Student Centered Education

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Dec 102015

Student Centered Education

Student Centered – Can a Truly Student-Centered Education Be Available to All?

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Student Centered -By Katrina SchwartzDECEMBER 8, 2015

Student Centered – Unschooling is a hotly debated topic on MindShift. This subset of home schooling, which doesn’t use any set curriculum and is instead directed by the child’s interests, is vastly different from traditional public and private schools. While the freedom inherent in the model excites some readers, others question whether young people educated this way will learn the important information and skills they need to become productive adults in our society.

Some readers object to unschooling because its proponents have opted out of the public system. They argue that a student-centered teaching approach like unschooling could never exist in a public system governed by standardized tests. But in reality there have been public schools modeled after unschooling, and a few still operate programs that hold self-direction at their core.


The Big Picture Learning network started with the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (MET) in Providence, Rhode Island, and has expanded to almost 100 schools around the world, with 55 in the U.S. alone. The majority of the U.S.-based schools are traditional in-district public schools, although about 25 percent are public charter schools. Many are located in tough urban environments and serve challenging populations.

In a longitudinal study of 23 U.S.-based Big Picture schools, 56 percent of the students identified a language other than English as their first language, 18 percent were certified special needs and 62-74 percent were low income. All the Big Picture Learning schools use the learner and his or her interests and passions as the organizing principle of school.

“The focus is on each and every student, not on courses and classes,” said Elliot Washor, co-founder of Big Picture Learning. “We changed the lowest common denominator from the course to the student.”

This model relies on small learning communities, about 150 kids per high school, although the model can be used in a larger high school that is broken down into smaller communities. Within that, each student gets an adviser who stays consistent for at least two years, but often as many as four years. The adviser’s job is a complex mix of getting to know the student and his family and setting learning plans quarterly that include academic and social goals, as well as independent learning and internships outside of school. Each adviser has between 15-20 students.

‘We changed the lowest common denominator from the course to the student.’

“It’s a design that’s malleable and always evolving,” Washor said.

Students may change their interests, but their advisers, who are also credentialed teachers, are keeping in mind the standards required by the state and fitting those into the interests of the students. The combination of internship, independent projects and teacher-led projects help cover the learning goals of the school, which are broadly: empirical reasoning, quantitative reasoning, communication, social reasoning and the personal qualities necessary for success in any endeavor.

While the adviser plays a big role in pulling these strands together and helping to shape independent projects, she also brings in other community resources when necessary to support a student’s individual academic, social or home-life needs.student centered

If a student wants to dig into a specific subject, he or she will often take a class at a nearby community college. Big Picture schools bring in mentors and tutors from the community, and two days a week students are learning in the community through internships.

“Application is a very important part of knowing and it’s not a very important part of school,” Washor said. “How you use the things you learn outside of school in your daily life and how you manage yourself socially, emotionally and personally are all important. You can’t separate all these things.”

Student Centered – Read the entire article, here


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Tom McDonald,; 608-788-5144; Skype: tsmw5752 student centered