Make a Student-Centred Classroom [Part 3]

Which Learning Management system (LMS) do you use? Blackboard? Schoology? Moodle? I guess these days, mine would be called “My Students,” you may or may not of heard of it :-). About 6 years ago, I realised that the “LMS” was 19th century factory-schooling’s reaction to HTML and the internet. It was in the late 1990s when the world of education jumped for joy as it realised that HTML could be used to organise the tasks and thoughts of the next generation of school-goers. The LMS became the new tool for issuing and returning workload. It became the place where students downloaded the work to complete and submit to then wait to see if it mirrored exactly with the teacher’s pre-determined correct answer. Having a clean and paperless replacement for an education invented in 1840, didn’t alter the feeling that we were still being educated in the 19th century and biding our time in class before moving across the road to the local factory which, in reality, no longer existed.

This is the third part In a series of posts about making student-centred learning. A core theme is the idea that each student needs to view themselves as their own, unique Learning Management System. To achieve this, it requires a whole school vision of what learning looks like. It takes teachers to ask the right type of questions and challenge the aspects of process and decision making, rather than content-correctness, throughout the school day. It requires a change in mindset for both teacher and student towards what their roles are in learning. In part one, I discussed the issues around mindset. In part two, I covered the tools that need to be used and discussed each day.  In this post, I thought I’d start to outline what it actually looks like and the new type of behaviour and script that teachers need to use in encouraging students to build their own “LMS” mindset.

To master anything takes practice and true development requires failures during that practice. A fear of failure or the wrong answer means that activities such as:

  • Finding and critiquing information
  • Working with others
  • Planning and discussing
  • Presenting conclusions
  • impacting on the world

are often practiced in such a way that decisions about process are predetermined by the teacher, so as to avoid “mistakes”. In truth, the average school leaver fails to master these skills due to a lack of experience in driving the situation. It takes courage and patience to focus on developing learning skills and process in each individual, knowing that once practiced and equiped with tools, learners can tackle content, topics, and creativity with more ease, more speed and to better effect.

Step 4: reshaping classroom activity

It’s time to look at some actual examples of all the various steps and tools I’ve seen in use and put to practice myself. I’ve broken down the change process in to 7 stages or issues and will outline examples of what teachers have done.

  1. A TEACHER’S NEW FOCUS – PROCESS & LEARNING (NOT TEACHING)

    Once students are equipped with behavioural tools for making decisions, designing solutions, analysing information, presenting outcomes, communicating successfully, the teacher’s role becomes more one of challenging and discussing process than one of issuing information and facts. If the learners are to be ready for a rapidly-changing world, they should not build habits that expect answers to be handed to them by a teacher on-hand at any moment. I spend my day in challenge-mode asking things like:
    “Which decision making tool are you using at the moment?
    “How do you know that info is right?”
    “What personal skills do each of you offer this pairing?”
    “Which of our group activity tools are you going to use to ensure everyone gets heard?”

  2. What should students be working on?

    Answer: Not the same thing!
    There is absolutely no way that every individual in a class of 30 students has ever been in exactly the same learning situation at any given moment. Even at the beginning of a topic, prior knowledge and experience creates a wide spectrum of needs and understandings and how best to start the topic differs widely based on individual learners’ existing expectations and skill-sets. Teachers rarely offer a topic to the room for feedback on what’s already known and often launch into explanations and tasks they’ve done with every previous class.

    Example 1: Gap analysis. Whether tackling a curriculum topic, starting an inquiry, or beginning a Design Thinking project, equipping the students with tools to analyse what they know and don’t know is a critical first step. They have to create their own context in which to set a goal applicable to themselves. This might be a matrix of curriculum options, include a self pre-test to gage where knowledge gaps are or be a structured process of brain-storming, such as Design Thinking’s stages of ideation and empathising with the situation and people.
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  3. How students can submit regular goals and reflect easily.

    Example: Seperate Google forms to submit their individual daily/lesson targets and then separately submit reflections on previous learning success and plan for the next. It can help more if students develop goals and reflect on current success with peers. Teacher then can approach individuals or groups with an idea of current targets. Setting quality and timely goals is also a skill. The Google form records all goals over time to allow discussion on the improvement of appropriate reflection and measurable goals. To encourage the importance of this self-goal setting and embed it as normal practice, I place a significant grade weighting on the quality and depth of both goal setting and reflection, irrespective of the output from the task.
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  4. How should the room operate?

    There’s always an ‘elephant’ in a teacher-led classroom.  Students observe an obvious need but are not accustomed to making suggestions and or negotiating a more successful approach to learning and managing the room. In a traditional classroom, each student will have their own “elephant in the room.” By this, I mean that as a teacher issues the task or explains things, the students will all be thinking things like:

    “He doesn’t realise I can’t hear him”
    “I’ve done this before”
    “I still have work to finish from the previous task”
    “I wish I could base this project on my family”

    but in a teacher-driven classroom, most students do not see the process as something negotiable and will not speak up.
    Make sure from the outset that everyone understands that what takes place in the room is up for negotiation and best process and outcomes will to be achieved if people can clear the “elephants” from the room. Students need practice in negotiating and considering the current needs for learning. Where they sit, who they work with, where the information is obtained from and how they develop outcomes need to be decided by individual and groups of students based on the specific current situation and goals. This takes time but it’s the teacher’s job to challenge student decisions and, over time, improve these skills. Here’s my most popular and challenging example of this taking place.

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  5. How to manage time and resources.

    Self-management takes practice. teachers must be flexible to allow this practice. A quote from Harvard University I saw recently said “the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.” My experience tells me that digital tools that help students plan and manage their time over a number of lessons can be useful. Google have a number of project management tools available in Drive and there are stand-alone apps for tablets such as Studyo. Introducing these shared planning spaces can be useful for teachers to monitor from a distance. They also are important for regular revision and editing of time schedules. In shorter timeframes, such as a single lesson, tasks like planning, gap analysis, or team organisation, are best done quickly on paper, post-its or whiteboards, and again, it’s best that individuals build expectations that at least one peer will check this planning or that it’s a group activity in the first place.
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  6. How to critique and judge current success

    Example 1: Report on your peer’s success: It’s very common to have two students sit next to each other all year without considering how the other one is doing. In a teacher-driven classroom, the lack of ownership leads most student-initiated discussion to focus on anything except the task at hand. Making peer critique a regular expectation is key. After I’ve given a class a month to build new habits and expectations. I will start to ask students for reports on the progress and current plans of the peers they’re working with. This focus on the social aspects of learning distinctly shifts the mindsets in the classroom from fixed (I will always be ‘this’ good) to growth (someone is aware and helping me grow). Regular comment on attainment of goals and quality of reflection keeps students monitoring their choices and judgements. A peer-critiqued blog (Each student has a nominated commenter) is a good way to start this, although this can sometimes become time consuming so priorities need to be thought through.
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  7. How to plan next steps

    Next steps are dependent on awareness of where one is heading – “the big picture.” What can we use to track our progress and success and so plan our next steps. This is not necessarily a difficult question but still a challenge for teachers to develop students’ mindsets to a point they naturally expect to take charge of a situation and make appropriate decisions.
    Stage 1 is to ensure students have broken down what all the aims of the current task are. This may be given to them or preferably been brainstormed and drawn out by the students themselves at the beginning of the task or project.
    Stage 2 is to make reflection a natural and regular part of daily practice so that individuals become aware of how much of a type of activity they can expect to get done in a certain timeframe. This is a regular discussion point in my classrooms.
    Stage 3 is to consider all available resources, including people. Planning next steps can include a shift in who they might be working with. This in turn can result in a renegotiation of what the next step might be. They might end up helping another or being helped by said person make improvements.

Ready, set, engage!

The strongest argument for shifting the ownership of learning onto your students is that anybody of any age can only truely engage with activity they feel they are in control of. As population and technology challenge every industry, transformative leaders are asking for input from employees with even lower ranked jobs, so as to not miss any perspective and thus opportunity. Everyone needs to see themselves as someone who’s ideas matter and their unique perspective is capable of highlighting significant issues about process and outcomes. This is the primary job of education. Classrooms need to develop confident individuals who expect to negotiate, adapt, and produce a better outcome for all.

Measuring Key competencies

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