In the traditional model of teaching, teachers were the holders of knowledge, the keepers of culture, and the drivers of instruction. This left students to be largely passive receivers of information with little input into the structure, culture, or content of their classrooms. While this model has been accepted as the status quo for decades, at BetterLesson we believe that student-centered classroom culture and design are more effective and lead to increased success for students and teachers.
The most important characteristic of student-centered classroom culture and design is that in a student-centered classroom, students are active participants and leaders in creating classroom norms, values, and procedures that are conducive to their learning. This isn't to say that a teacher's role is trivial in a student-centered classroom; in fact, teachers remain critical to the students' success because they facilitate and support students' developing autonomy and independence in their learning community.
Making the shift to a student-centered approach requires that teachers pay particular attention to the following components as they design their class and implement strategies to intentionally shift responsibility for the classroom culture to students:
Students are actively involved in developing the norms of the classroom, including big-picture items such as shared values as well as small-grain routines and procedures
Students speak respectfully, honestly, and productively with their peers and teacher in a variety of settings and for a variety of purposes, including group work, feedback delivery, and reflection
The teacher includes student voice and perspective in their decisions around instruction, classroom structure, and personalization
Why it's important
When students are involved in the creation of classroom norms, the day-to-day management of routines and procedures, and the ongoing reflection on classroom culture, they feel a deeper belonging to the learning space. No longer are they merely guests in the teacher's classroom; instead, they themselves are architects and contributors to a truly shared space. The difference is not merely semantic; teachers who have made this shift report fewer discipline issues, increased student participation, and improved learning outcomes. By engaging in the creation of student-centered classroom, students will have the opportunity to practice important 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation.
The benefits of shifting to a more student-centered classroom culture and design are not limited to student outcomes. Many teachers who have worked with a BetterLesson Coach on transitioning to a student-centered classroom report feeling in improved sense of morale, a greater belief in their ability to grow as a teacher, an increased willingness and ability to take risks in the classroom, and a general sense that they are more successful in their day-to-day work.
What success looks like
A student-centered classroom is one that is responsive to the needs of students and involves them in decisions that will influence the classroom culture. The transfer of ownership requires considerable planning and deliberate implementation on the teacher's part. When done well, these are some characteristics of a true, student-centered classroom:
The physical space is purposefully planned and reflects the diverse needs and interests of its students
Student voice is incorporated into the development and implementation of classroom routines and procedures
Students participate in the classroom community with care and respect
Students and teachers develop strong relationships rooted in trust
Student needs take priority in the design and implementation of lessons
Teachers personalize instruction to meet the needs of individual students
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McCarthy, John. "Student-Centered Learning: It Starts With the Teacher." Edutopia. 2015.
McCombs, Barbara L. "What Do We Know About Learners and Learning? The Learner-Centered Framework: Bringing the Educational System into Balance." Educational Horizons, vol. 79, no. 4, 2001, pp. 182-193.
Starkey, Louise. Three dimensions of student-centred education: a framework for policy and practice. Critical Studies in Education. 2017.
Teaching Tolerance. Critical practices for anti-bias education: Classroom Culture. 2016.