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Mix Things Up: 3 Student-Centered Approaches that Balance “I Do, You Do, We Do.”

When I started teaching, I relied heavily on the “I do, we do, you do” or gradual release of responsibility (GRR) method of delivering instruction. This method can be useful when students are introduced to new content with no prior knowledge. However, I noticed my students became increasingly dependent on me to give them the information they needed. I was using “I do, we do, you do” almost everyday, which I later realized doesn’t prepare students to be lifelong learners in the world beyond school. As teachers, we do not expect to be with our students forever and therefore, our pedagogy shouldn’t train students to be dependent on us to learn.

One of the greatest struggles I faced when using the GRR method was with student motivation. I worked incredibly hard to convince students they needed to learn the information by adding “hooks” with real-life applications to the “I do” portion of the lesson. Unfortunately, this didn’t make the desired impact: my students still didn’t display characteristics of curiosity. From my observations, persuading a student that they may need information later in life was not motivating enough.

The lack of motivation and waning curiosity my students exhibited coupled with a quote I read prompted me to explore other teaching strategies. The quote said, “it is our responsibility to make it their responsibility.” This encouraged me to think about ways in which I could relinquish my “power” in the class as the sole expert and allow students to become the experts. Some of my best moments in the classroom occurred when I experimented with student-centered approaches to learning and acted as a facilitator of the process, rather than director. This was not an easy switch for myself or for students who have had years of schooling in which they are not offered choice. But it was worth it.

So without further ado, here are three student-centered approaches I employed that produced fantastic results: inquiry based learning using the question formulation technique (QFT), Socratic seminars, and interest-based projects.

The Question Formulation Technique

The Question Formulation Technique is a protocol for students to develop and refine their questioning ability. The QFT structure allows teachers to take a step back and give students the responsibility of determining what they are going to learn. By producing, refining, and prioritizing their own questions, students identify topics they want to explore. This method supports independent thinking by emphasizing three different thinking abilities: divergent, convergent, and metacognition. The teacher is responsible for selecting the topic or focus that fits within the scope and sequence of the class and guiding students through the steps, but the thinking and learning comes from the students themselves.

In one of my classes, we started with the question focus, “Hip Hop started in the South Bronx to give a voice to the voiceless,” which was connected to our theme for the unit: Social Change and Revolution. Students came up with questions I never would have dreamed of and they were more engaged in the research projects that followed because they chose to pursue a question that truly interested them. As a class, we learned skills from the common core learning standards but students applied it to something they wanted to know.

Socratic Seminars

Socratic seminars let teachers facilitate independent thinking, discussion, and critical reasoning. When I first implemented these, there was quite a bit of direct instruction required to prepare students to lead the discussions themselves. There are many practical skills embedded in a Socratic seminar, such as how to articulate when you are building on or refuting others ideas, which need to be modeled. But after participating in a few seminars with the same structure, the students were able to use the skills we developed to push each other’s thinking and revise their own thinking on a variety of topics. I was overjoyed the first time I heard a typically shy student refer to evidence in a text using a probing question in response to a statement made by a peer. The class led the discussion themselves and then assessed their reasoning skills using evidence from the discussion.

Interest-Based Projects

Interest-Based Projects are created by the teacher to provide a structure for the skills they want to teach or assess while letting students follow their interests. I designed my health curriculum so that foundational knowledge was taught using a blended learning form of direct instruction, but the other half of the course consisted of projects in which students could choose which health topic they wanted to focus on. For example, I included a unit on substance abuse which covered many of the topics traditionally covered in health classes. I also included an interest-based Public Service Announcement Project, in which students choose a relevant health need they care about and develop a public service announcement for that topic. One student chose to create a warning about the risks of using lean, a slang term for a concoction which includes a prescription-strength cough syrup used in a manner inconsistent with its labeling, thus making it a recreational drug. This is not a topic covered in most health textbooks, but it was a real health risk that many of his peers were abusing. By providing the structure of the projects but allowing the students to choose what they focused on, my students were not only more engaged, they were invested.

Lessons Learned

“I do, we do, you do” has it’s place in the classroom, but it should not be the only method we rely on. If all our students are to be lifelong, self-directed learners, solely relying on a teacher-led model only makes things harder for us. A true mix of teacher-centered and student-centered models such as the QFT, Socratic seminars, and interest-based projects can lead to greater success and independent thinking inside and outside of school. These alternatives also provide opportunities for different types of learners to shine in the classroom. I will close with questions for you, the reader. Feel free to respond as a comment! Have you tried student-centered approaches in your classroom? What are some student-centered approaches you’ve used? With what success? What are some ways you’ve gotten students to better adapt to these approaches?

Guest Post by: Jessica H.

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