10 Teaching Strategies to Create a Student-Centered Classroom


10 Teaching Strategies to Create a Student-Centered Classroom

Students are more motivated and enthusiastic learners when they are given more responsibility for what happens in the classroom. Student-centered learning shifts the focus of instruction from the teacher to the students. Characteristics typically include hands-on learning, group projects, individualization, performance-based assessments, clear expectations, and reflection. The goal is to have students who are more engaged and invested in the learning process. A 2014 Stanford study showed those who attend student-centered schools show greater achievement gains, higher graduation rates, are more prepared for college and are more persistent learners once they get to college than their peers. The study showed student-centered learning to be particularly beneficial to students with parents who have not attended college and with economically disadvantaged students. 

Thinking of making a shift towards student-centered teaching methods? Here are key components and some ideas for implementing them. One way to start is by introducing more student-focused teaching over time.

1. Set students up for success.  

  • Frequently assess student engagement. What’s working? What’s not working?
  • Provide structure while allowing students to take the lead as much as possible.
  • Recognize and accommodate different learning styles and needs. 
  • Make students’ joy a priority. Student-centered learning should be enjoyable.
  • Model communication and collaboration by asking open-ended questions and encouraging students to share their thoughts.

2. Bring students into the decision-making process. 

  • KWL is a great strategy for student-centered learning. First, what do you already know? Next, what do you want to know? Finally, what have you learned after completing the project?
KWL chart for student-centered learning Bored Teachers
  • Have students make lists of questions they have and the topics they want to study.
  • Brainstorm projects together from those lists. 
  • Explore ways to solve a problem. Does your desk have a wobbly leg? Assign groups to come up with a proposal for fixing it.
  • Allow students to help determine objectives and timelines for completing projects. 

3. Let kids explore their own interests. 

  • Give students the freedom to research something they’re really excited about, even it’s Minecraft, cereal, or K-pop. 
  • Have a panel discussion where classmates can ask questions about the topic. 
  • Fill in the content gaps by asking your own questions.
  • The student then does the research and gives a presentation to the class as an “expert” in the topic.
  • Integrate the subject they’re researching into all areas of the curriculum. 

4. Make learning goals and expectations clear. 

  • Explain to students what you want them to learn and why it’s important they learn it.
  • Go over the criteria expected in the final project and brainstorm ways to demonstrate it.
  • Get students involved in creating objectives using single-point rubrics
  • Give students choices in how they present their work, such as a video presentation, speech, paper, or art project. 
  • Ask students for input on due dates. 

5. Allow students to work at their own pace and track their own progress. 

  • Set up a system for monitoring progress. For example, everyone updates the teacher on where they’re at and the next steps every Friday.
  • Laminate red, yellow, and green construction paper. Green means no help needed, yellow means a little guidance is requested and red indicate help is required. As students are working individually or in groups, they can put the appropriate color on display as the teacher walks around the classroom.
  • Be flexible with timeframes. Students might get so excited about their research they explore even deeper.
  • Encourage students to investigate and explore more if they finish ahead of everyone else.
  • Use projects as jumping-off points for future learning. Are students ready to move on to something else or is there more to learn here?

6. Show diversity throughout your classroom experiences. 

  • People who look like your students and their families should be represented on the walls, in the materials, and in the lesson content.
  • Create a wishlist of diverse books as a class. 
  • Encourage students to take deep dives into different cultures and countries.
  • Invited guests to share food, music, art, history, and traditions of their culture.
  • Learn through food. Food brings us together and cooking develops a wide variety of skills, including literacy, math, and science. 

7. Give students responsibility for the bulk of the work. 

  • Help students pick a topic and learning goals. 
  • Give students the freedom to explore and learn. 
  • Provide students with the tools to research the topic (computer access, library time, etc).
  • Students then present their findings on the topic – either individually or in a group. 
  • Students provide documentation and assessment on the process. 

8. Step away from having students work alone at their desks.

  • Student-centered learning may take place individually, in small groups, large groups, as a class, one-on-one with the teacher, or in small groups with the teacher. 
  • Teachers should make sure students have exposure to each group size. 
  • Incorporate the jigsaw method. Students each have a part to research individually and then come back together to share with the group.
  • Try out flexible seating options.
  • Take it out of the classroom. Work from the library, computer lab, or outside.

9. Encourage technology use. 

  • Technology is a huge part of life and will continue to grow in importance, so let students put it to use to enhance learning. 
  • YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and game apps are a good springboard for interest-based research projects. 
  • Students can make public service announcement videos telling people what they’ve learned and why it’s important.
  • Students can share Google docs, sheets, and slides to collaborate on projects. 
  • Encourage students to track down experts around the world and invite them to speak to the class via Zoom.

10. Provide lots of opportunities for feedback. 

  • Check-in with students both individually and in their groups frequently to see how projects are going and offer feedback on strengths and possible challenges.
  • Give assessments in a variety of ways, not just through testing. Allow students to show what they learned through projects, experiments, and presentations. 
  • Encourage critical thinking and analyzing skills by having students assess the learning process. Did they meet the objectives? Was it enjoyable? Did they like working individually or with a group?
  • Invite parents, administration, other classes, etc. to see projects on display and to provide feedback. 
  • Don’t forget social-emotional assessment. Involve students in goal setting and assessment here as well. 

Obviously, student-centered learning doesn’t mean teachers aren’t involved. Teachers know the destination of where students should end up. They allow students the freedom to design the map of how they get there while offering support, guidance, and encouragement as needed along the way. Students learn independence, teamwork, collaboration, as well as strengthen research, presentation, critical thinking, creativity, and technology skills. Most of all, students are more engaged and enthusiastic about learning, which makes for a happier classroom for everyone.

Also check out:

10 Teaching Strategies to Create a Student-Centered Classroom

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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