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Why K-12 schools should choose student-led learning

Product Updates December 2022-01

Have you walked into a classroom where students are encouraged to use their voices and make decisions about their own learning? They engage in cooperative discussions and activities, pursue projects that interest them and feel comfortable growing from mistakes. This is a classroom that uses student-led learning. This type of learning is active, motivates students and keeps them engaged.

What is student-led learning?

Traditionally, we’ve seen teacher-led learning in classrooms. This is when the teacher sets the path and makes the decisions for every lesson. Student-led learning, or student-centered learning, is an approach that focuses on student agency and creative thinking. It also helps learners develop self-discipline. Learners are not passive members of the classroom community but instead have a voice in their education.

John Hattie, education professor and researcher, believes that in a student-led environment, kids should self-direct and make decisions about how they want to learn. Educators should guide them rather than spend the majority of the time talking. It’s the “guide on the side,” instead of the “sage on the stage.”

It doesn’t mean that the classroom is a free-for-all with no structure. It’s still important to provide structure and clear expectations, but student-led learning allows educators to be flexible and support learners’ individual needs.

What are the benefits of student-led learning?

A report from 2017 showed that in several states, up to half of high school graduates had to be placed in remedial math and English courses. While there isn’t one way to give students the preparation they need, a student-centered classroom approach can deepen learning.

To start, student-led learning sparks motivation because kids are able to pursue what interests them. Whether they choose topics to explore or decide how they want to showcase what they know, learners are more engaged. 

According to an eSchool News survey, “65% of American educators say student-led learning is extremely valuable in developing 21st-century skills.” Kids need to build 21st-century skills so they can be successful after they leave K-12. These skills include critical thinking, the ability to collaborate, ethical decision-making and problem-solving, which are just as important as technical skills for a job.

Also, according to the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University, “Student-led discussions have proven to be more effective than teacher-led ones” at developing interpersonal skills and critical thinking. These skills are what kids will need once they experience college courses and embark on careers. 

One educator shared with Google for Education that student-led learning makes it “more possible for learners to ‘learn how to learn.’” Understanding and practicing how to be a lifelong learner again sets students up for success throughout their lives. They become motivated to continue developing their interests and skills, while not being afraid to make mistakes or receive feedback.

How do you create a student-led learning classroom?

Prioritize student agency

Allowing students to have a voice in how they want to learn helps them feel connected to the classroom community and the academic content. This includes building a trusting and supportive relationship with learners. For instance, asking them to help develop classroom rules enables their voices to be heard and gives them buy-in.   

Providing choices for learners is another way to make activities and assessments meaningful and relevant to them. For example, you can provide choices for science research topics, novels they’ll read, artists they’ll study, historical events they’ll dig into, math problems they’ll solve or physical education activities they’ll join. You can also let them decide how they’ll show what they’ve learned. This could be through a Google Slides presentation, a Google Drawing, a video, a live performance, a 3D model, a narrative or math reflection questions.

Encourage growth mindset

Growth mindset is an important part of a student-centered classroom as well. It helps learners feel comfortable planning goals, making mistakes, receiving feedback and reflecting. When there are chances to practice a growth mindset, students feel invested in their education.

Empower students to manage their own learning

Students also need to understand how to manage their own learning. As they explore academic content, they need to practice:

  • Managing their time
  • Making decisions
  • Self-regulating their ability to focus and complete tasks

Educators can help them with these skills through formal and informal instruction. As learners gain these skills, they’ll be better equipped to handle college coursework, job-related situations or other life experiences.

How do Hāpara classroom management tools support student-led learning?

When a school turns to student-led learning, some educators may find it challenging to transform their philosophy. You don’t have to completely overhaul instructional units and strategies, though, to begin making a positive impact. 

Start with attainable steps to build confidence. One way to take steps toward student-led learning is by using tools that make it easier for educators and students. Hāpara offers classroom management and instructional management tools that streamline teaching and learning. Hāpara’s instructional management tools such as Workspace help educators include student choice and personalization, while Student Dashboard helps students manage their learning. 

Hāpara’s classroom management tools also empower students and help schools drive student-led learning. Read on for ways that Hāpara’s classroom management tools help educators deepen learning.

Develop learners’ executive functioning skills

Hāpara Highlights is an ethical monitoring tool that gives teachers visibility into students’ progress during online learning. It also helps teachers scaffold skills such as self-regulation, time management, attention and perseverance. 

Whether learners are navigating the internet, completing Google Classroom assignments or collaborating in a Google Doc, teachers can use Highlights features to develop their learners’ executive functioning skills. Features such as guided browsing, instant messages and snapshots of progress help reinforce these skills.

One educator who uses Hāpara explained that it is helping to “develop their confidence. Students are learning to take ownership and responsibility for their own learning.”

Discover how a South Carolina school district supports SEL with browser monitoring

Watch the video to hear why Highlights helps educators like Kathryn combine monitoring with social and emotional learning.

Gradually release responsibility

The guided browsing feature in Highlights allows teachers to create focused or filtered Google Chrome sessions. Teachers can focus learners on specific websites or filter out distracting websites. Over time, when learners are ready, teachers can give them more browsing responsibility online. They can also use this feature to tailor browsing sessions to individual learners’ or groups’ needs.

One educator explained, “I love Hapara’s philosophy — protect, not police. We are able to use this to protect our students and to teach them good digital citizenship, while not feeling like police.”

Guide with formative feedback

Expectations and feedback give learners clarity on what to do and how to improve. When educators are clear about expectations, learners know exactly where they are going. Feedback also helps them monitor their progress. If they’re not yet meeting expectations, it gives them the opportunity to readjust, ask questions, reflect and try again. 

With Highlights, it’s easy for teachers to provide feedback as students learn online. It makes expectations visible to students, and it makes the learning process visible to teachers. 

For example, teachers can use the instant message feature to send learners positive feedback in the moment. For feedback to make the most impact on learning and behavior changes, it needs to be timely. Otherwise it loses its context, meaning and value. With Highlights, educators can also send a reminder to help learners refocus. They can even send a message to an individual learner, a group or the entire class.

One educator explained about Hāpara, “I can keep an eye on what my students are doing and redirect them as required and offer feedback when I see they are going wrong.”

Another educator said they, “Love that we can view the student tabs to assist in helping them make good choices academically. In addition, I like that I can quietly message them without distraction to others.”

Allow learners to make digital citizenship decisions 

While “student-led learning” may not initially come to mind when you think of a school web filter, Deledao ActiveScan, presented by Hāpara is learner-focused. Students navigate the internet for formative assessments, research, collaborative projects, review and enrichment activities. So it’s important for learners of all ages to develop their digital citizenship skills, including responsible online decision-making. 

Deledao ActiveScan, presented by Hāpara supports this by including the option for learners to make digital citizenship decisions. If a student comes across a website that is blocked but determines it to have learning value, the web filter offers them a digital citizenship feature. The student can send their teacher a website unblock request, along with a note explaining their thinking. The teacher can then view the website and approve or deny the request. If they don’t approve the request, the web filter asks them to provide a reason so the learner can understand how to make a better decision in the future.

Create a culture of resilience

Highlights gives teachers the option of closing browser tabs if learners need to be redirected back to class activities. But it supports student-led learning further by helping develop a classroom culture of resilience. When educators allow for student voice, kids begin to self-manage and reflect on their choices in the classroom and online. For example, they may ask their teacher to use Highlights to filter out a website that’s distracting.

Through digital citizenship conversations, the classroom can become a place where learners ask for help in making better decisions. Teachers can provide this help through Highlights, which becomes a powerful tool for learners to practice self-awareness and self-management.

What new Hāpara features make it easier to drive student-led learning?

Share out Google Classroom content from Highlights

With a synced Google Classroom in Hāpara, teachers can now share out Google Classroom assignments, questions and materials directly from Highlights. This integration provides a more seamless experience for teachers by bringing Google Classroom and Highlights into one central place. This new feature is student-centered because educators are able to personalize learning paths. They can see exactly how students are progressing during online class activities. If students need help, clarification or enrichment, teachers can share Google Classroom or other academic content with individual students, groups or the class.

Access website unblock requests from Highlights

Previously teachers could access website unblock requests by signing into Deledao ActiveScan, presented by Hāpara. Now teachers can see these student requests directly in Highlights. That means it’s easier to help students manage their learning and develop their digital citizenship skills.

View learners’ Google Drives from Highlights

Teachers can now also view learners’ class Google Drives directly from Highlights. While teachers can still access Google Drives from Teacher Dashboard, the direct access from Highlights means fewer clicks and interruptions to the flow of instruction during class time. Now teachers can view progress, provide feedback and help learners find files without leaving Highlights. 

How do you incorporate student-led learning experiences into your school or classroom? Making student voices a priority empowers learners and connects them to the academic content. Plus, you’ll see deeper engagement and more progress when students are able to follow their own learning path.

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