This is an edited version of an article originally published on: Al Kingsley
In the first of a three-part series, we look at ways to promote student-centred learning in the primary school classroom…
The Primary Edition
Student-centred learning might sound like a worthy aim, but many fear it would just lead to additional work on the part of the teacher, who probably has quite enough to do, thank you very much. Considering the workload, marking and sheer volume of curriculum content to cover, it’s understandable that some should fall into a more teacher-dominated approach. Yet many educators find that it’s ultimately less stressful to work towards promoting a greater sense of student ownership over learning for the longer term. Here are some questions to promote reflection.
What does your room look like?
We can’t all teach from Pinterest-perfect classrooms of airy minimalism, flawless displays and inviting soft spaces. If only. Still, it’s useful if chairs and tables are easily movable to allow for a range of classroom activities. This way, children can work in groups of varied sizes, participate in jigsaw activities and move around with ease.
Consider also the classroom displays. Even older children enjoy seeing their work on the wall and many classes will become visibly excited when displays are changed. There’s often pressure, even competition, to create an attractive display but children’s work doesn’t have to be double mounted and pristine to make the process worthwhile. Displays help to celebrate learning success and encourage children to take pride in what they have achieved. Recognising how time-consuming they are to create, some well-resourced schools are now investing in digital displays to showcase student work.
Working walls are currently enjoying great popularity in the primary classroom and can evoke a similar sense of ownership. While traditional displays will typically showcase the very best work, working walls, as the name suggests, are more fluid and will often promote independent learning. For instance, a Year Six working wall for English might include a unit title, like ‘Modern Poetry’ and thought-provoking poems with associated questions, like ‘What do you think the speaker is really thinking here?’. It might have an interactive element, (an invitation for learners to contribute their ideas on Post-It notes) together with examples of key terminology like ‘onomatopoeia’, with children’s pictures as an illustration.
As the name implies, the ‘working wall’ will evolve as the unit progresses. While certainly not without criticism, the purpose of a working wall is to develop student learning in a way that’s fun, so there should be no sense of pressure to achieve perfection. Learning, after all, is rarely neat and orderly.
Do you encourage the children to lead learning?
Most students enjoy playing ‘expert’ and will usually rise to the challenge. Well-managed collaborative activities ensure that all children are actively involved in learning and especially if each has a designated role. Using NetSupport School software, a teacher can create learner groups and assign roles with minimal effort. This can be a good opportunity to build the confidence of any less forthcoming children who wouldn’t volunteer to lead learning. Of course, group work can be differentiated as appropriate and supported by a teacher or TA.
Do you create opportunities for independent research?
Online research tasks cultivate learner independence while promoting important digital literacy skills. Inevitably though, children can struggle to find academically credible and age-appropriate websites. Some will simply type a search term into Wikipedia before copy and pasting a half-understood response. Other children might be tempted to forget their research entirely in favour of whatever is trending on YouTube.
Using NetSupport School Student Journal, educators can support students in their exploratory learning by providing a list of trusted, recommended websites for research use. This ensures that learning is focused and relevant but remains a student-led process. Teachers can also block access to any websites not on their preferred lists.
For children unused to working autonomously, student-centred learning will require patience, training and the frequent outlining of expectations. But the skills they will gain should serve them well for the rest of their school career and beyond.
This article was written by Natalie Nezhati for NetSupport Limited