Picture a traditional classroom. Where is the teacher standing? Where are the students? Who is doing most of the talking? What sorts of activities are the students engaged in? Chances are you imagined the teacher at the head of the class, largely running the show by holding a lecture. If a student speaks out it’s because the teacher posed a question. If students speak to each other, they probably shouldn’t.
Of course, the above is an extreme example and most modern classrooms are a lot less restrictive. An old-fashioned classroom often results in boredom and loss of attention, which prevents students from remembering and engaging with the content, since the teacher places lesser demands on the students and fails to engage their opinions. Furthermore, since the teacher does the talking, asks the questions, and prepares the material, the teacher is taking on an unnecessary workload.
Students can be inspired to take ownership of their own learning, shifting the onus to them to explore material, develop questions, research topics using self-identified sources, engage in discussions, and assess their own work. Doing that, they will feel empowered to engage with the material on a new level. The teacher spends less time preparing presentation material, instead assuming the supervisory role of guiding the students in their work. Bear in mind that, if given too much freedom, students might feel overwhelmed and get the impression that the teacher is indifferent towards their learning process. It is clear that a balance has to be struck.
Unlike deductive learning, which is more teacher centred, inductive learning begins with an observation on the part of the students. The teacher provides a starting point and then allows the students to observe relationships, such as identifying a common literary theme, recognising parallels among historical events, or realising the relationship between different mathematical formulae. Instead of telling students what to see, they are provided with the tools needed to discover the answer for themselves, which in turn allows them to engage with and remember the content.
Project Based Learning (PBL) is essentially learning by doing and takes the form of tackling a ‘real-world problem’ which spans across disciplines. Students work collaboratively to solve problems and face unique challenges while applying relevant content. PBL will require students to show initiative, frame the problem and provide creative solutions as a team. Once more, the teacher merely guides the students.
This is a discussion in that involves students posing and answering insightful questions while supporting their answers with specific references to classroom content. The teacher supervises the discussion and takes notes on the contributions of different students and areas that require more focus. However, the students themselves are driving the conversation, while the teacher encourages contribution and guides the content of discussion.
The marriage of education and technology has exploded in recent years. EdTech can take the form of smart software that tailors content and goals to an individual learner’s needs, while allowing the teacher to accurately observe the learning process . However it’s applied, it helps the teacher transition from director of the classroom to an observer and guide as students engage in a 21st century classroom environment.
Given the variety of teachers and students, there is no one right way to create a student-driven classroom. At the end of the day, what’s important is not the number of Socratic Seminars held in a year, the complexity of PBL projects or level of EdTech-integration. What matters is that the wheel is handed over to the students, creating an atmosphere of exploration which rises above and goes beyond traditional, tedious memorisation. Part of the benefit is that students better engage with the material, and the other part is that the unnecessary workload of the teacher is eased, so that time can be spent elsewhere on the curriculum.