Conservative Viewpoints

"Government is not the solution…it is the problem" -Ronald Reagan



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Students at the center of things

Posted by Stephen on February 19, 2007

In today’s educational atmosphere teachers are challenged to make sure no child is left behind. The goal is to teach every student from every walk of life. That is the admirable goal of education today. Many educational leaders believe that if the nation is going to make sure no child is left behind, then there should be a strategy in place that is focused on a center. The center point should be the student.

After all, the President has said his educational position places a priority on student achievement. The demands placed on schools to succeed are because many people are concerned that students are falling behind. If the student is at the center of discussion then it only makes sense that the student should be at the center of the classroom.

Traditional V. Student-Centered

Traditional versus student-centered or progressive classrooms are inevitable topics that continually resurface when dealing with secondary school settings where teachers tend to have more difficulty accepting change. The secondary teacher has traditionally been hailed as having expert knowledge in their content areas, and it was considered a privilege to have such learned people teaching in our schools.

There is nothing wrong with this belief. The problem comes when we lose sight of the fact that our task is to construct positive, relevant learning activities that will engage, motivate and lead students to the level of knowledge they need to succeed. This is the essence of effective, successful teaching. 

Student Engagement

The key to successful teaching requires engaging students in a meaningful way so that the learning takes place as a natural consequence of performing the instructional activity. It has been said that the one doing all the talking in the classroom is the one doing all the learning.

This really hit home with me, and so began my journey into the realm of actively engaging students so that their learning experiences could extend prior knowledge and construct new meaning.

There are still many teachers who have not yielded to the research-based best practices that are out there ready to liven up any classroom. I witnessed a grammar lesson in a high school classroom where the parts of speech were being taught in isolation, without context, and students were to take notes and memorize what the different types of nouns were. They would be having a quiz on Friday.

Needless to say the teacher was doing most, if not all of the talking while students sat passively taking very little, if any, notes. Students were seated in rows of individual desks all facing the teacher at the front of the room, where he stayed during my entire 30 minute visit. The bulletin board contained the classroom rules and a map of the fire drill route, and the walls were bare.

The teacher’s colleague down the hall however, had an entirely different situation on his hands. The student centered classroom had obvious appeal with its posters and student work displayed all over the walls. His students were seated in table groups and had a stack of magazines (3 or 4) in the middle of the table along with a box of materials containing items such as scissors, post-its, tape, glue sticks, etc.

The teacher had already completed a lecture when I walked in. Groups were instructed to find sentences within the magazines that contained certain types of nouns and paste them on a sheet of construction paper. Although all four members of the group were engaged in finding the examples, each had additional tasks. One was doing the actual pasting, one was checking the sentences to be sure they actually were examples, one would be presenting to the rest of the class, and one would evaluate the work of the group. It was obvious they were used to working in groups and that they were learning to recognize these nouns in context.

Classroom Learning Environment

Which class would you rather be in? Better yet, which class would you rather have your child in? I saw several points of comparison worth noting; the most obvious being the level of student engagement.

The students finding and cutting will retain the information long after the students who will be quizzed on Friday. They were focused on using the information to complete a learning activity. The fact that they were using current magazines brought the lesson to a real-world context. The structure of the cooperative activity made it easy to communicate and get feedback on the choices they were making for their sentences.

They could not only explain and justify choices, but also receive validation. The embedded assessment encouraged participation in the learning process. The teacher acted as a facilitator who did not just impart knowledge, he allowed the students to reinforce their own learning. Last, but certainly not least, the students in the second classroom were enjoying their learning in a comfortable, confident manner. They were in charge of the learning during the activity because they could choose any sentence they wanted. 

Conclusion

The two situations described above can be found on any given campus on any given day. The key to building consistency within a school where teachers have such differing styles is the encouragement of collaboration and professional development.

These two teachers were obviously from the same department, and while they were teaching basically the same content, one was being much more successful than the other at engaging students in learning. I am not saying that one teacher should adopt or copy the same style as the other, but rather one could adapt his own style to gain the same level of engagement, quality, and effectiveness as his colleague.

Teaching has indeed changed over the past thirty years just as the world has and will continue to change. People will continue to change and adapt, so educators of tomorrow’s leaders must learn the most effective strategies to teach and assess students in classrooms.

Stephen Winslow holds a MAEDS and is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

Copyright 2007 by Stephen Winslow. All rights reserved.

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