student centered tips

#CLStech17 Student Centered Tips and Questions

I was the keynote at the California League of Schools conference this week in Monterey. The topic was “Making the Move to a Student-Centered Classroom, the 7 Stages of Grief.” The talk was based on a research article I like to reference. You can find it at

Students Love Student-Centered Classrooms

NOT…. at first

It is CHALLENGING for students to be in a student-centered classroom. They are not used to being responsible for their thinking and learning. You may hear some of these statements when you move to a student-centered classroom:

“Can’t you just tell me what to do?”

“What do YOU want?”

“Can’t we just use worksheets?”

“Can’t I just have a D?”

“You’re not doing your job”

“This is too hard?”

“You didn’t tell me that.”

“You didn’t show me how to do it.”


The resistance is normal. However, students come around. Students need time to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. The first thing in moving to a student-centered classroom is to expect the resistance from students and parents.

Whenever you do ANYTHING new I highly recommend you CALL each parent. In a student-centered classroom it is important for students to be collaborating with peers and providing peer feedback. Suggestion to design a week’s worth of activities where you do not collect anything. Students will be working together, investigating, providing peer feedback, and possibly doing small group presentations. Use this opportunity to make parent contacts to talk to them about how the student-centered classroom will be different and how they can support. This investment of time will be invaluable.

Audience Student Centered Tips

I used a Google Form with a random winner Add-on to ask audience members for tips (or questions) about student-centered learning. Use the hashtag #sscentered and share some of your tips! Here are some of the tips shared:

Always assume the positive – Maria Solis
Ask students what they like, and then listen to their answers. – Geri Coats
Asking students, “What is the textual evidence that will support your teams response? ” – Vielka Punches
Be ok with establishing a culture in your class that everyone is going to try new things (including you) and some of those things won’t work. It’s ok to try and fail. – Carrie Sebora
Be Patient – Jennifer Thien
be willing to make mistakes – Linda Hogan
Believe all kids can! – Angie de Fremery
Challenge my students – Kendia
Collaboration through the G Suite – Terrence Outlaw
Don’t give the students information that they can look up on their own – Andrea Wilson
Encourage students to teach me (the teacher/other students) something new. – Christi Isheim
Explaining vs. Telling – SUSAN ELLIOTT
Find the learning. – Annabelle
Gamify the classroom to lower students barriers to entry. – Geoff Frankl
Get comfortable not always knowing the answer. – Jamie
Give directions for 5 min or less! Stop telling and let the kids figure it out! – Heather Koleszar
Give kids less directions. – Kim Thorsen
Give your kids the opportunity to be creative, critical thinkers who want to collaborate. – Mary Frances Lynch
Have students verbalize their questions. – Tom Carvey
Have your students create a hyperdoc lesson on a future topic and then allow them to teach (co-teach)!!! – Jen
I love how I can use Google Classroom to give my students immediate individualized feedback. – Erin
I YouTube favorite read alouds with my student names embedded as the characters 🙂 – Jenna Young
Include their interests – David Ross
Increase opportunities for collaboration. Get students making and sharing content and get the teacher off the stage in front. – Michael McGregory
Just keep swimming! – Noah Mock
Kids need a voice to be a leader – Stephanie Horton
Kids really love to read when they love the reason for it. – Joseph Martinez
Kids, even teenagers, need time to play on computers to become computer literate. – Melanie Perkins
Let go! Let them be in charge. – Radhika Dinesh
Leveling up vs grades
– Annabelle
Make everything more awesome – Karen Albert
Make students a priority. See things from their perspective.
Make the kids figure it out. – Ryan Shaw
Opinion Writing. Provide links to resources and search engines. Attach Google Slide Template or Google Sheet Template. Crowdsource, work on teams, or work individually. Allow Ss to insert images and videos clips. And let the kids answer the question: Among Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and the Vikings, whom do you feel deserves credit for discovering North America?
Allow students to comment on peer work.
Share out with class using chromecast. – Kelley Kolpitcke
Padlet for Students to post their ides for extension labs – Karla Orosco
peer collaboration as often as possible – Tanis Haboush
Remember that they’re just kids – Will Fritz
Reversing generation Google – Melissa
Step back and let the students learn – David
Student led definitely makes critical thinkers. This is not a new idea. – Valerie Zacharchuk
Student ownership is key. Thank you for sharing. – Eric Bables
Teacher is the facilitator, NOT the disseminator of all knowledge/information – Lindsey Blass
The power of balancing CHOICE & parameters — allowing for multiple means of expression and encouraging students to choose how best to show their learning, while not offering TOO many options that overwhelm. – Katie Gault
There is nothing more important than wait time/processing time. That can be in class but also by having asynchronous discussion online. Students need a chance to think and process. Wait time can also allow them to move past the knee jerk quick response to something more complex. – Sean Bird
Tip: Spend time just talking with students at breakfast or lunch or recess. You learn SO MUCH MORE about them! – Tim
Treat them well and they do well. – Heidi Martinez
Use google classroom and hyperdocs – Stacie Ryan
Use Learning Goals so students know where they are going! – April Bush
Use pen tablets (graphic tablets) with Chromebooks. – Tom Carvey
Use student questions as a starting point – Noelle
Using tech for formative assessments provides immediate feedback to students and ensures participation – Tina Wall
Value of the teacher actually goes up because you get to spend more time with each student. – Kryssie Mingst
Work together with your students to learn how to use technology tools. You will learn a lot from them. – Joanne Keeler
You don’t have to be awesome at technology, you just have to let kids DO – Jenna

Audience Questions

Any management tips for student-centered learning?

First, cut yourself some slack. You’ve been comfortable with the teacher-centered model since you were in Kindergarten. Releasing control to the students is going to require new management skills and some trial and error. As we all know, the most important part job of our job is relationship building. A student-centered model gives you more opportunities to be building those relationships. Expect kids to act like kids. They need some encouragement and redirection (so do adults sometimes). Talk students through making good choices and analyzing what they may be doing that is less productive. You’re trying to be student-centered so helping the student make good choices rather than dictating compliance is the goal.

Check out Catlin Tucker’s blog on “Who is doing the work in your classroom?”

Catlin Tucker Who is doing the work

As a parent what are ways you nurture student centered thinking in your child when your child is not in a student centered class?

I definitely find this challenging. I have 5 children and obviously, they are in a variety of classroom models. (Shout out to my daughter’s first Grade teacher Maira Romo, who really fosters student thinking and love of learning.) Personally, I sit with my kid and relook at the assignments. What is the learning objective? What does she think about the learning? What could she do to really learn more about this? I try to work with my kid to focus on the learning rather than the compliance. I’ve also gone down to the school to talk with the teacher and admin.

Do you assign partners or do students get to choose ?

BOTH!! Obviously we want student choice whenever possible and appropriate. Working with people who are challenging can actually make you better, even if it might be frustrating. I would mix things up once in awhile so they get a variety of experiences and people to work with.

Do you have any tips for keeping students “on task” and not “googling” random things?

Of course, kids are going to act like kids so I’m not going to be naive that students are off task sometimes. Not talking about inappropriate things, that is a different issue, but I think all of us take a break and check other websites sometimes. (I’ve done it several times working on this blog post). My first plan of attack on this is to not get upset. If you’re investing in the relationship building a good stink eye or asking students to get back on task is usually enough. Again, help students to analyze their choices. I also want to take into consideration that my lesson design wasn’t as engaging as I thought it would be. Students being off task can be an indicator that I need to design more for the students interests and ability levels. Self efficacy is also an issue in students getting work done. If they are not feeling confident about being successful they may choose to do nothing or be off task. Ask the students, what are you finding challenging? You may need to differentiate or provide some scaffolding to help the student be on a path to success.

Expect evidence that they were working through a task. A student-centered activity is possibly not about following procedural steps. They may not be finished but they should be able to demonstrate what paths they explored and to reflect on their thinking and actions. Check out my Chrome extension SlideShot. Students click the Chrome extension to start taking screenshots. A screenshot is taken each minute. Students can also manually add a screenshot. Clicking “Finish” on the Chrome extension automatically creates a Google Slides presentation of the screenshots. Each slide has a text box to allow the student to reflect on the process of what they were doing.

How can I convert my math class from a lecture-based approach to a student-centered approach?

ROOM LAYOUT! First step, remove the front of the room. That is your comfort zone. You need to be uncomfortable so you can try to take a more student-centered approach. From the 5 E’s of math instruction notice that EXPLORE comes before EXPLAIN. When designing a lesson how are the STUDENT’s thinking first BEFORE you explain. I highly recommend Jo Boaler’s book “Mathematical Mindsets” for ANY teacher, not just math teachers. Let’s be honest, what math lesson are you going to teach that is not already on YouTube? Design activities to help students explore and understand the math concepts. Resist the urge to take a kids paper and show them; you’re doing the thinking for them. Instead, ask questions and try to develop their critical thinking. It helps to remember that DOING math problems is DOK 1 (low critical thinking). You have so much more value than showing students procedural steps. In a student-centered classroom you are spending more time helping students develop their critical thinking.

Talk with students not at them

Spend your time talking WITH students instead of AT students.

How can I create easy to use websites for my parents?

I am in full support of this! I think it is essential that we have a public facing website that shows off all the awesome things going on in our classroom. The new Google Sites is really easy if you’re a Google Apps user. It connects right up with your Google Drive so all that stuff you put into Google Classroom is easy to pop onto the website. If you’re not a Google Apps user check out Wix or Weebly. There are a ton of really good choices for awesome looking and easy websites.

Give parents a place to go for information so they do not have to contact you.

I say that with love. You have only so many hours in the day. High-quality lesson planning is time-consuming. High-quality feedback gets your students some of their best learning. I prioritize these teacher tasks. Not to say you should not interact and contact parents, of course you should! However, not to answer basic questions that could have been shared on a website or by asking the kid. Remember, there is only one of you! The time you invest in helping parents to know what is going on you save 10 fold when you have a place for parents to find information.

How can I motivate the students to want more tech

Tech is not the goal. Use more glitter…. No for real, technology does NOT improve learning. You either designed engaging lessons that students connect with or you didn’t. It might include technology, it might not. Do not assume tech will improve student engagement. You need to focus on lesson engagement and GET REAL! ASK THE STUDENTS… did you find this engaging? For realizies… did you learn from this activity or was it just something to DO?

You want to motivate students… do something that is THEIR idea. “I got this idea from Samuel” “Tiffany suggested we… so that is what we are doing today.” Help students feel they have a voice in how the classroom is run. Even if maybe your idea is a little better, try doing a student idea whenever possible.

How can I use technology to better support my 1st grade class during mathematics?

Check out for some mostly NON tech math activities. What supports mathematical learning is not the blind memorization of procedures and steps. I am a math teacher. I have been 1:1 almost my entire career teaching math. I use tech to teach math, but it’s not the tech that teaches math. Remember, Jo Boaler (professor at Stanford and author of Mathematical Mindsets) says that math is visual and creative. Are students feeling creative with their math? Are they being allowed to explore and fail? Share their ideas with other students and talk through them rather than being told they are wrong? I like to use Google Slides to have students model their math, collaborate and “critique the reasoning of others” using the commenting features in Google Slides. For sure check out the work of Christine Pinto ( who blows my mind away regularly with the Google Apps activities she has her Kindergarten students do.

How can we help students judge which resources are credible?

Excellent. Just throwing kids out on the internet and hoping they know how to filter and critically analyze resources is a bad idea. Catlin Tucker has a great blog post on this.

Here is a copy and paste of some notes I had on crediblity, hope they make sense!


  • Catlin Tucker Got Crediblity Form:
  • Who is the author?
  • Who sponsored the site?
  • Spelling and Grammar
  • EDU?
  • Blog? Wiki?
  • What reason would the author have to have bias?
  • What are other points of view?
  • Advertisements
  • Web Design
  • Look at the URL
  • .org is NOT more reliable. .edu or .gov is better

Scaffolding Searching

  • Look at the results. Which ones look credible? Why.
  • Mark down which results you would look at.
  • Look at page 3 and page 4 (etc…)
  • Break down the URL’s
    • What is the main site URL
    • What do the slashes indicate?
  • Hold down Control when you click on a link
  • Control F to find keywords on the page
  • Control W to return to the search results
  • Identify other keywords or ideas from the search results.

How can you have a student centered model with limited devices (example 1:5 chromebooks) ?

Pretty sure I lead the Catlin Tucker fan club, so I will mention her again. Catlin has written several books on blended learning. She says she almost prefers 4 students around one cell phone because then the students have to collaborate. Remember to DESIGN for collaboration not expect it to just happen.

How do I get my students doing more and myself doing less in the classroom?

Stop being so helpful. Years ago I read an article titled “The power of being less helpful.” Remember the person doing the work is the person doing the learning. Just stop doing it, expect the students to more. Want to teach responsibility? Homework does not (no research supports the idea that it does), instead give students actual responsibility in the class. Do students feel empowered to take initiative or wait to be told what to do? The teachers role is not to rescue the students from thinking jo boaler

How do you avoid “Google Classroom Burnout” halfway through the school year when many of your teachers at your site are now using Google Classroom?

Don’t be boring. If students are “burnt out” from teachers using Google Classroom then it’s being used wrong.

How do you change a school culture from adult centered to student centered?

Great question, are you the school leader because that would help! Be a relentless champion. Call it out when students are not the focus of a decision. You don’t have to be rude, but make sure everyone knows what you’re about. “Just want to make another shout out for student-centered classrooms, perhaps we could consider…”

How do you get students to change their mentality from teacher centered to student centered classrooms?

Help them find success in THEIR ideas. Provide high-quality feedback. Keep asking the students “well, what do you think? What do you want to do?” For a student-centered classroom you’re less inclined to be providing step by step directions. Students should be making decisions. Ask them more questions (no, students do not love it when you answer a question with a question. HOWEVER, they do love when THEY figure it out.)

If you had to determine the single-most important “motto” for how to keep your classroom Student Centered, what would it be?

It’s not about me.

I think it helps to remember you are not the holder of all the good ideas. I try to remember I’m “Old”er and what I think kids are into or will like… I have a high likelihood of missing the mark. So when I drop the ego, assume there IS a better way to do it, and listen to students I’m on my way to a better student-centered classroom.

Kid President

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