When you enter a school, what are you looking for? When you think about what kind of learning environment is ideal for your child or the students you work with, what are the most important characteristics? What are the most positive, memorable experiences from your own school?
I appreciate many different learning models and environments and do not honestly think it’s my role to judge or evaluate what’s “good”. As I said, from years of classroom teaching and countless visits and interactions with excellent teachers all over the world, I have created a list of things I usually observe in good student-centered learning environments. As the Nellie Mae Education Foundation describes, student-centered learning studies “students in their own success – integrating their interests and skills in the learning process.” Student learning is personal, competence-based, happening at any time and / or anywhere and students have ownership in their learning.
I parade my personal list of thoughts from my teammates on Getting Smart to create a collection of “School Look Fors” based on our discussions and experiences in schools.
Keep in mind that these Look Fors are not intended to evaluate a learning environment. Rather, they can serve as a springboard to create talks and discussion points. In addition, some of our favorite learning environments are places where teachers are still working to address some of these Look Fors. It is obvious yet important to say this: Every day is different in every school, and we are not familiar with the ongoing experiences and interactions of these teachings and learning in these spaces.
Among the fourteen School Look Fors above, there are eight in particular that really matter when it comes to student-centered learning environments.
1) High degree of student engagement; Challenge, enthusiasm, joy. One of the goals of creating a student-centered environment should be to make learning fun, challenging and engaging. Thrive Public Schools is one of the most happy places we have visited. Pleasing learning combined with goal-conscious challenge makes Thrive truly an incredible place. Laughter and engagement flow through each hall and classroom.
2) Students know what they learn and why. Katherine Smith students, including the fourth grade student (pictured in Quality Work + Project-Based Learning at Katherine Smith Elementary) who shared their written project goals with us, know what they need to do to perform a project or task. The project was tailored to her goals and she worked at her own pace to achieve them. Educator from Katherine Smith agrees that this does not happen overnight, but with good PBL help, kindergartners can also have this level of focus and clarity.
3) Mixing of individual collaborative teams and large group work. Intrinsic Schools in Chicago are literally designed, both in structure and teaching, to be a blend of individual and teamwork. Students work all in great learning and rotate between groups or one-on-one instructions with their teachers.
4) Students use personal technology to produce as well as consume. Student-centered learning requires students to spend at least part of their day working with personal learning tasks or projects. CICS Irving Park students in Chicago use the summit during a number of school days, and staff now see that discipline problems are lower and commitment is skyrocketing. CICS Irving Park collaborates with LEAP Innovations in personal learning, working together to ensure that learning is not only individualized but also meaningful and linked to reality.
5) Students have the opportunity to work at their own pace and explore their own interests. Exploring student interests (and interests that they do not even realize they have) is the essence of a good student-centered environment. Students also work to deal with skills, or skills, and do it at the same time. Da Vinci students ebb and flow in and out of group work and individual projects, which are usually designed based on student interests. Many Da Vinci students work to master skills and earn SNHU credits to do that. They may choose focus areas for their learning, which may include learning about societies and causing them to be most passionate. Students often work with a similar set of goals, but not all of the same activity or task.
6) Students do the most of the work and talk. The students’ ideas and voices are central and central in student-centered learning environments. Design39 students are convinced communicators and employees. Learning Experience Designers (also known as teachers) empowers students to start and control their learning, but allows a lot of student discussion and working time. During our visit last year, the students worked themselves or in groups at school. A group of third grade we chatted where to address this question: “How can we define ourselves in this world we live in?”
7) There are several forms of assessment, feedback and demonstrations of learning. Students in student-centered learning environments receive a lot of feedback. They receive individual feedback, hopefully on both academic and social and emotional goals. They also get group or group response, maybe based on projects or group activity. At Cougar New Tech in El Paso Independent School District, students keep their projects open in an in-school museum. When visitors come, they get their presentations and get feedback to improve their work.
8) Instruction, culture and the environment reflect and include student and personality diversity. From the Secretary-General to the Vice President, the Chavez Multicultural Academic Center staff really reflects the community and the students served. The halls and walls are covered with student articles, cultural displays and messages of empowerment about diversity as a force. The students see themselves in their learning space and their cultural strengths are emphasized throughout the learning day and in the physical school environment.
What else would you add? Above all, there is no better sign than being in a school environment where teachers, parents and students say they are happy about their school and are convinced of the quality of teaching and learning.