Recently I was one of the trainers in a professional development session titled, “The Student Centered Classroom.” As I talked with the many participants I couldn’t help but wonder how I made my classroom student centered. I was able to reflect back on my time in the classroom and think of my own experiences. While planning for the PD I also kept coming back to one question in particular, “Who is doing the work in your class?”
I taught Project Lead the Way pre-engineering curriculum – the curriculum really blended well with student choice and voice. I always tried to provide students several options to demonstrate mastery of an objective. One of the most powerful learning techniques in pre-engineering is to realize there are several ways to accomplish one task. Often times, those solutions have positives and negatives when compared to others. However, these differences provide a communication piece vital to explain thinking and reasoning to students.
I saw several great projects in the 10 years I taught pre-engineering. It was simple for me as a teacher too. The students and I would come up with what the product should be able to accomplish. Students then chose a pathway to get there. At first, students did not know how to respond. However, they quickly learned that as long as they accomplished the task they would be graded fairly. As time progressed students began grading themselves. Though I had to have conversations about grading because students were often much harder on themselves. This was important for me as a teacher because it taught the valuable lesson of self-reflection.
The room quickly became a place for students to display their own work. I would have students telling me they wanted to take their project and show it to the principal or others. They took great pride in their work. It also became an environment for students to challenge each other. Students began to offer input and suggestions without being critical of others, which is a skill we can all benefit from. The conversation level in the room was amazing - lots of big words with correct associations.
Obviously this is my story. I am not trying to convince anyone this is the way to go even though it may sound like it. This was just the way things happened in my class. Looking back I wish I had kept data on how it all went down, but it was just how class went. After a while this is what the students and I began to expect from each other. I expected the best from them and they expected the best from me. Most of the time all they needed me to be was an “expert” opinion.