Shifting to a learner-centered classroom

You’ve decided you want to innovate, try something new in your classroom, try to make it more learner-centered by giving more personal choice for learning. Awesome.

Schools have a long history of focusing on getting all of the “products of learning” to the same state of completion by time they get to the end of the conveyor belt. You may struggle at first with the complex variety of each learner’s process and progress. Learning is emergent and may not be visible for long periods of time.

With continued stimulus, growth will occur. You can plan on it happening, though not for when it may happen. Like a child, regardless of parental coaching, most will learn to walk, ride a bike, and drive a car when they are ready.

Here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:

  1. The shift from compliance to self reliance takes time. When they first built cars, there wasn’t a road system for them to travel on. Cars got stuck on muddy fields. There were no fuel stations. Lucky for us, they built the infrastructure because they saw the value of personal mobility.
  2. Choice can be paralyzing. Self-determination requires a healthy sense of “self.” What should I choose? What am I interested in? Who am I anyway?
  3. Give lots of space and stay close by. This is tricky and unique for each learner. Body language, eye contact and some check-in words will help give a sense of who needs what.
  4. Spend time observing. What seems to be working? What’s not working? Take notes.
  5. Resist the urge to intervene. After years of being conditioned to follow directions, some students believe they aren’t capable of choosing their own learning. While some will struggle to take control, using some kind of compulsion while trying to sidestep outright demand for compliance will nix the opportunity for growth. (This is not the time to talk about grades and such.)
  6. Stick to probing rather than sharing your knowledge. What are you trying to figure out? How does that work? Have you tried…? What do you notice? What would happen if…?
  7. Amplify what works and dampen what doesn’t. Adapt as you go and encourage individual and collaborative efforts.

Innovation means change. For something to be innovative it not only has to be new and different it has to be meaningful and get results.

Also published on my blog.