Driving engagement through student-led learning

Students touching camera device in classroom

Published: February 18th, 2021

Putting students in the driver’s seat

Students are more academically engaged when they are empowered to direct their own learning experience. Student-led learning is centered on active student inquiry and exploration. A departure from traditional teaching models that prioritize a student’s ability to consume lectures and follow directions, student-led learning grants students opportunities to be self-directed. In a student-centered class, students can make a variety of decisions about their day-to-day education, from what and when they learn to how they demonstrate their knowledge.

Student-centered classrooms may involve students in lesson planning, teaching, and assessments. Teachers act as facilitators, consultants, and collaborators, rather than directors. This gets students invested, meaningfully prioritizes student voice, and, as an added benefit, provides additional support to busy teachers.

Student-led instruction allows students to exercise self-determination and can yield personalized learning experiences better tailored to an individual student’s strengths and needs. By giving students greater agency and autonomy, student-directed learning provides learners with a sense of responsibility and ownership over their education.

But what does student-led learning look like in practice and how can educators implement a more student-centered approach?

Approaches to student-led learning

Student-led learning can take many forms. Let’s explore different approaches and how to integrate student-centered activities into your classroom, whether in-person or remote.

1. Choose your own adventure

Student-led learning isn’t about leaving kids to fend for themselves; the goal is to foster a learning environment where students have the support and structure they need to make decisions. Teachers can present students with different choices that are all designed to lead to the same ultimate goal.

When assigning a book report, rather than assigning the same book to the entire class, a teacher might allow students to choose one of three different book options, or students may be allowed to read a book of their choice. Teachers might allow students to “choose your own adventure” by setting up different learning stations, either in the classroom or virtually, and letting students navigate from one learning station to the next in whatever order appeals to them.

By building opportunities for student choice into lessons, teachers provide students with a supportive framework for autonomy that empowers students to take learning into their own hands.

2. Multi-genre projects

A more open-ended approach, multi-genre projects give students the opportunity to develop a question on a subject that interests them and explore answers to that question through several genres. For example, a student may choose to present their learnings about climate change through a YouTube video, a Minecraft screen recording, a comic strip, and/or a poem.

By allowing students to choose both the topic and the mediums through which they explore it, this project-based learning approach gives students the opportunity to explore something that is personally meaningful to them while strengthening critical thinking and communication abilities.

3. Student-as-teacher

Encourage leadership by inviting students to the front of the classroom to teach their peers. Teachers may assign a student to lead part of a lesson, educate their peers on a subject that they are passionate about, or deliver the news of the day. Encouraging students to step into the teacher role gives individual students an opportunity to gain valuable leadership experience while engaging the whole class.

An interactive whiteboard or panel can be a great tool for supporting student-as-teacher activities. Promethean’s ActivPanel allows teachers to add student names to a digital spinner tool to select which student will be the leader of the day. The tool randomizes the process while ensuring that every student has the chance to lead and that no student is selected twice. 

One student can stand at the panel while their peers direct how the student might interact with the content. With Promethean’s ActivInspire lesson delivery software, students can move objects on the screen around and sort content into containers with input from their peers. If the content is placed in the correct container it will stick. If placed in the incorrect container, it will pop out. 

Edtech-supported student-as-teacher activities not only empower students, they critically strengthen student leadership abilities within the context of technology use. To even further promote this important skill set, schools may assemble a Student Tech Squad to enlist students as technology leaders and leverage their technology expertise. 

4. Fishbowl discussions 

Fishbowl discussions take a literal approach to centering student voice. In fishbowl discussions, a small group of students are seated in a circle surrounded by a larger group of students. The smaller, interior group of students will have a group discussion on a topic, while the rest of the students listen and take notes. Students rotate in and out of the fishbowl, giving each student an equal opportunity to find their voice and lead the conversation.

Once students are familiar with the discussion format, a student can replace the teacher as the group facilitator, posing questions to stimulate deeper discussion and encouraging participation among the group. A fishbowl discussion can also be adapted for remote learning modalities by featuring the student discussion group on video, while other participants observe with their video cameras turned off.

This Socratic approach helps students develop discussion skills and peer-to-peer collaboration abilities, and helps build classroom community. 

5. Partnered test prep

In this student-led, discussion-based activity, students pair up to tackle a sample test together in preparation for the real thing.

Working through testing material in a dry run with a partner can help students feel more confident when it comes time for the graded test. Partnered test prep gives students the opportunity to preempt any knowledge gaps and learn directly from one another. If a student is challenged by the learning material, a peer may be able to help by explaining the material to them in a different way than it was introduced by the teacher.

This approach helps to ensure that each student is getting the individual support they need and can encourage leadership among students with subject mastery. In this activity, it’s the students, not the teacher, who hold the knowledge and the answers.

6. Student-led conferences (SLCs)

Traditionally, parent-teacher conferences are led by the teacher. SLCs give students a seat at the table by inviting them to help lead the discussion.

Successful SLCs offer support for students throughout the process. Worksheets can help guide student self-assessment in preparation for the meeting and teacher support throughout the meeting can ensure that the discussion is as transparent and productive as possible.

SLCs encourage students to define for themselves their strengths and areas for growth. Involving students in these conferences encourages students to reflect on and take ownership of their academic progress.

Preparing students for what’s next

Student-led learning not only engages students in their learning experience, it helps students master the art of learning how to learn

Incorporating edtech into the classroom is a critical component to increasing engagement and expanding opportunities for student-led learning. Today’s students are digital natives and are used to technology in every aspect of their life—they expect it in their school life as well. By leveraging edtech to facilitate a more student-centric classroom, educators can engage students with the tools that appeal to them most while preparing them for the future.

In a rapidly evolving world, students must be equipped to adapt and grow. Subject matter mastery is important—but so is developing the competencies needed to be successful lifelong learners. Edtech-supported student-centred learning helps students develop the skills and agency they need to grow into self-actualized adults who are capable of navigating challenges, making tough decisions, and forging new paths forward.

To learn more about what Promethean can do to help support student led-learning and engagement, contact us to schedule a demo today.