Learner-Centered

BlocksBrain research tells us that each brain is unique and that while most of us have the same basic hardware, our brains are personalized by our unique genetic endowments and our interactions with the world around us. This means we do not think and learn in the same way and that this fact should be taken into account by us educators.

Many educational programs today purport to be “learner-centered,” but what does that mean? For many it means that students can use technology or other media to go at their own pace. To us, this is actually “curriculum-centered,” since the goal is to get everyone through the same content. This is the kind of thinking that lead to the development of non-inclusion programs for special education and gifted education, wherein everyone studies the same thing, but goes at a different pace. For New World Kids (NWK), this approach is insufficient since it could still be connected to a “deficit” rather than a “growth” model of education.

The NWK lesson is built on a simple, learner-centered framework:

PRIMING

INVENTION

REFLECTION

At each step of the way, the learner and her thoughts, feelings, understandings and opinions are central.

Brain research also tells us that learning is facilitated when the teacher “activates prior knowledge;” i.e., connecting new knowledge to what is already in the child’s long-term memory. In NWK, before learning or experiencing something new, the student is asked what she already knows, feels or thinks about the subject. Another learner-centered practice we use is to ask students to make inferences at this time. For example, if we are reading, we might predict what the selection will be about or if we are doing math, we might estimate what a reasonable answer might be. These are some of the “Priming” activities that occur at the first of our lessons to help prepare diverse learners to “Invent.”

“Invention” is the heart of the NWK lesson. Students are asked not just to take in information but to create or construct something new with that information. Creativity and individuality go hand and hand and NWK lessons always require higher-level thinking and unique responses.

Some learner-centered programs provide children with a choice; e.g., students can demonstrate understanding through either writing or drawing. In NWK this idea is part of our approach, but in a more sophisticated way. Our lessons are open-ended structures—The open end is where the student has choice. We begin with more structure and gradually open it up more and more in subsequent lessons as the children develop greater self-understanding and self-discipline. The lesson plans themselves are constructed to provide many avenues for diverse children with unique characteristics to become productively engaged.

Most significantly, our program truly places the child at the center of learning, since he and the teacher study the child himself as part of the curriculum. The goal is to identify the child’s strengths as thinker, learner and creative mind. (Notice that this is also a “strengths-based” approach.) To this end the teacher documents each child’s process and products and, at the end of the lesson asks the child to “Reflect” on himself. Very young children are simply asked, “What did you like about class today?” Older children are asked to consider what they learned about how they learn/think/create best. These questions engage the executive functions/metacognitive processes of the child. Eventually the child will define her strengths for herself, but meanwhile she is building confidence in herself and her ability to think, learn and create.

The teacher’s documentation is shared with the child and with the child’s parents. Suggestions are made as to how to build upon these strengths in the school, home and other settings. The elements of the Sensory Alphabet are used as a bridge between what the teacher sees in the child’s work/play and what suggestions are made. For example, a child whose work consistently is strongest in 3D space and shape might be given additional experiences in constructing with Legos, clay and other materials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Tamas Simon
      

    Hi Cynthia

    It’s very interesting.
    I would strongly encourage you to share those NWK lesson plans online.
    I think you’re onto something. I’m reading your book. Your work is great. Don’t keep it in a silo.
    Adopt the “open source” thinking.
    I cannot think of a single company who regretted going open… I think you won’t either.

    Cheers