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Three Ways to Give Students a Choice with Student-Centered Learning

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Giving students ownership of their learning is an important element of a student-centered learning environment. Rachael Turner, Transformation Manager for School Improvement Network, describes three ways that schools can do this:

1. Let students choose how they will demonstrate mastery.

Have students create authentic projects as the culmination of a lesson, and let them choose what format these projects will take: They can create a video, or write a marketing plan, or give a PowerPoint presentation, for instance.

When schools are moving to a student-centered learning environment, Turner said, this is where most begin with offering students a choice in their learning. Students not only assume ownership of the process, but they can demonstrate their learning using various modalities.

To make it easy for students, you might offer them a choice from among three or four options that you provide. As students become more accustomed to taking ownership of their learning, you can open it up to any kind of project they desire, as long as they meet certain criteria.

In some Detroit high schools under the authority of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority system, students are given only a rubric of the skills in which they must demonstrate mastery, Turner said. The students are told, “Here’s what the project must contain; do it any way you want to, as long as it meets these criteria,” she noted.

Turner recommends that students still take traditional assessments as well, because it’s important for them to learn how to take traditional assessments in order to excel at high-stakes testing and in higher education.

2. Let students choose what tasks they will work on.

The next step in giving students more choice is letting them choose not only how they’ll demonstrate mastery, but also how they will learn.

In elementary school, for instance, teachers might set up six different stations and ask students to rotate among four of these each day, so they can choose which learning tasks to complete. In middle and high school, educators might incorporate project-based learning by having students create projects not as the culmination of a lesson, but as the lesson itself. As students research and complete their project, they’re learning that lesson’s skills.

At North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga., students work on group projects through a program that integrates social studies and English language arts content. While students spend most of their time working on their projects, teachers also give short, 30-minute “coffee chats” each day to pass along some of the content that students need to learn—and teachers also check in with each student group weekly to discuss the students’ progress and suggest additional resources.

“We’ve gotten consistent feedback from [people] who have said they have never heard students who are so articulate at their age about what they’re trying to do, where they’re headed, what their goals are,” said ELA teacher Kyle Jones. “And that means the world to us.”

3. Let students choose when and where to learn.

As schools continue to move deeper into student-centered learning, they might do away with a traditional class schedule altogether and give students the freedom to learn when and where they’d like as well.

At some progressive high schools across the country, “there are no bells, and there’s no set time for when you have to be in each classroom,” Turner said. “Even though I’m working on math, I could be in an English classroom, because that’s the teacher I feel most comfortable with—and I’m just sitting there working on my own. If I need math help, I’m going to go down the hall to a math classroom for that. But I can work where and when I need to,” as long as pre-defined learning goals are met.

To learn more about School Improvement Network’s personalized learning tool Edivate Learn click here.

This article was sponsored by School Improvement Network and not written by the EdSurge editorial staff.
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