What Students Want

31 Jan

For the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to and reading a number of articles on education,  specifically schools in America, as I prepare my return to the United States after having taught overseas for almost 10 years.

What I’ve come across has left me hopeful and optimistic despite the grim statistics and the general consensus that the American education system is in crisis. What stood out for me are the numerous creative solutions that individuals are employing to transform teaching – one student at a time.

In many of the government studies and reports that I came across, ‘reforming’, ‘improving’ and ‘fixing’ what is wrong with today’s schools focused on issues dealing with teachers, tools and testing. While these are undeniably important components of education, rarely did reports incorporate students’ concerns, desires, and vision.

I came across a video on YouTube presented by a high school senior sharing the top ten expectations that students have of schools.

Technology, creativity, and choice were expectations that were expressed by the students on the video and also by a number of students across America when eSchool News asked its readers “What’s the one thing you hear most often from students about what they want in school?” Knowing that the student population is one that is quite diverse at many levels (race, ethnicity, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, language, interest, abilities, learning styles and learning needs), I decided to take a small poll of the student population that I teach in Hanoi. In response to the question, “What do you want from school?” The top five answers were:

  1. More interactive technology
  2. Less boring subjects
  3. More choice
  4. More time to reflect on what I learn
  5. More explanation of why I need to learn what I am learning and how it will help ME in the future

My students’ responses were overwhelmingly similar to those given by students across America. What these answers undeniably suggest is that despite their uniqueness and diversity, students everywhere want the same things from their education, and if we were dig a little deeper, we would find that what they really want is to have ownership of and feel connected to their learning experiences; in other words, what students want and what they should have is Student Centered Learning or SCL.

What is Student Centered Learning?

Student Centered Learning (SCL) places the student at the center of the learning process. As such, students influence the content, materials, activities, and pace of learning.  SCL inspires and motivates. It allows for choice while presenting students with active learning opportunities. Working in a team in an SCL environment develops communication and collaborative skills. In-depth thinking about a subject promotes critical thinking and ensures long-term retention. This model of instruction results in a deeper understanding of a subject and a positive attitude toward learning in general. SCL awakens, once again, the curiosity that human beings have but often forget to employ. It opens up the doors of creativity and allows for different styles of learning. SCL encourages students to become independent learners and ultimately to be in charge of their own education.

In this shift from teaching to learning, teachers become mentors that provide students with opportunities to learn independently and from one another, guiding and coaching them on different skills that can help them best achieve their learning goals. In an SCL classroom, parents and community members are tutors and mentors, sharing in their passion and expertise while providing connection and real-world applications for learning.

Technology facilitates the delivery of information and complements student centered learning. It makes individualized instruction feasible and tailored information delivery achievable.

Looking at all the benefits that Student Centered Learning offers to learners, why is it not then the pedagogy of choice? For the next few blogs, I will be looking at the role of teachers, existing teaching tools, as well as the role of testing in today’s schools, and how they can each, with a little tweaking, make teaching about learning.

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