Despite my best efforts, I ran straight into one of the major concerns our class discussed regarding implementing student-centered learning in the classroom: time. The very nature of student-centered learning means that we must be flexible with our precious class minutes: more voices are incorporated into the mix, more ideas are picked up, and the path of learning can be less predictable (read: more exciting). All of these factors make this pedagogical approach more time consuming than classes based on predictably-timed lectures. Exactly how to find the balance between the clock and student-centered approaches, however, remains a challenge.
Feeling stimulated by my colleagues’ comprehensive and creative presentation on student-centered learning, I tried to incorporate several aspects of this pedagogical approach during my class’ review session. Some of the threads I tried to weave together included: student-generated content, student presentations, peer revision, and group work. The basic structure of the class (in a perfect world) would unfold in this way:
1) Students divide into groups of 3-4 and assign formal roles to each member (“recorder,” “researcher,” “reporter,” etc.).
2) In the groups, students choose 1-2 pieces of music that they would like to review (based either on what they feel most or least comfortable with at present).
3) Groups brainstorm any terms or concepts covered in class or in the textbook that relate to the piece(s) of music chosen. Sudents then organize these into a “concept map,” or any other way that seems logical.
4) Once they’ve completed your brainstorm/organization, students pass their review sheet to another group, who then edit the work, contributing any related terms or concepts that may have been overlooked, or drawing connections between items that the initial group may not have identified.
5) The revision groups predict two potential exam questions that could be asked about this material.
5) The revised document and questions are returned to the original group, who will then present the material to the whole class, incorporating the revisions and addressing the questions.
In my mind, this whole process went smoothly and all of the groups got a chance to present and foster fruitful discussion—all in the span of an hour and fifteen minutes. Perhaps I was being a little too ambitious. In reality, only two out of the five groups managed to present, and they were rather rushed. That being said, I’ll summarize both The Good and The Not-So-Good of this class experience from my teachers’ perspective, and address how I’d like to modify this activity in the future:
The Good: The students in my class worked very well in groups, particularly when assigned “formal” roles that promote inclusivity and purposefulness. The class was also incredibly respectful of their peers’ work, providing careful revisions and engaging their classmates during presentations. It was clear that the students were interested in their learning—they were singularly focused on producing good work for both themselves and their classmates. This activity as a whole resulted in a lively but focused classroom. The divide-and-conquer strategy meant that a lot of material was covered—much more than could have been accomplished by a single student or teacher.
The Not-So-Good: As I mentioned before, time was the major concern. There simply was not enough of it to present all of the students’ work. Ideally, I would have devoted another class to review, dedicated solely to the presentation portion of this activity.
In the Future…: I can imagine this kind of activity being effective as an ongoing project in a class. The last 15-20 minutes of a class every week could be devoted to this kind of group review, with presentations interspersed throughout the term, as a sort of on-going review project. Maybe a Google doc or some other editable document could serve as a growing resource based on this in-class work for students to consult outside of the classroom as well. In any case, there are options, and these will require equal amounts of experimentation. But having undergone even this “incomplete” activity, I can definitively say that The Good prevailed.