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Introducing the Student-Centered-Learning Syllabus

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This post is by Students at the Center Distinguished Fellows Lori McEwen, and the Assistant Superintendent of the North Attleborough (MA) Public Schools, and Arthur Baraf, principal of The Met School in Providence, RI.

Newsflash: Teachers are learners (as are administrators and policymakers!). Yet, the strategies we use to help teachers innovate their practices are often so overcomplicated they get in the way of learning. To help them learn, sometimes all we need to do is clear out the distractions and set the stage.

In co-teaching our seminar on student-centered learning as part of Providence College's Master in Urban Education program, my colleague Arthur Baraf and I learned that, to try something new, teachers simply needed protected time and space to think it through and apply it in their context. Toss in a few energizing, learner-centered activities and enough opportunities to reflect with colleagues and we found that teachers were more than eager to go far outside their comfort zones. As a teacher once said to me: "Now that I know what to do, I'm going to do it all the time!" Even after our condensed 13-session, six-week course, teachers found that applying just a few examples of what they learned led to deeper engagement from their students, which left them hungry for more. And, the teachers found that sharing the practices they had tried--and encouraging others to do the same--elevated their own sense of themselves as teacher leaders.

We designed the course, Student-Centered Learning, as part the Students at the Center Distinguished Fellowship. The course was designed to support learners to master four core competencies. Learners would:

  1. Explain with clarity, depth, and nuance what student-centered learning is and how student-centered learning strategies and mindsets help to achieve career and college readiness and equity in urban settings
  2. Analyze and reflect on their own beliefs and mindsets in relation to various student-centered school models
  3. Apply student-centered learning strategies in their classrooms
  4. Develop teacher leadership skills to effectively communicate student-centered practices to others using digital tools

To demonstrate mastery of these competencies, each learner completed four major projects, each with its own assessment rubric, including:

  • A group-designed lesson for course participants to teach in their own classrooms introducing and describing one of the four tenets of student-centered learning
  • A thorough interview with an expert student-centered learning practitioner or researcher shared publicly through through an episode on the Student-Centered Learning podcast or the Students at the Center Hub blog
  • A newly designed curriculum for their own students using student-centered approaches
  • A portfolio assessment and reflective exhibition demonstrating growth and mastery of the four course competencies

And just as we set the stage for our teacher-learners, they too were compelled to set the stage for others to learn. That's why I am most excited about the fourth competency: "Effectively communicate SCL practices to others using digital tools in order to develop teacher leadership skills."

We know from research that student-centered practices are good for students and for teachers. And we also know that when something is this good, you just can't keep it to yourself, so we are happy to share the course syllabus today. In addition, we made it a condition of the course that participants would share their learning and open dialogue with other teachers via blogs and podcasts, which will be aggregated at sclresearchcollab.org in the coming weeks. We want those who use this syllabus in their own course or professional development to find other ways to celebrate and (widen) teacher voice, and we want to hear from you if/when you do so. If we are going to truly disrupt education to ensure deeper learning outcomes for all students, it might just be this stage-setting and outreach that will make all the difference.

This article, and the related course syllabus and its materials, were created with support from Jobs for the Future's Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative and its funders. Learn more at sclresearchcollab.org.

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