CHRIS WEAVER, DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM AND FACULTY DEVELOPMENT:
Here’s a question — if you gave an eighth grader a chance to design a class, something individually meaningful and big enough to stretch across a year, what would happen? How would it turn out?
We asked this question here at Peck, and it resonated immediately with a couple of things that we feel strongly about.
It’s a time in life that seems to call out for trying something big.
The first is that eighth graders can do more than most people expect. As a K-8 school, these are our oldest students, the ones we’ve watched grow up, and the ones we depend on now to be our school leaders. Probably we’re a little biased, but to us there is something special about eighth grade — a time that contains so many of the parts of being a kid and so many of the parts of being an adult, all swirled together. It’s a time in life that seems to call out for trying something big.
The second has to do with growth. We want our students to be self-starters and problem-solvers, we want them to have a sense of agency around their future, and a sense of grit in pursuing their passions. But to develop these skills, to grow into them, we also know that our students need meaningful opportunities to practice, to try and fail, and to find their own way forward.
So, here’s what we did.
CHRIS WEAVER, DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM & FACULTY DEVELOPMENT: The phrase student-centered learning has been around awhile. Most people understand the idea, at least in a broad sense. Student-centered means shifting the focus of instruction from the teacher to the student – and by doing so, giving students more choice, agency, and ownership.
At its root, the phrase is a reaction to another kind of classroom, one that is usually termed teacher-centered. Here the image is most often of a lecture. The teacher is at the front and shovels the content to the students who eagerly (or not so eagerly) take it in.
On a gut level, these two opposites – student-centered and teacher-centered – are attractive because they are simple and direct; you can grasp them in an instant. They aren’t, however, particularly actionable. You can put students at the front and provide lots of choice, but that doesn’t instantly translate to a rich learning experience.
The other danger of clinging too tightly to these opposing views is that they often put teachers on the defensive. After all, it’s not very pleasant to have your meaningful and important work, in all its daily nuance and complexity, so narrowly reduced.
So what is an actionable approach to student-centered learning? How we can bring teachers into the work in a way that is genuine and meaningful? What are the opportunities to bring students more fully into the process of their own learning? How can we leverage these opportunities to help students become better problem solvers, as well as more agile and independent learners?
Here are three approaches that I’ve found helpful…