Five Steps to Releasing Control in a Student-Centered Learning Environment

Giving up control in my classroom made me feel anxious at first. I am admittedly obsessive and compulsive in nature when it comes to order, organization, and punctuality. Imagine my mind when I was introduced to the crazy idea that students needed more control! Looking back, I can’t imagine learning any other way. My students have continually improve in many areas like time management, behavior, academics, etc. I’ve also learned a lot along the way. Taking a step back from center stage has made all of the difference.

I released control in my classroom gradually. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Expectations

First, I reframed my classroom rules into expectations and guidelines. Not only did I need to get my students thinking in the right mindset, I had to reset my mind, too. My favorite expectation is “Try new things, take risks, and learn from your mistakes.”

  1. Observations

Very few students are ready to self-manage from the beginning. After setting and maintain consistent expectations, we have to sit back and observe. Watching my students helped me figure out who I needed to work with more, and who seemed to be okay. I make small notes on these observations to be used during the planning and implementation of collaboration.

  1. Collaboration

Integrating collaborative activities and projects into the curriculum allowed my students to gain small confidence boosts in their work. Small groups let students to see other perspectives, teach each other, and gain time management and social skills. This also put my mind at ease because they were proving to me they could handle what was to come next.

  1. Flipped

I tried something drastic: I began flipping my classroom. I gave my students homework to study a topic of their choosing before we even covered the concept of research in class. The next day, we discussed how they went about finding information for their topic. Students were teaching themselves to research before even knowing how to do it! This is a simple example, but it’s highly flexible. Allow students to do work outside of class, and take the class time to figure out what gaps exist and allow students to talk about the topic or concept with each other.

  1. Feedback

Feedback needs to go both ways. Allow students to talk about what they want and need from their teacher and/or education. On our side, we need to provide timely, constructive feedback on their learning process to keep them confident in what they are doing. This also keeps students on the right track should they begin to stray off course.

This strategy is a fabulous thing. Student-centered learning is less about delivering content and more about how and why the students gain the knowledge or skills. We just need to surrender some of the control and trust our students to blossom! As scary as it may seem, it’s worth every second.

What is something you’ve done to help make the environment more learner-centered in your classroom? Share your experiences!