A Perspective on Student-Centered Learning

“It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we trust and know each other”

- Margaret Wheatley (2003)

Teachers and students now have an opportunity to choose pedagogical practices that focus on the success of all students when teaching virtually, remotely, or in-person. Before school started, I met with a group of high school teachers who have volunteered to be part of a blended learning pilot at their school. Students have selected blended learning classes for a variety of reasons. Some students want to be able to work at their family-owned businesses during the day; some student athletes don’t want to miss class when they must leave early for an away game; and all the students have an interest in getting to choose where and when they completed the course assignments. The requirement for in-person attendance in their blended learning course has been reduced from five to only one or two days per week depending on the class.


I began our conversation with the following definition for student-centered pedagogy because regardless of the modality, quality pedagogy is quality pedagogy. “Student-centered learning is an educational philosophy or approach to learning that places students’ needs and interests at the forefront of the operations and decision-making of a school or district. Conversely, blended learning is a format, or a method of learning experienced by students. In short, blended learning combines traditional face-to-face instruction with online experiences that work together as an integrated experience for students” (Harrington & DeBruler, 2019)[i].

In a student-centered class, the focus is on the learner, not the technology. Many school districts have now eliminated snow days and will expect that instruction continues regardless of the weather. A student-centered model of blended learning may be an engaging solution.


The teachers and I discussed the following two questions:

· What are the class routines and rituals that will support a culture of learning?

· How will you create independent learners ready to learn?

Class routines and rituals

Class routines and rituals need to be anchored in social, emotional, and cultural competencies. The Center for Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child (2020) outlines teacher actions that reflect the social, emotional, and cultural competencies which build on the goals of creating a safe, supportive, and culturally sustainable learning environment. One of the anchor competencies is to cultivate perseverance, so examples of teacher actions are to provide asset-based formative feedback, set and monitor goals, and embrace productive struggles[ii].


Independent Learners

A student-centered model to consider is to create instruction where students may access content through blended instruction (e.g., teacher-made videos, shared virtual resources) even if they are in the same room. Then, students can learn at their own pace as they work together or individually on the assignments. This structure allows the teacher to be able to walk around and work with individual students or small groups. Students keep progressing through the course as they demonstrate mastery. This model can be viewed on your own through a linked Edutopia video example (2019).

In this student-centered model, teachers become facilitators of learning while students have a safe space for their voice and agency in becoming independent learners which is supported as a component of building “a community of independent learners” in Hammond’s Ready for Rigor framework (2013)[iii]. The Ready for Rigor framework also supports learners taking greater ownership of their learning as they are coached on how to discuss their learning moves in “learning partnerships”.


Study strategies also help to create independent learners needed for a blended learning class. In Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning[iv](2019), Dr. Agarwal poses the question, “If you could choose only one thing from this class you want to remember in 10 years, what would it be and why?" Then, she proposes teaching students the retrieve-taking technique[v] when taking notes while studying to improve retention.


In the first couple weeks of school students have shared that they feel more productive because of the choices they have had in establishing schedules that work best for their lives. Meanwhile, the teachers recognize that they will need to continue to monitor student needs.


References [i] Harrington & DeBruler, (2019). What is student-centered learning? https://michiganvirtual.org/blog/what-exactly-is-student-centered-learning/ [ii] Social, Emotional, and Cultural Anchor Competencies Framework (2020). Center for Reaching the Whole Child. https://crtwc.org/ [iii] Hammond, Z. (2013). www.ready4rigor.com [iv] Agarwal, P. K. (2019). Powerful teaching: Unleash the science of learning. Josey-Bass. [v] Retrieve-taking: https://www.retrievalpractice.org/strategies/2018/5/11/retrieve-taking


[This piece was originally published as my contribution to a weekly Monday Morning Message for the School of Education and Human Development doctoral studies community at the University of Colorado Denver on Monday, September 12, 2022.]


[Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash]


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