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Student-Centered Pedagogy: 4 tips for revamping how you teach high school science to put students at the center

Student-centered pedagogy: 4 tips for revamping how you teach high school science to put students at the center.

Student-centered pedagogy or learner-centered teaching strategies are not novel ideas. For the better part of the last decade, there has been a major emphasis in teacher education programs to emphasize the use of instructional methods that put the focus on the student rather than the teacher. So let’s be real, I am not writing anything revolutionary here!

But what I am here to share with you is:

  • Why student-centered pedagogy is critical for high school students, in particular
  • Why student-centered pedagogy is also best for YOU, as the teacher, and
  • 4 specific tips to revamp how you teach high school science so that you can have a more student-centered pedagogy

So we know that research shows how important student-centered pedagogy is, but why is this type of instructional strategy ESPECIALLY critical for high school students?

Because whether our students are leaving us to head off to a four-year college, going directly into the workforce, or doing something in between, we are launching them out on their own. And for the majority of our students, this is the first time they will experience true independence and autonomy.

I cannot tell you how many students I’ve seen drop out of college, or find the “real world” to be MUCH harsher than they ever anticipated, and I feel like the number of students experiencing this has only been increasing over the last few years.

While I know there is a LOT that goes into it, and the blame is not at all to be put entirely on their teachers like you and me, I do think we, as teachers, can do a better job pushing our students (however reluctant they may be) to be responsible for their own learning.

I know from my personal experience, that this is a LOT easier said than done. I had some amazing professors in college who really modeled and inspired me to use inquiry-based teaching methods. Only I found that when I attempted to use these with my own students in my own classroom, I was met with a TON of opposition. Phrases like, “This is too hard,” “You aren’t actually teaching us anything,” and “I can’t learn this way,” were regular refrains in my classroom.

It was exhausting, to be honest. And it was a WHOLE LOT EASIER to just default back to traditional pedagogy that is teacher-centered and lecture-driven.

I do believe there is a place for effective and engaging lecture in the classroom. But I also believe we have a responsibility as secondary science teachers specifically to equip our students to be independent learners, critical thinkers, and action takers, and that can best be done through student-centered pedagogy.

What I’ve learned through altering my teaching style to be more student-centered, is that it is actually best for us as teachers, as well.

WHY? Because teaching is exhausting. SO MUCH, especially in the last few years, is put on teachers and it seems like less and less support is provided as more and more responsibilities are given. It’s too much. By serving our students and putting THEM at the center of learning, it also takes us OUT of the center of learning – and this can be incredibly relieving!

But HOW? How do we go about actually shifting our pedagogy to better equip students and serve ourselves??

Here are four tips for revamping how you teach any of your high school science courses in order to take yourself off of the center stage and put your students there instead!

Student-Centered Pedagogy Revamp Tip #1: Use stations in place of lecture.

Student-centered pedagogy revamp tip 1: Use stations in place of lecture.

I LOVE USING STATIONS. So much so, that I did an entire series of blog posts last year on:

One of my favorite ways to use stations is in place of lectures. Specifically, when I set out to write my anatomy curriculum, I did NOT want to create a curriculum full of students taking notes on body parts before dissecting them. I wanted students, especially upperclassmen students who are traditionally taking anatomy as an elective science, to be set up to learn the content themselves.

This is when I created Discovery Stations for learning about the different body systems in anatomy. These stations have students moving around the classroom reading text, labeling diagrams, and answering comprehension questions to obtain knowledge about the organs that make up each organ system.

These stations took my lectures and cut them by MORE than half. Plus students get to practice strengthening their reading comprehension muscles – a skill that I will be the first to admit I don’t force my students to exercise enough!

You can read more about how to use discovery stations here, but in the meantime in order to revamp your own lectures to align more with a student-centered pedagogy, I encourage you to consider:

  • What topics do I lecture on that REALLY aren’t crazy complicated?
  • What topics do I spend WAY too much time lecturing on?
  • What topics do I teach that just have a LOT of content to them?

Anything you listed as answers to the above questions would make GREAT discovery stations. Take the content, put it into stations, and then make note outlines or a set of questions to go along with them that students can take in place of lecture!

Student-Centered Pedagogy Revamp Tip #2: Actively create a classroom environment that encourages discussions.

Student-centered pedagogy revamp tip 2: Actively create a classroom environment that encourages discussions.

If an admin were to come to observe your class, who would they see talking the most – you or your students? The answer to this question is an important metric. It REALLY reveals how student-centered your pedagogy is!

The more you can get students talking and asking questions, versus you just spewing out information, the more your classroom will naturally become student-centered.

Best of all, discussions are ABSOLUTELY FREE! All they take is a little bit of work, on the front end, to make sure you are creating a classroom environment that encourages discussions to be had!

Need more help with how to engage students in discussions? Check out this blog post.

Student-Centered Pedagogy Revamp Tip #3: Put students in charge of review.

Student-centered pedagogy revamp tip 3: Put students in charge of review.

If you’ve been around my corner of the internet for a while, you will hear me vent about how much I hate reviewing. This is because I have found that review days put a TON of pressure on me to MAKE SURE I REVIEW EVERY SINGLE LAST POSSIBLE THING for fear of students yelling at me the next day if they see something on the test they weren’t expecting.

It’s not only EXHAUSTING and burdensome for the teacher, but also not really what is best for the students (even if THEY think it is best.).

Instead, I LOVE to put the pressure of review back on my students. After all, a review is for THEM, not me, so if they want me to block out a day to spend reviewing, they need to show up and participate in order to get the most out of it!

Two specific ways I love to put students in charge of review:

Speaking of projects, one of the simplest and best ways to revamp your pedagogy to be more student-centered is to make projects a pillar of your assessments.

Student-Centered Pedagogy Revamp Tip #4: Make projects your foundational assessment strategy for students to demonstrate understanding.

Student-centered pedagogy revamp tip 4: Make projects your foundational assessment strategy for students to demonstrate understanding.

Last but not least, take a look at what you use for assessments. This can be incredibly revealing of how student-centered your pedagogy is.

If the foundation of your assessment strategy is end-of-unit tests, you may want to consider some changes in order to assess students in a more learner-centered way.

Why?

Because tests are really teacher-centered. It’s the teacher, who comes up with every aspect of the assessment and requires students to demonstrate their understanding in a very specific way, under our terms.

Projects, on the other hand, are incredibly student-centered. Their nature is open-ended and creates space for the student to decide how to best demonstrate their understanding in a way that makes sense to THEM and on THEIR terms.

I get it though – projects can be much harder for us as teachers than traditional tests. And if you own any of my units or curricula, you know I still use tests in every unit.

However, I also LOVE to include projects as a foundational component of my assessment strategy. In every unit I teach, I try to have one alternative summative assessment option for my students to demonstrate their understanding in their own way. If we want our students to be autonomous, independent thinkers that are set up for success when we launch them into the world after high school, we need to entrust them with opportunities to take ownership of their education – and thus their assessments.

To read more about using nontraditional summative assessments in high school science, click here.

A great place to start with this that doesn’t require you to start coming up with projects for every unit and every class is to incorporate a semester-long or yearlong independent research project in your classes. You can read more about how I do this through project-based learning here.

What are ways you or your students have experienced the benefits of a more student-centered pedagogy? What are some simple ways you have revamped and shifted your instructional methods to focus more on your students on less on you? I would LOVE to hear. Reach out to me through Instagram messenger or my contact page here and let me know!

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