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Empowering student lead learning

Empowering Classrooms with Student-Led Learning

My career of twenty-six years in education has witnessed a tremendous transformation in teaching and learning.

Today we educators, have realized that you can’t force passion and motivation upon students. We know that it is not your IQ, but your passion and motivation, that are the keys to success. By promoting student-led learning, it becomes more possible for learners to ‘learn how to learn’. So, if we can start with the student's interests, we can build skills and knowledge from there. Then, learning comes in overdrive and students are set up well to become lifelong learners. In most schools the ultimate leadership role for students is to be leaders of their own learning. By encouraging students to take ownership of their learning, the students become intrinsically motivated, and see their worth and potential. Giving greater power to pupils allows them to become more aware of their personal strengths and to develop greater confidence in pupils. Student-led learning makes the classroom less of an “institution” and more of a community, encouraging all-around mutual support. It encourages students to think for themselves, rather than simply following instructions, from an early age. Student-led learning provides students with ample opportunities for self-direction, a powerful sense of ownership and the ability to explore topics that are meaningful and relevant in their lives. Student-led learning isn’t about leaving kids to fend for themselves; the goal is to foster a learning environment where students have the support and structure, they need to make decisions. Teachers can present students with different choices that are all designed to lead to the same goal.

The benefits of student-led learning are many. However, creating student-led classrooms is challenging. It is all about the mindset of the staff and teachers. Educators must forget what you know about teaching, and how schools are organized, and start with what you really know about learning. We need to start with the personal goals and personal learning paths of the student, and that means starting with something that the student wants to learn, make, or do, and giving the student the chance to fail and reflect on that along the way. A ‘teacher’ should use all his or her knowledge to ask the right questions and help the student reflect, not simply explain to them. This enables students to manage their own learning process. You don’t need preset courses, classes, class timetables or age groups for that. In student-led learning, it is important for the learner to have their own concerns and define their own questions. For effective student-led learning, it’s important that the teacher supports the learner in selecting a topic that they’re interested in, and that can be addressed within the allotted time. Students should have access to the information needed and opportunities to discuss their topic with classmates in order to deepen understanding. Teachers might allow students to “choose your own adventure” by setting up different learning stations, either in the classroom or virtually, and letting students navigate from one learning station to the next in whatever order appeals to them.

By building opportunities for student choice into lessons, teachers provide students with a supportive framework for autonomy that empowers students to take learning into their own hands. Encourage leadership by inviting students to the front of the classroom to teach their peers. Teachers may assign a student to lead part of a lesson, educate their peers on a subject that they are passionate about, or deliver the news of the day. Encouraging students to step into the teacher role gives individual students an opportunity to gain valuable leadership experience while engaging the whole class. In student-led learning, the teacher is a guide and facilitator, walking around to ask reflective questions or guide students to ask their own questions.  They may also be providing demonstrations or pulling up information to support students in their explorations. Students may be sharing out work and getting feedback from their peers through a whole group setting or through a gallery walk in the classroom. There are so many opportunities for students to explore their world and take ownership of their learning process.

There are many ways to incorporate student centered techniques into classroom resources and lessons:

  • Allow for student choice and autonomy.
  • Use open-ended questioning techniques.
  • Asking quality questions and teaching your students to do that.
  • Engage in explicit instruction.
  • Encourage student collaboration and group projects.
  • Encourage student reflection.
  • Student-led discussions.
  • Student evaluations of each other.
  • Student feedback to each other.
  • Student led Conferences
  • Student as teacher
  • Multi-genre projects
  • Creating Learning Zones, Interest Centres, Genius Hour, Individual Learning profile/journey/portfolio and interest-based choices in classroom learning corners.

Teachers encourage student-centered learning by allowing students to share in decisions, believing in their capacity to lead, and remembering how it feels to learn. Allow Students to Share in Decision Making. Placing students at the center of their own learning requires their collaboration. They need a voice in why, what, and how learning experiences take shape. Recognize That Students Are Reflections of Us as Learners. Students bring much to the table that would engage and deepen their learning journey. The difficult challenge is teacher commitment to reflect/review on practices that support students taking the lead. Give students the chance to take charge of activities, even when they may not quite have all the content skills. Reduce teacher direct instruction by increasing student-led learning activities.

Student-centered classrooms include students in planning, implementation, and assessments. Involving the learners in these decisions will place more work on them, which can be a good thing. Teachers must become comfortable with changing their leadership style from directive to consultative -- from "Do as I say" to "Based on your needs, let's co-develop and implement a plan of action."A student-centered classroom, or student-centered learning environment, is one where the focus of instruction is shifted from the teacher to the student, with the end goal of developing students who are autonomous and independent, by placing the responsibility of learning in the hands of the students. In the student-centered learning environment, the interests of the students’ take center stage, and the teacher gives students choice and voice, finding ways to provide learning experiences that focus on what students’ value. In the student-centered classroom, students take a more “active” role in the education experience. Developing a student-centered learning environment will help your students become independent learners who will ultimately take charge of their own education-students who are curious, eager to learn, and willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. Here are four questions, that could help you to advance student-led learning:

  1. Do you think about your school system as an opportunity for students to hone their problem-solving skills?
  2. Do you build self-direction and student agency into your learning designs?
  3. Do you give students the opportunity to reflect on and work on aspects of their school they could change?
  4. Have you considered adopting cornerstone or capstone projects to give students the opportunity to dig deeply into projects they care about?

Your ability to unleash 21st century learning in your school is dependent on the power of your students to become masters of their own learning. That element of 21st century education deserves your laser-like attention.