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How Can Teachers Create a Learner-Centered Environment?

As a classroom teacher, does the idea of a learner centered environment sound new to you?

The Alliance for Excellent Education recently released Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered By Digital Learning.

The report advocates that a culture shift to a learner centered classroom environment is needed to prepare students to meet the challenges and demands of a global economy, that:

1) Learning needs to be rigorous and based on college and career-ready expectations.

2) Learning is personalized.

3) Learning is collaborative, relevant, and applied.

4) Learning is flexible, taking place anytime, anywhere.

This insightful report confirms and expands on what many teachers know are challenges in classrooms. I was fortunate to be part of an Alliance for Excellent Education panel that discussed the transformations needed in teaching in order to create this culture shift.

Then, a few days later at the Content in Context conference, presented by the Association of Educational Publishers and Association of American Publishers School Division, I had the opportunity to join a panel of publishers as an educator representative to discuss Organizing for the Future: Making the Learner the Focus of Your Business where we talked about the importance and challenges of creating products to support a learner-centered future.

From an educator perspective, we all welcome the emerging discussions on how publishers can support teachers in creating learner-centered classrooms.

And, if it involves meaningful integration of technology, so much the better!

Here are my take-aways from both events:

1) Effective teachers have always created a learner centered environment.

How do you survive teaching a group of students with learning disabilities and others with emotional disabilities? Hint: Know them as individuals, understand their strengths, needs, and learning styles, and be able to differentiate the ways they learn grade level content.

Create this learner-centered environment, one builds a learning community and manages behaviors of the class.

Fail to do so......watch the chaos unfold!!!

In other words, effective teachers with students with diverse socio-cultural and learning needs have always been learner centered.

Perhaps, the concept of learner centered environment actually originated in the one-room school house- where the teachers had students of different ages learning different content.

On the other hand, when discussing a culture shift, more is needed to scale this philosophy....

2) We need meaningful publisher and teacher collaboration

With the wide availability of multimedia and other resources on the Internet, the focus on the textbook as the sole source for information is decreasing. Many teachers supplement the textbook with additional resources to meet the needs of students.

In the emerging era of flipped classrooms, Khan Academy, iTunes U, You Tube, and other on-demand Internet resources that empower students to learn outside of the classroom, publishers will need to collaborate more with teachers to be able to create more relevant and meaningful products to support teachers.

This collaboration is essential in meeting the needs of an ever-increasing student diversity within the context of classrooms with higher and more rigorous standards.

At the same time, publishers have also experienced challenges with providing resources for teachers due to differences in state standards and the thousands of school districts, each with their own procurement timelines and adoption cycles.

Hopefully, the adoption of the Common Core Standards will facilitate the development of closer publisher and teacher collaboration to create more meaningful and relevant resources for students.

3) Learner centered environments will require technology.

How can a paper based textbook compete with dynamic, interactive, and on-demand digital resources?

It can't.

When I taught high school English literature at an elite private high school, the (general education) students did fine with the grade level textbook. But, in my 8th grade public school (special education) classroom where the reading levels of students ranged from 3rd to 6th grade, trying to learn 8th grade content with a textbook that had a reading level ranging from 8th to 9th grade was challenging.

My students needed, what the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards describes as, multiple paths to knowledge- being able to have a variety of resources that meets the learning needs of each student in order to access the grade level content.

As I shared at the panel, what we need is a "device" that can present the grade level content, but has features that can change the reading level of the text as appropriate for the student, integrate video and other appropriate multimedia content, and interactive simulations. The content should be updated regularly and have assessment features.

Soon, there will be Apps for that.

Paper doesn't cut it. A learner centered environment requires technology.

4) New roles are needed for the teacher profession.

The Alliance for Excellent Education report highlighted new professional responsibilities and roles for teachers:

a) Teachers as Facilitator of Learning
b) User of Data and Assessments
c) Collaborator, Contributor, and Coach with Peers
d) Curriculum Adapter and Designer

The teaching profession will also need to adapt in order to sustain these transformations. Since these roles require additional skills and knowledge, the teaching profession will need to better understand how to develop and support these differentiated roles to establish a professional culture with multiple levels of expertise and skill sets.

5) Transparency in classrooms will drive the change.

Will the public demand this cultural shift in teaching and learning?

During the Alliance panel discussion, Peggy Brookins, a National Board Certified Teacher and Director of the Engineering and Management Institute of Technology of Forest High School in Florida, and Erin Frew, Principal of New Tech West High School in Ohio showed videos of student activities that exemplify the potential of a learner centered environment.

Videos of student activities and projects in learner centered classrooms need to become viral. The public should demand that their children do similar activities at their school.

Schools should feature the types of learning that goes on in classrooms. Transparency can restore a healthy balance of relevant instruction and meaningful assessment, to "turn around" the narrowing of curriculum and learning associated with the test prep era.

Then ALL teachers, publishers, and other stakeholders can make that culture wide shift to create that learner centered environment that prepares All students for the future.

Follow me on Twitter at @Patrick_Ledesma

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