The two readings for this week had a lot of valuable information about the content that we teach and how to do so effectively. One of the core ideas in chapter three of SMART is that content needs to engage and relate to the student, otherwise effective learning will probably not occur. Connections between the content and the student are crucial in curriculum, and such connections can be made to students’ specific backgrounds or to their personal feelings of self-empowerment. Without relevance, a lesson on the book “The Outsiders,” for example, is close to useless. I can clearly remember my 9th grade World History Governor’s School teacher implementing these ideas into her classroom, and because of that she still remains my favorite teacher today. During the first week of class, she had each student work in groups to write a rap about a specific person in history that we were learning about that week (I can’t remember exactly who). This was such an out-of-the-box idea that immediately interested and engaged our 14-year old selves. Obviously, Mrs. Carlton didn’t just arbitrarily assign this task; there was reasoning behind it, an end learning goal that she wanted us to achieve (this relates to backward design teaching). This assignment not only gave us students the chance to learn about this specific person in history in a fun and engaging way, but it helped us build core skills of sociability, teamwork, creativity, and independence in that we basically had free reign to express ourselves through this assignment. The way in which lessons and assignments are implemented makes all the difference in student learning and whether or not there will be genuine understanding and interest. As discussed in the backward-design article, having a clear end goal in mind is a sure way to plan lessons accordingly and with purpose, and to effectively run a student-centered classroom.
The four tenets of learning (learner, knowledge, assessment, and community) are all interrelated in the classroom, working together to form a cohesive, effective learning environment created by the teacher.
Learner: In a learner-centered classroom, the student’s background, beliefs, attitudes, and prior knowledge is the main focus. A teacher must cater to the students’ specific needs and build on them to reach a common learning goal. For example, in a learner-centered classroom, a pre-test with old and new material at the beginning of the year could provide a good starting point for the teacher to see where each student is individually in terms of their prior knowledge and the impending year’s material. From there, the teacher would know which areas the class needs to work on as a whole, as well as individual students’ needs, instead of diving directly into uncharted territory.
Knowledge: A knowledge-centered classroom focuses on the way in which information is being implemented, and the common goal is understanding. An example of this would be for a teacher to present classroom material in a way that is relevant to the students; which, in turn, demands knowledge of the students’ backgrounds and interests (learner-centered). A subject or topic that students once found boring can be completely transformed simply through the way it is presented. Technology can be an easy way to quickly gain the attention of students and thus strike up interest in the material.
Assessment: Assessment can be an intangible or tangible way for teachers to gauge the level of understanding on what has been taught amongst the students. One way to assess a classroom’s understanding is through the use of short-answer questions, which encourage deeper thought and do not rely solely on memorization. Feedback from the teacher, as described in the chapter, is crucial in order for the student to improve upon what they have already done.
Community: A community-centered classroom can be easily implemented through the use of “learning communities” in which students are assigned a specific group to work with throughout the year. Individual work is still assigned, but collaboration is also a large part of the classroom environment. Students learn to work together cohesively in these “learning communities” and come to rely less on the teacher and more on each other to answer difficult questions. Success for the classroom as a whole becomes more valued as competition fades away, giving way to a more welcoming, open class environment where discussion is embraced.