Following the conversation around employing a more student centered approach in big classrooms, I’d like to spotlight some from James’ comments. He raises some very…well, usual issues that I think many teachers face…
"I think your ideas for delivery in the big group setting are very valid…they do, however, come with some baggage — management…I think James makes some very interesting points here:
in the ideal scenario, students would be interested in issues like the war in Iraq (as you suggested) and would be interested in digging into them more. My experience is that many students seem self centered in their area of interests…their focus seems very narrow and not global in context…I know I sound cynical here, and I am speaking only from my experience.
Some students are into this, while others…let’s call them the ‘disinterested’ - will bog down on things even when given their own choice of topic…
so, management becomes an issue with working in small groups. It means the teacher must try to be moving from group to group in fairly quick order in order to ensure students are ‘on task’" (James comments from Can Big become Small?—emphasis mine)
1.What is student centered learning anyway?
Should we really open the door wide, and have students explore whatever they wish to explore? Or should teachers set some guidelines?
My opinion is that it depends on what learning objectives you’re working towards. How flexible and friendly are they to students picking any topic they want? Likely, teachers would have to narrow the focus a bit. I remember my university English teacher doing this with a term research paper. She gave us a list, a sizeable one too, of topics we could dive into. It was student centered because we could decide on topics that seemed interesting to each of us (there were at least 30 people in our classroom) and if we didn’t like any of her options, there was the option of presenting a new one of our choice - of course with the purpose of convincing her that it was a valid research topic.
2. Distraction - How do you keep students "on task?" You know, this is an issue no matter how old your students are. Teens or adults, distractions are still major threats to student centered learning projects. Adults?? Sure…their day job. They are usually better at drilling down in the classroom, but what happens when your classwork spills out into life beyond your classroom walls?
Ever try to get adult students to do homework? Sure, a few do it…but most are just to busy to even consider cracking their coursebooks out at home. It’s funny, and this is a bunny trail, but I’ve been noticing more and more often lately as I ride the subway to work, that there is a large number of adults who do their English class homework as they bounce and jiggle about in their crowded subway seat…likely on their way to English class. Is this defeating the purpose?
Anyway, I digress. Distractions are a fact of classroom life, no matter how old your students are. Perhaps, as James hints at, this could be a lack of management skill. If this is an issue in our classrooms, maybe we need to do some action research around classroom management. (I strongly suggest reading up on a guy named Harry Wong. He often writes about this issue at teachers.net — Here’s their monthly column and past article bank)
For further thought, I came across some related articles to this discussion on the thinking stick blog…hope you enjoy:
Student controlled learning
- a lot of student autonomy, students picked their projects
- frequent school interruptions hampered progress (momentum hard to create)
- teacher became a guide when asked for help, largely hands off approach
- students produced something that mattered - 28 thousand + people viewed their work as it was a product review. (part of assessment perhaps?)
Chaos vs Coherent
Student centered work that is "controlled chaos." Perhaps a more useable approach in large classrooms? What do you think? Please continue the conversation…
"Most standardized tests control what we teach, and how we teach it based on what content is needed in order to do well. Standardized tests doesn’t allow a teacher to walk on the side of chaos in fear that what they might teach, what may be a different way of learning, will not be acceptable when filling in circles.
A little chaos is a good thing; it is where we learn to take risks, where perhaps our best learning occurs. These past couple of weeks I’ve been on that side, and my brain actually hurts from such a steep learning curve. I don’t want to be on this side of the line for much longer. I need a little coherence in my life, a little more structure.
I think this is where our classrooms need to be. We need to walk that line between chaos and coherent. I sometimes hear teachers refer to this as ‘controlled chaos’ which sounds pretty good to me. When I taught in the classroom I tried to keep my class in that controlled chaos state. This is where we learn, where we are able to push ourselves and the people around us and still understand there is a structure to what we do."(Chaos vs Coherent , Jeff Utecht )
Science Class by pmorgan
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