Benefits of Student-Led Learning
Traditional classrooms center on teacher-led learning: the teacher sets all goals, plans all lessons, and generally runs a tight ship. Advocates of this approach, if it ever occurs to them there might be any alternative, say teacher-led classes are more orderly and keep the learning focused on well-considered goals and purposes.
Of course, if the only other option is letting students do exactly as they please, the teacher-led approach makes sense. However, true student-led learning—despite images the term may evoke when first heard—doesn’t mean giving the kids blanket permission to take over. It simply means keeping things flexible enough to meet individual student needs, including the needs to take initiative and have a voice. (Because of the potential confusion, many educators prefer to call this approach student-centered learning or learner-centered education.)
There are reasons to believe that student-led learning is actually more effective:
- By reducing the risk of students being labeled “bad at schoolwork” or “not too smart” or even “gifted,” student-led learning helps kids understand that “potential” is not reserved for a chosen few. (Anyone who has tried to motivate a teenager who considers him- or herself “dumb,” or even worked with the “smart” kid who has a secret inferiority complex over not always getting 100%, should easily see the problems with judging by academic achievement.)
- Student-led learning gives kids permission to make mistakes and to “try, try again,” which leads to greater achievements than attempting only what promises quick success.
- Student-led learning encourages children to think for themselves, rather than simply following instructions, from an early age.
- Student-led learning provides for a broader range of skill development and learning styles than do academic approaches which impose a narrow list of predetermined priorities.
- Student-led learning makes the classroom less of an “institution” and more of a community, encouraging all-around mutual support rather than competition and bullying.
- Student-led learning makes kids partners in their own education, which translates to higher levels of cooperation and interest. When kids who once came to school because “grownups say I have to” start showing up eager for more, you’re seeing one major benefit of student-led learning.
Ideas for Making Your Classroom More “Student-Led”
- Let it be known that anyone can ask a question at any time, and that there’s no such thing as a dumb question.
- When you catch shyer students looking interested, encourage them to share their thoughts.
- Whenever possible, assign “write out/work out your answer” questions instead of multiple choice. Even with math problems, avoid pushing “the way to solve it”; give kids a chance to find their own paths to the solution.
- Provide kids with plenty of opportunities to design their own learning projects and to work on these in class.
- Provide opportunities to work as teams and contribute to the classroom as a whole.
- Tolerate no subtle belittling of any student—from classmates or from yourself.
- If someone is having real difficulty, ask him or her privately if anything else is wrong—you might catch a medical or personal problem before it escalates into tragedy. (Remember, a key point of student-led learning is meeting the full spectrum of student needs.)