Most of us are aware of the abundance of research that supports the educational advantages of student-centered classrooms. Teachers have the mental vision of what a student-centered classroom should look like, but the realization that a student-centered classroom requires a shift in control from teacher to student is more than a little scary.
Teachers, by nature, have a great inner need for control. Not only are we more comfortable when we feel that we are in control of everything in our classrooms, but we have great anxiety over the thought that we might suddenly have a classroom that was out-of-control.
Yes, many teachers mistakenly feel that if they give up any control, their classrooms will be out- of- control. And there is very little that a teacher fears more than this. Not only does an out-of-control classroom increase our anxiety a great deal we also shudder at what other people would think. How would it look to an administrator if we had an out-of-control classroom? How would it look to our colleagues if we had an out-of-control classroom? These are not pleasant mental images.
But relinquishing control in your classroom does not mean that you have to have a classroom that is out-of-control. The secret lies in controlling the limits of control. What we do in a student-centered classroom is define the boundaries. We define the expectations. We control the upper and lower limits. What we are giving students is freedom to make decisions and take action within the boundaries that we set.
A simple way to understand this is to look at the control that our schools and school districts put on us as teachers. Our district can tell us exactly what curriculum they want us to teach. Our school district or our principal can tell us what days we need to be at school, what time we need to be at school, what days we need to be at a faculty meeting, what days we need to stay late for parent teacher conferences, etc. Most of us are fine with those outlines and requirements. What we are looking for though, is freedom within the framework that his been defined. The freedom to use our own individual talents and strengths to be the best teacher we can be.
This is exactly the attitude we need to take with our classrooms and our students. We can define to students what we need them to learn. We can tell students when they need to be in class, when assignments need to be turned in, and even when and where they are allowed to work. But what we are offering them is the freedom to work within that framework, using their own talents and gifts to be the best learner they can be.
Student-centered classrooms are not about offering students complete unbridled choice and freedom. Students need structure, framework, direction, and facilitation. What they don’t need is micromanagement. Set your expectations and define outcomes. Let students know what it is they need to learn, when they need to learn it by, and the basic rules for the safety of the school. Then give them the freedom to meet those expectations and goals using their own unique talents and gifts.
Layered Curriculum was designed as a simple model for setting up teacher friendly student-centered classrooms. The model was designed to offer maximum flexibility for teaching style and teacher comfort, while giving students the autonomy that they need to be truly successful.