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Student-centered classrooms: How do you do it?

student-centeredNo one these days would brag about having a “teacher-centered” classroom. Student-centered is where it’s at. But what does that mean, in practice?

When we designed the structure of our curriculum, we started with the concept of minimal teacher talk, maximal student talk. We were familiar with second language acquisition theory, we had taught before, and it was hardwired into our mission. But as we set out to design each lesson, we went through multiple rounds of revisions, simply because there was STILL too much teacher talk. In fact, the most challenging part of our curriculum design was limiting the direct instruction to only essential, succinct language. It’s understandable – anyone who has written a 500-word paper (instead of 5,000), or presented a 2-slide (instead of 20-slide) presentation understands that a concise delivery is far harder than a wordy one. But we wanted to keep the teacher talk brief for two reasons:

1) Beginning language learners, especially younger ones, don’t need the message garbled with a lot of language that is intended to be helpful, but just isn’t.

2) We wanted to give students (and teachers) a guaranteed, 15-20 minute window in the school day to use language in a meaningful way.

In some ways, we had it easy, since we had the time to thoughtfully develop every word of our teacher talk. But teachers spend most of the other 6 hours of their instructional time spinning off-the-cuff object lessons and teachable moments. How do you keep it student-centered?

This blog post from Edutopia made us realize that “student-centered” isn’t just about the talking, though it’s a large component. A student-centered classroom makes students feel validated and welcome, allows them to make decisions about their work and environment, and facilitates resourceful peer interactions.

Are you able to balance these in your classroom? What aspects of your classroom or teaching lend themselves to student-centering? Which ones do you want to improve?

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