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Student-Centered Schools

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What are student-centered schools?

In student-centered schools, pedagogy and curricular choices are designed to make learning meaningful, relevant, engaging, and responsive to students’ needs. Schools that employ student-centered practices emphasize positive and supportive relationships between students and adults, which enable students to persist and succeed in academic environments that are challenging, relevant, collaborative, student-directed, and applied to real-life situations. Research shows that this type of setting is necessary for students to develop the skills to succeed in college, career, and life. Students are assessed in authentic ways on their mastery of knowledge and skills and have multiple opportunities to demonstrate that mastery. Finally, in student-centered schools, educators are supported in creating a student-centered learning environment through opportunities for reflection, collaboration, and leadership. Collectively, these student-centered practices enable schools to extend the learning environment beyond traditional boundaries, in terms of content taught, pedagogy used, as well as the physical learning environment and the flexible use of time, to engage and support all learners.

Why student-centered schools?

Student-centered practices are more often found in schools that serve affluent and middle-class students than in those serving low-income students. Creating student-centered learning environments is one of the most promising ways to address the opportunity gap for low-income students and students of color. Transforming schools, from the punitive accountability era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the current focus on deeper learning through Common Core and next generation assessments, requires a dramatic shift from traditional school practices of the last century. It requires educators to pay attention to how they know and support students, how they teach, what they teach, how they assess students, and how they reflect on and improve their practice in collaboration with colleagues. Transforming the kinds of learning spaces most needed by underserved students requires site administrators and teacher leaders who are well-prepared to create authentic learning experiences for students, grounded in the students’ lived experiences, while addressing students’ gaps in knowledge and skills. This tool is designed to support educators’ inquiry and transformation of practice toward a student-centered approach.



Other resources:

Martinez, M., & McGrath, D. (2014). Deeper learning: How eight innovative public schools are transforming education in the twenty-first century. New York: The New Press.

Wolfe, R., Steinberg, A., & Hoffman, N. (Eds.). (2013). Anytime, anywhere: Student-centered learning for schools and teachers. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.


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