4 ways to promote a learner-driven classroom

How to empower students to build future-ready skills through more authentic and meaningful work
Rachelle Dene Poth is a foreign language and STEAM teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, Pennsylvania.

An important theme in education today is “how can we create a more active, personalized learning experience for our students?” We have seen many classrooms make a shift from a teacher-centered to a more learner-centered and optimally, a learner-driven classroom, where students have choices in the what, how, when, and where they learn.

Knowing how to get started and which resources or methods will empower students to go beyond simply developing skills in the content area, but also, build future-ready skills through more authentic and meaningful work, may seem challenging. However, there are many quick ways to get started, some which may feel like a risk, or may differ dramatically from conventional teaching, but we need to create something new.

Why change?

In my own classroom, I started to see a decrease in student engagement and realized that I was not meeting each student’s needs. My error was that I thought by providing different activities that this was creating a more “personalized ” experience for each student.

However, I realized that while some activities were beneficial, students were not necessarily engaging in these activities because they wanted to. So I needed to make some changes, and perhaps cause a bit of chaos to my organized classroom structure.

Over the past few years, I read books like Blended Learning in Action, and Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology by Peggy Grant and Dale Basye. I also became more active with Twitter chats based on specific topics, and participated in more Professional Development such as conferences like FETC and ISTE, and listened to podcasts and webinars whenever I could.

After gathering some new ideas, I decided to begin making some changes and see what impact they had on students. Students need to be able to explore, problem solve and work independently and collaboratively, which is what my initial goals were. Making these changes was a bit uncomfortable for me at first, after having taught the same way for many years, but it has been worth the risk to escape from my comfort zone.

  1. Project Based Learning. PBL is a way to promote student-driven inquiry, where students explore a problem, create an essential question and explore something that is of interest or a passion to them. PBL promotes critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and enhances the learning potential for each student as they design their own learning path. PBL promotes student agency through self-directed learning and serves to help students move away from focusing on grades and end product, and instead see the value in learning and the process. Give students time to explore their passions and amplify the learning potential for all students and you in the classroom.
  2. Blended Learning. Blended Learning is mixing the traditional in-class instruction with some interactive lessons and communicative work done outside of the classroom. It is a more student-centered approach that provides the teacher with greater opportunities to interact with students and better understand each student’s needs. There are many digital tools available for students to learn and practice the content, such as Buncee, Kahoot!, Quizlet, and Quizizz. Try some of the tools for interactive lessons, such as video response tools like EDPuzzle and Playposit, which integrate with Learning Management Systems, making it easier to create and then share lessons with students. Tools such as Formative and Nearpod provide many options for having students interact with the content at their own pace and provides immediate feedback.
  3. Station Rotations. One big change in my classroom was shifting to learning stations. I rearranged the room, placing desks into groups and created a different activity for each station. Each of the tools mentioned above can be used at stations, in addition to traditional tools like student-created flashcards, handouts, textbook activities, or student-created ideas for practicing the content. Teachers can provide direct instruction at one of the stations, or move around and work with each group, which helps with building relationships and learning more about each student. Students become more active in the classroom with options like these.
  4. Choice Boards. Similar to a tic-tac-toe board, Choice boards are a great way to provide multiple options for students to choose from for practicing the content. Based on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK), I created choices reflective of each of the four levels. Students can create something simple like making a word search using vocabulary, or creating a game of Kahoot! Or Quizizz, to preparing a video for a skit, or writing a short story. There are many possibilities out there, the idea it to give students more independence to choose how to show what they have learned and can now do with the material.

In the end, for students, there are many benefits of using some of these tools and strategies. Students enjoy having more choices in learning, become more comfortable as they collaborate with and build connections with peers, and will emerge as more confident learners who are having their interests met in the classroom.

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, PA. She will be a featured speaker at DA’s FETC 2020.