How to focus on all students in the classroom
When teachers strive to implement a democratic paradigm, they have to take the role of facilitator and mentor, establishing external parameters and serving as a guide rather than dictator, and focus on each child in their classroom. The students are then provided agency to develop internal parameters (Rief, 1992).
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In order to empower middle school students, educators need to reexamine classroom practices and provide guidance and support. Shor (1992), a critical theorist, described the power of such student investment versus "a unilateral transfer of knowledge." He asserted that when teachers empower their students to question, they help students develop their intellectual and emotional powers. ... Empowered students make meaning and act from reflection, instead of memorizing facts and values handed to them" (p. 12).
To develop and maintain an effective student-centered classroom, the teacher first needs to recognize students as decision makers and invite them to develop their abilities to collaborate on learning tasks. A variety of student-centered strategies characterize a democratic learning environment. When different approaches to curriculum and instruction are integrated, diverse learning styles are honored.
Jerie Weasmer and Amelia Mays, in “Shifting Classroom Ownership to Students”, describes a child, Paul, a sixth grader from East Central Illinois, who traveled with his family to Mesa Verde National Park. He saw the homes of the Anasazi tribe had cut into the cliffs and observed the kivas, round circular buildings set in the ground for religious ceremonies. He was excited to learn that the Hopi Indians, whom he had already studied, derived from this earlier tribe.
In the fall Paul's teacher led the students through a prepared unit on Southwestern Indians, briefly touching on the Anasazi tribe and their unique establishment. Paul delightedly told her that he had been there that summer and had stories and pictures to share. "I'm afraid we won't have time to go into that much detail about one tribe, Paul. We have so much to cover here." Paul's teacher was teaching the curriculum rather than seizing an opportunity for the students to become better versed in an area of one student's expertise. When external demands are allowed to drive the curriculum, often student knowledge bases go untapped.
“The new model of student-centered instruction redefines the teacher's role so that students are no longer passive learners but become active participants in shaping their academic and social experiences” (Miller, 1995)
Another example describes, Vicki Onstatt, a middle school mathematics teacher from Logansport, Indiana, empowers her students to teach one another math concepts. At the start of the hour, one student reads the answers to the completed assignment as class members check their own work. When she or he has finished reading, hands shoot up to seek explanations about problems they have miscalculated. Onstatt responds and then, in a brief mini-lesson, introduces the steps toward solving the kinds of problems they are being assigned for the following day. After fielding any questions that are posed, she steps aside, and they shift into established small groups to work together on the new assignment. She moves among the students, mentoring when needed. Because students conduct the class procedures, their investment in a democratic learning process increases. The teacher is freed to aid students with specific needs rather than to offer only general instructions to the entire class.
In order to establish student-centered working environments, educators must check their philosophies to ensure that the student, and not the teacher, are the center of learning. This includes not only small tasks like role-taking and passing back papers, but also foundational responsibilities like planning curriculum and evaluating learning effectiveness.
Janet, a veteran social studies instructor, prides herself on her student-centered classroom because she uses small groups to discuss class materials. However, upon closer observation it becomes evident that each of the groups follows a common teacher- prepared rather than student-generated list of questions. After small group discourse, Janet pulls the groups together to work toward consensus, rather than entertaining a variety of acceptable perceptions from each group. What Janet fails to do is accept that each student is unique and being student- centered involves acknowledging each student’s diverse ideas and questions.
Thus, few changes in the pedagogy will help in including all students in the classroom. The emphasis here need to be on each student involvement in the classroom by acknowledging their ideas and learning by doing. Once children find their involvement in the class acknowledged, their participation will increase and focusing on each child will become easier.