Here’s a piece I recently published in our school’s magazine about student-centered learning:
I try to place the student’s experience in the center of the curriculum because I’ve come to believe it is the most effective way for them to learn.
Social Location Project
I start most of my semesters with a project called Social Location. We discuss various social identifiers, from race and age to educational background and languages spoken. Then, students present five of their own social identifiers to the whole class, while reflecting on how these identifiers might play a role in their learning in this class. For example, in Ethics & Media, female students often remark that they can be more sensitive to objectification of women in advertising, while many of my students mention that, because of their ages, they are more aware of ethical issues in social media than their older family members (and teachers!). Students talk about their reflections on growing up in Catholic schools or public schools, their roles as oldest or youngest siblings, or their statuses as adopted children or recent immigrants. All of these presentations create a sense of community within the class, and they open the door to an important element of analysis for any of my Religious Studies classes- how our lenses affect our learning. Biblical scholars might call this a hermeneutic, and in Christianity, Feminism, and Society we name the feminist hermeneutic as a lens with which to interpret Scripture. It is my hope that, through the Social Location Project, students become more conscious that their knowledge is filtered through a set of lenses. The same is true for their classmates and teacher. Additionally, this project opens vocabulary and experience with which we can discuss serious issues like racism, classism, and sexism.
A foundation of my Christian Morality course is student-created skits. Students draw various elements of a moral dilemma from piles of cards (for example: 16 year old boy; using alcohol; at a friend’s house). Then, teams create a skit about the situation, adding various elements as the course unfolds (Gospel values, conscience, and virtue, to name a few). This way, students can add details to the skits that are true in their experiences, such as whether the friend’s parents are home, what the drink options are, and how conversations tend to actually happen between teenagers. While the skits are often funny and light-hearted, we circle into a conversation after the performances to talk about how realistic the scene was and why moral dilemmas are truly difficult in real life.
Students lead prayer in class. They select a piece of art, music, or Scripture on which the class reflects. Then they select a prayer to close the reflection. This leads to a diverse array of poems, photographs, even commercials that carry meaning for our students. It’s another way to ensure relevancy and encourage students to see the Holy in their everyday lives.
Technology also helps me create learning experiences that are student-centered. I can easily offer students several modes of taking in information and accept many modes of sharing their learning. Recently, we studied the importance of the film Crazy Rich Asians on increasing visibility and humanization in Ethics & Media. Students could listen to a podcast or read an article to get others’ opinions on the film. Then, they could write a response, record an audio response, or create an infographic to demonstrate their learning. I find that inserting student choice at many steps of the assignment helps students discover how they learn best and take control of their learning processes. Thanks to our school’s embrace of technology and our Learning Management System, Schoology, this kind of teaching and learning is possible.
Connect with prior knowledge
Research suggests that in order for students to learn, they must attach prior knowledge to new information. I know my students will remember precious few of the facts, dates, or Bible verses we’ll discuss. At the end of the day, I am committed to student-centered learning because I want the “bigger lessons” to stick: commitment to integrity, respect for time-tested wisdom, and love for humanity. I believe with lessons and activities that prompt a deep investigation of reality, this learning will last.