When students are empowered to own their learning, it allows the teacher to focus on his or her role as a facilitator of learning. Providing opportunities for students to engage in tasks aligned with their interests, goals, skills, and preferred learning styles lays the groundwork for a student-centered class and can support future growth in other domains.
Here is how we at BetterLesson think about these three important characteristics of a student-centered classroom:
Shifting to student ownership in the classroom can understandably induce a lot of anxiety for teachers. In particular, teachers are often concerned about whether students will make the right choices for themselves. These concerns can be mitigated through careful planning and the structured implementation of strategies that incrementally build toward more and more student ownership.
Why it's important
Providing students with opportunities for agency and choice is a critical step toward moving from a classroom where learning is a result of compliance to one where learning is grounded in true student investment and ownership. When teachers build systems that enable students to own their learning and have a voice in the learning process, students are more engaged. This, in turn, develops students' career- and college-readiness skills like flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, metacognition, and critical thinking.
Additionally, when a classroom's learning has its foundation in student agency, teachers are able to become facilitators of learning and push more ownership on students during the learning process. When ownership, choice, and voice are used as a frame for instruction, teachers are better able to create personalized lessons (or at least allow students to make choices within lessons) because as facilitators of learning (who talk with students, learn about their skills and interests, and adjust their instruction accordingly) they have more capacity to understand the needs of their students. .
What success looks like
A classroom that provides students with true ownership, agency, and choice is one in which students are able to make choices for themselves based on different criteria - their personal interests, their individual learning profiles, or an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. In this sort of a classroom, students feel that they are in charge of their learning trajectory. The goal, of course, is for these choices to generate student investment in the task while at the same time aligning with what the students need.
In a classroom where students are entrusted with choice and know how to make sound choices that will have a positive impact on their learning, these are the sorts of behaviors that can be observed:
Students set, manage, and reflect on goals, and they are able to explain what they are working on and how it supports their goals
The teacher conferences with students about their goals and how to achieve them
Students are empowered to identify a pathway for their learning that is aligned to their goals, needs, and interests
Students engage in learning tasks and content that are aligned to their individual skills, abilities, and affinities
The teacher varies their approach to instruction based on what he or she has learned about student preferences, strengths, and areas for growth
Brooks, Martin G. Brooke, Jacqueline Grennon. "The Courage to Be Constructivist." The Constructivist Classroom 57:3:p.18-24. 1999.
Hanover Research. "Impact of Student Choice and Personalized Learning." 2014.
Juliani, AJ. "The Epic Guide to Student Ownership." 2017.
Pandolpho, Beth. "Putting Students in Charge of Their Learning." Edutopia. 2018.
Students at the Center Hub. "The Students at the Center Framework." 2013.