successful.

In essence, learning should become more student centered.

Student-centered learning is based on the idea that students have powerful capacity to learn wherever they are and by a variety of experience. Such learning engages and motivates students far more than passive listening.

The best teachers unleash that learning capacity and motivation rather than attempting to be a conduit that “delivers” knowledge or skills. In this approach, learning is the constant and time is the variable, rather than the other way around.

Listed below are some of the main characteristics of student-centered learning. See this page of the Oregon Learns site for a list of links to excellent background reading on student-centered learning.

  • Students advance on mastery of well-defined, high standards, demonstrating at each stage that they are ready for the next.
  • Learning is deeper than content knowledge. It emphasizes creation and application of knowledge plus skills and dispositions important in work and life: critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration with others, effective verbal and written communication, responsibility, good judgment, tenacity, and a constructive frame of mind.
  • Learning objectives and how they are assessed are explicit and clearly understood by students. Student attainment of these objectives is demonstrated by students and assessed by teachers (and students) in a variety of ways.
  • Assessment – whether diagnostic, formative, or summative – is meaningful and an ongoing part of the student’s learning experience.
  • Learning is varied, engaging, personalized, and student owned. Students receive rapid differentiated supports based on individual needs.
  • Equity in student opportunity, learning process, and supports is paramount, affirming that everyone can learn and succeed. The diverse cultural characteristics of learners are affirmed and integrated as assets.

It Takes All of Us

Transforming learning will require effort from all parties: parents, educators, business and civic leaders, policy makers, and thought leaders.

Teachers, in particular, are central to this effort. It falls to them to create an engaging learning environment, set standards, help students understand leaning targets and measures, facilitate learning experiences, and provide scaffolding and other supports to help students in their efforts to advance.

Teachers, in turn, should be accorded every support possible at the school and governance level. In K-12, for example, key support elements include district-level commitment, building-level leadership in instructional improvement, and teacher collaboration on standards and practices. This requires that principals and teachers themselves be part of a professional learning community and that they be afforded time in the school day for collaboration to grow in their understanding and skills and to improve practice. These support elements are equally needed at the postsecondary level in instances where faculty are willing to foster student-centered learning.

As we raise the standards we expect students to meet, we need to do more to customize the learning experience so it becomes more understandable, meaningful, and engaging to them.