I recently saw on Twitter a superintendent from Virginia who paraphrased a high school student’s perspective on teacher-centered classrooms versus student-centered ones. They described it in a food analogy, so I was immediately hooked! The student said that teacher-centered classrooms were like having a meal where the students sit in high chairs and are spoon-fed their meals, whereas student-centered learning is where students and teacher work together to prepare the meal and then all sit down together to enjoy it.
It made me think a lot about my own classroom. And even though I wholeheartedly agree with that perspective and would say that I aim for my classroom to be in that style every day. The reality is that if I look back at my practices on a daily basis I would have seen more high chairs than tables. Why is that? Well, it's most likely based on my lens of education. Historically, classrooms that I experienced as a student were more often than not teacher-centered. So as a result I tend to default to that style of classroom. It's easy to control and plan for. When I think of student-centered learning, it becomes more of an amorphous being that is harder to visualize; something akin to herding cats or how watching the movie is easier than reading the book. Thus when I am in a time crunch in terms of planning (as we teachers always are) it is a lot faster and easier to go with what I know.
So how can I break the cycle? I need to make conscious choices on a daily basis. Before I roll out a lesson I need to spend time reflecting on if the way I have planned a lesson is truly student-centered. I also need to embrace the uncomfortableness of the unknown. Often times I convince myself that I need to spoon feed them the info because it is new and we all need to be on the same page in terms of defining terms. However, the reality is I can still have the kids lead that portion of the lesson. Doing jigsaw activities where student-led groups define new terms or topics and become masters in that area (of course with teacher guidance!) and then they split up and help disseminate the important information and terms to their classmates. The lesson then ends with us coming together as a whole group to sit down and enjoy the meal together by debriefing. The use of exit tickets in which each kid must respond to the day’s essential question can be my daily proof that the material is working. Then with a well calculated warm up for the following day I can ensure that the material is gaining traction in their minds. Now I can begin to dive deeper by giving projects or problems to solve that will require them to take those new terms and ideas to the next level of application and synthesis. Ending with a project that will allow each student to show me in their own way that they truly grasp and can answer our standards based essential questions.
Models like SAMR can help us to take what we have always done and give it a digital makeover. It will help us to engage more students, which will in turn help with classroom management as well as the enduring battle of digital daydreaming where students stop listening to a lecture and go down the digital rabbit hole that starts with checking their bff’s snaps and ends in the digital trolling of every major social media feed. This is what blogger Tim Urban called the “Dark Playground” in his 2016 TED talk “Inside the Mind of a Procrastinator”.
Ultimately we need to make more engaging lessons so that students have a healthy work ethic that allows them the ability to be career ready so that they can balance life both the mundane and mind blowing opportunities that lie ahead. The longer they stay in the high chair, the harder it will be to produce valuable members of society who will make a difference well after we are gone and no longer able to spoon feed ourselves never mind the generation child-minded adults we have enabled. But just like the New Year’s resolutions we are all prepping for in the days ahead; it will require us to reach down and set new routines. So accept the challenge and find a colleague and get yourself some homegrown accountability. Our kids deserve it!
pammoran. (2018 November 30). high school student to paraphrase “in a teacher-centered class, students get “fed” learning like in a high chair - in a learner-centered environment, students help make the meal and sit down to eat together” [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/pammoran/status/1068548381625237504
Urban, T. (2016, March 5). Inside the Mind of a Procrastinator [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a_master_procrastinator