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Revitalising Student-Centred Learning: A 2024 Challenge for High-Achieving Educators

As an experienced educator, you're likely well-acquainted with the concept of student-centred learning—a pedagogical approach that places students at the forefront of their educational journey. However, in the dynamic landscape of education in 2024, it's time to reignite your interest and expertise in this transformative method. Let's reflect on your teaching practices and explore how to take student-centred learning to new heights.

Consider the following questions as you reflect on your current teaching methods:

  • Do you envision more than a passive transfer of information in your classroom?

  • Are you eager to instill lifelong skills, critical thinking, and independence in your students?

  • Does the idea of creating a supportive learning environment, where students actively engage with information, resonate with you?

  • If these questions strike a chord, you're on the path to embracing a renewed perspective on student-centred learning.

As an educational approach, student-centred learning places the student at the heart of the learning process, encouraging active engagement, critical thinking, and independent exploration. Empowering students through student-centred learning cultivates lifelong skills, encourages deep understanding, and promotes a sense of ownership, leading to enriched educational experiences and lasting personal growth.

Some of the issues that hamper a student-centred curriculum.

If you've tried it before, you are likely aware of some of the impediments to using this dynamic learning methodology.

Resistance to Change: Educators in your school might fear resistance from both students and their peers. Students may be accustomed to traditional teaching methods, and some educators may be hesitant to adopt a new approach due to the fear of pushback or challenges in adapting to a different teaching style.

Assessment Challenges: Traditional assessments may not align with the principles of student-led learning. Educators may worry about how to effectively assess and measure students' progress and achievements in a system that values individual exploration and diverse problem-solving approaches.

Time Constraints: Implementing a student-led approach often requires more time for planning, facilitating discussions, and providing individualised feedback. Educators may be concerned about time constraints, especially if they are already dealing with a demanding curriculum and other administrative responsibilities.

Lack of Resources: A student-oriented approach might require additional resources, both in terms of materials and professional development for educators. Concerns about insufficient resources, including access to technology, relevant literature, and training programs, could hinder the successful implementation of this approach.

Parental Expectations: Parents may have certain expectations regarding their children's education, and a shift towards student-led learning might be met with scepticism or concern. Educators may worry about effectively communicating the benefits of this approach to parents and managing their expectations.

Standardised Testing Pressures: The emphasis on standardised testing in many educational systems may create anxiety for educators, as student-led learning may not align seamlessly with the requirements of standardised tests. The fear of students underperforming in traditional assessments might be a concern.

Classroom Management: Giving students more autonomy in their learning process may lead to concerns about maintaining control and order in the classroom. Educators may worry about how to balance student independence with the need for structure and discipline.

Professional Development Needs: Transitioning to a student-led approach requires a shift in teaching methodologies. Educators may be concerned about the availability and effectiveness of professional development opportunities to equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge for successful implementation.

Inequality in Student Participation: There might be concerns about certain students dominating discussions or projects, while others may struggle to engage. Educators may worry about how to ensure equal opportunities for participation and success among all students.

Integration with Existing Curriculum: Aligning student-led learning with existing curricular requirements may pose a challenge. Educators may fear that implementing a student-oriented approach could disrupt the continuity of the curriculum and leave gaps in students' knowledge.

Given all this negativity around the idea, how can you start anew and ask your students to invest in their own learning journey?

What will make the effort worth it?

Several years ago, I curated a professional learning program to introduce play-based learning at a Primary School level. The educators were motivated to challenge the existing formats of learning. The first thing they did was remove some of the traditional tables and chairs. To say this caused a furore is understating it. The first stakeholders to arc up were the parents.

There are two issues here: first parents are paying the fees and so they need to be listened to. And secondly, they have all been to school, so they believe they know what is best for their children.

After just two weeks, the school leadership asked the educators to revert to the default program. But being courageous, they negotiated a compromise. Allow us to continue with the new program and after six months we will have our students do the usual literacy and mathematics tests and compare the data to that of the previous three cohorts.

The outcome was that the markers for literacy and numeracy were significantly in advance of previous years. What the educators were doing offered students the freedom to move, the freedom to select their materials, a variety of ways to express their learning and multiple modes of creating products. A crucial aspect of the new methodology was that students gathered together to share what they had done, learned and achieved through their interaction with materials and with one another. The peer learning of language, skills, numbers, processes and problem-solving was unprecedented at that level in the school before.

At the end of the year, the Prep and Grade One classes held student exhibition of projects they had worked on. A kicker was when an elder sibling of one of the exhibitors, turned on a parent saying: ‘Where was my exhibition? Why didn’t you let me do this?’

Within this short scenario, so many of the fears listed above evaporated. And the advantages were phenomenal. And consider, if this is what 5-8 year olds can achieve, what extraordinary things can older students do?

Advantages of Student-Led Learning:

To begin with, although this example is about play, the same advantages can emerge whenever the curriculum is not seen as a download of information, but framed as a question with a variety of means to reach the answer.

Freedom of Movement: When students have the freedom to move, they create a dynamic and interactive learning environment. As they move, they interact with one another. Their skills are transferred, their language is shared and improved, and they may demonstrate high-level leadership. Children who are school-averse or bored when listening to a teacher are motivated to share their passions, ideas, and to learn from others.

Material Selection: Offering students the ability to select materials develops a sense of autonomy and personalised learning. Mixing and combining materials spark ideas and creativity. As an educator, I have learned from students remarkable ways of using materials for learning and innovation.

Variety in Expression: The Reggio Emilia philosophy emanating from northern Italy espouses the idea that children have a hundred languages to express their learning. The programme allowed for a variety of ways to express learning, accommodating diverse learning styles and preferences. Students who had not responded to the usual methods for learning embraced technology and were capable of being assessed at far higher literacy levels than if they had only been allowed to write.

Multiple Modes of Product Creation: Similarly, when students had freedom of expression, they were not confined to a singular mode of creating products, encouraging creativity and innovative thinking. Students were free to use puppetry, music, mime, movement, collage, paint, and other means to show their learning. I was amazed at the end of the year exhibition to see the diverse ways students depicted the human skeleton and could name all the bones; something far in advance of the norm for learning at their age.

Peer Learning Opportunities: The emphasis on shared experiences enabled unprecedented peer learning of language, skills, numbers, processes, and problem-solving.

Increased Engagement: Allowing students to actively participate in shaping their learning experience increased overall engagement and enthusiasm.

Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills: Through the freedom to explore and experiment, students organically developed enhanced problem-solving skills. This was both individually and collaboratively.

Ownership of Learning: Students took pride and ownership of their learning journey, leading to a heightened sense of responsibility and motivation.

Positive Impact on Literacy and Numeracy: The outcomes showed a significant advance in literacy and numeracy markers, indicating the effectiveness of the student-led approach. Not only these curriculum areas, but also the sciences, arts, and technology were enhanced.

Promotion of Collaborative Learning: The methodology encouraged students to gather, share, and learn from one another, creating teamwork and a collaborative learning environment.

Starting Anew:

To embark on a fresh journey of student-led learning, consider the following strategies:

Ensure Support: Ensure that you have the support of your leadership, or if you are a leader that you involve your team in the shift.

Transparent Communication: Clearly communicate the shift in approach to both students and parents, emphasising the benefits and addressing concerns.

Inclusive Decision-Making: Involve students in decisions related to their learning, providing a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Showcasing Success Stories: Share success stories from previous experiences to demonstrate the positive impact of student-led learning.

Professional Development: Provide educators with professional development opportunities to enhance their skills in facilitating student-led learning.

Gradual Implementation: Introduce the approach gradually, allowing students and educators to adapt to the new dynamics.

Continuous Assessment and Adaptation: Implement a system of continuous assessment and adapt the approach based on feedback and outcomes.

Parental Involvement: Encourage parental involvement and address concerns through regular communication and involvement in student activities.

Celebrating Student Achievements: Showcase and celebrate student achievements resulting from the student-led approach, reinforcing its positive impact.

Creating a Supportive Environment: Provide a supportive school culture that values experimentation and innovation in teaching methodologies.

Measuring Success: Establish clear metrics for success, including both academic and holistic measures, to assess the effectiveness of the student-led learning approach.

What's in this for you?

Embracing student-centred learning doesn't necessitate an exhaustive overhaul, but rather, it opens doors to potential professional success and a profound sense of achievement. As you explore innovative teaching methods and adapt student-centric assessment practices, you may find renewed passion and excitement in cultivating a dynamic and engaging classroom.

Collaborating on research projects offers an avenue to contribute to the broader educational community, establishing your presence as a thought leader. Proficient classroom management maximises instructional time, maintaining an environment where both you and your students thrive. You might investigate new technologies to capture, document, and interpret children’s work. Technology integration not only enhances the learning experience but also serves as a tool for continuous professional development.

Advocating for educational equity becomes a meaningful cause you actively support through inclusive teaching practices. Your classroom will more effectively cater to students with different strengths, needs, and talents. Serving as a mentor or coach for peers brings personal satisfaction in witnessing others flourish under your guidance. Aspiring to leadership roles within your school environment presents an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the field of education.

In this revitalised journey, even embracing a subset of these practices can lead to significant professional success and a profound sense of accomplishment.

In 2024, let student-centred learning be the catalyst for your continued professional growth. Reignite your passion, explore new horizons, and foster a classroom environment where students actively engage, think critically, and take ownership of their educational journey.

Lili-Ann Kriegler (B. A Hons, H. Dip. Ed, M.Ed.) is an education consultant and award-winning author of Edu-Chameleon for teachers, and Roots and Wings for parents. Lili-Ann’s primary specialisations are in early childhood education (birth-9 years), leadership and optimising human thinking and cognition.  She runs her consultancy, Kriegler-Education.

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