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4 myths about student-centered learning

By Nicole Krueger
March 29, 2014
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Student-centered learning — in which students are independent learners who take charge of their own education — has become something of a holy grail among educators. But the problem with holy grails is that they quickly start to seem unattainable.

Part of the reason is that many teachers have misconceptions about student-centered classrooms and what it takes to achieve that type of learning environment, said LeeAnn Lindsey, an educational technologist and innovation leader at Arizona State University.

"Sometimes teachers think that shifting to a student-centered classroom will be too difficult and they're not quite sure where to begin," she said. "But teachers can make small, easy changes that will make a difference."

In her webinar on "Student-Centered Learning: Make the Shift!," she explores strategies for helping students become independent learners and provide examples of what student-centered learning looks like in action. She'll also shed light on some of the common myths about student-driven learning, such as:

1. Either your classroom is student centered, or it's not.

There is a continuum of teaching styles that use technology, ranging from teacher-centered to student-centered learning. Many teachers start out at the entry level, using technology within a traditional classroom model. At the opposite end lies the transformation level, where teachers coach students through a self-directed learning process whereby students choose from a variety of technology to meet their needs.

"Teachers do not have to choose between being a sage on the stage and a guide on the side," Lindsey said. "Understanding the continuum and the shades of gray between teacher- and student-centered learning helps teachers make shifts toward student-centered practices."

It's not realistic to expect to leap from one end of the continuum to the other. Rather, she encourages teachers to assess where they are and start making small changes to slowly shift toward the transformation level.

2. In a student-centered classroom, the teacher never lectures.

Most classrooms will shift back and forth across the continuum, using a variety of teacher- and student- centered approaches, depending on the needs of the day. It's important not to get caught up in thinking you need to avoid teacher-centered learning at all costs.

"I don't think the goal is to have student-centered lessons 100 percent of the time," Lindsey said. "Rather, the goal should be to meet the needs of students in ways that encourage active learning and independent thinking. Sometimes the best delivery method at the moment is demonstration through direct instruction. That's okay — I just hope that's not where teachers stay all the time."

3. Using technology automatically makes your classroom student centered.

Technology offers fertile opportunities to create a student-centered learning environment by allowing students to create and to explore their passions like never before. But its effectiveness depends entirely on who's using it and how.

"I've heard some people make statements suggesting that lessons that integrate technology are transformational, alluding to student-centered learning and so forth," Lindsey said. She thinks these statements give technology too much credit. "The teacher is still the most important factor in the equation. How the technology is used matters."

An easy gauge of teacher vs. student-centered learning is to ask, who's using the technology — you or your students?

"If the students are, are you telling them what technology to use? Are you micro-managing their use of technology? What tools are they using? Flexible tools that can do many things, or tools that have only one specific purpose? Reflecting on these questions can help teachers to move along the continuum."

4. Teachers don't have time for student-centered learning — they're too busy trying to meet the Common Core.

Many educators have expressed concern that the Common Core State Standards will make it even harder to create student-driven learning experiences. It's one more set of standards to meet on top of all of the other expectations placed on teachers.

"I hear all the time people saying, 'This (student-centered teaching) is the way I want to teach but the standards are keeping me from doing that. I'm just trying to keep my head above water and teach the standards, so I don't have time to do what I really want to do.' That's a misconception," Lindsey said.

The truth is that the Common Core requires students to develop the types of skills they learn best in a student-centered environment. That means now is the perfect time for educators to begin teaching in the way they've always wanted — and still meet the standards.

Learn more about how student-centered learning can help you meet the Common Core and ISTE Standards, and discover simple ways to make the shift, in LeeAnn Lindsey's webinar on "Student-Centered Learning: Make the Shift!"