8 Ways to create a student-centered classroom
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
If we want our students to gain the skills that will help them become independent problem-solvers willing to take responsibility for their success, a great place to start is by creating a student-centered environment in your classroom.
Promoting student agency can increase student motivation to participate in your classroom in a positive and safe manner.
Let’s look at eight ways to facilitate student agency in your classroom that encourages student ownership, responsibility, and growth.
- Allow student involvement in setting the rules
- Assign students roles in the classroom
- Involve students in creating grading rubrics
- Write group contracts
- Use peer assessment
- Create learning experiences that involve the community
- Allow the use of modern technology in the classroom
- Allow students to give feedback in different ways
1. Allow student involvement in setting the rules
Sometimes, the school rules we keep telling our students to follow can be ambiguous and lead to problems in the classroom. Negotiating a set of rules and expected behavior with your students will increase learner engagement and accountability.
Giving your students a say when setting behavioral expectations will:
- Empower them
- Make them feel valued
- Increase motivation
- Make expectations clearer
- Show the power of collaboration
- Create a safe learning environment
While they discuss their ideas and consider the needs of their classmates, your students are also implicitly learning the importance of diversity and respect for different opinions in a broader community sense.
2. Assign student roles in the classroom
“The only way for children to learn responsibility is to have responsibility.”
~ Chip Wood
Actively increasing your students’ responsibilities for their classroom can instill a sense of pride and ownership in looking after school property.
Establishing more inclusive attitudes towards everyday classroom procedures can involve:
- Assigning classroom jobs
- Explaining the benefits of having rules and procedures
- Negotiating a roster
- Including all students
- Demonstrating assigned tasks
- Rotating jobs
- Tweaking jobs as needed
- Reinforcing student/class success
These simple strategies save you time, foster teamwork, and increase the likelihood your students will peer-police problems like littering or damaging school equipment.
3. Involve students in creating grading rubrics
When students fail to see the point of your lesson or when their abilities are not valued, they can feel disengaged and may act out. Research suggests that allowing student input on the criteria for grading an assessment helps boost confidence and increase overall scores.
An effectively designed rubric encourages student achievement by:
- Catering for the diversity of learners
- Asking students to reflect on learning
- Setting clear and achievable goals
- Establishing clear criteria for success
- Clarifying assessment expectations
- Providing fast, quality feedback
- Motivating achievement of personally set goals
As your students succeed through increased ownership in the learning process, they will feel valued, and their self-esteem will grow.
4. Write group contracts
By assigning students group work, you’re allowing them to work on skills such as communication, collaboration, and sharing – all skills necessary to succeed when they enter the “real world” after graduation. If you plan to assess any group work, we suggest having each group create a contract you and each member will sign before beginning the assignment.
Ask students to include:
- Group member names, individual responsibilities, and due dates
- Expectations of members, including what happens when a member doesn’t contribute or performs below set goals
- Thoughts on the process, including individual and group reflection
Providing copies of the contracts to students, parents, and caregivers will encourage a student’s participation in the group activity by:
- Increasing ownership of their learning
- Reflecting on their past experiences
- Communicating their ideas and expectations
- Being accountable for their work
- Meeting group expectations
- Submitting work on time
By providing these copies, you have documented proof of a student’s knowledge of expectations, criteria, due dates, and group commentary on their participation during group work activities.
5. Use peer assessment
Studies show that using a variety of self-assessment and peer-assessment strategies can motivate engagement, critical thinking, and learning in the classroom.
Self-assessment involves students:
- Setting goals
- Defining criteria
- Self-correcting opportunities
- Reflecting on learning
Peer assessment involves students:
- Clarifying assessment criteria
- Learning through giving feedback
- Engaging in reflective comparison
- Developing life skills
You can teach your students how to give and receive constructive feedback from their peers. Increasing student ownership fosters a learning environment where you reduce the need to step in with input and assistance.
6. Create learning experiences that involve the community
Educational researchers Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp found that “when schools, families and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer and like school more.”
Bringing the community into your classroom could look like this:
- Inviting guest speakers
- Students interviewing community members
- Creating solutions to problems in their neighborhoods
- Promoting community events
- Helping local charities
- Voicing youth issues at council meetings
Seeing a real-world application for what they are learning promotes student engagement. You can facilitate greater connectedness between the classroom and the community to help students understand their role in society and the need for cultural sensitivity and appreciation of diversity.
7. Allow the use of modern technology in the classroom
Teachers are increasingly integrating modern technology in the classroom to present information better and promote student involvement. This reflects the ever-evolving nature of the workplaces our students will enter after school and the skills that employers will be looking for.
Finding ways to integrate technology to actively increase engagement includes:
- Allowing the use of devices for schoolwork
- Using apps and social media to complete activities
- Setting up a virtual classroom
- Creating podcasts, digital videos, and other multimedia
- Setting assessment tasks
- Giving feedback
You can also use technology to keep a detailed track of a student’s progress, allowing you to provide extra support when necessary.
8. Allow students to give feedback in different ways
Part of a teacher’s reflective process involves asking our students for feedback on their education. Student feedback can provide insight into how well we are meeting their needs, so we must allow them to express themselves in a way they feel comfortable.
Encouraging opportunities for giving feedback can encompass a mix of:
- Asking/fielding questions
- Using questionnaires and surveys
- Using an anonymous feedback box
- Writing reflective journals
- Facilitating peer feedback
It is important for you to clarify the purpose of feedback, to allow students to practice giving feedback.
Finally – be brave. When you ask for feedback, be prepared to acknowledge that feedback and make necessary changes. It can be challenging, but students will see that you value their thoughts and opinions. This is one of the steps we must take in our student-centered classroom to create an environment that fosters independence, productivity, and a happier learning environment.