What do you want to learn? – Wrap-up

The story so far… I did a project with my grade 7 homeroom class based on some of the principles of Student-Centred Learning. I began by asking them, “What do you want to learn?”

So, the year (and the project) is done. This week I conferenced with students individually. I asked them to show me what they had learned, and then chatted about the process and their experience of student-driven learning. Several comments came up again and again:

1. It was fun: fun to choose what to learn, “fun to learn something I’ve wanted to learn for a while”, fun to work with other students, fun to have a bit more freedom in the classroom.

2. It was challenging: not having someone tell them what to do or what was right or wrong, and having to work that out for themselves.

3. It was too short: two weeks is not enough to really learn something well.

The students assessed their own learning, and were generally right on the money; if anything, they judged themselves too harshly. Most were quite proud of what they had accomplished in such a short space of time.

Several observations to wrap up this experiment:

1. This is an exciting approach to learning. It really motivates students to be able to direct their own learning; the students were more excited about this than many of the activities they’ve worked on during the year. It also began, even in this short time, to promote initiative: several students took quite innovative steps in their learning, and went in directions that came entirely from them.

2. It’s an eye-opening approach to teaching. It helped me reflect on my role in the learning process. Taking a step back and letting the students get on with their own learning was quite refreshing: I could then spend my time observing and commenting on their individual progress, rather than addressing the whole class. I think I had more ‘teachable moments’ in those two weeks than in any other two weeks all year.

3. It’s time-consuming. Two weeks is not nearly enough to make this a rewarding and meaningful learning experience for everyone in the class. Many students hit significant roadblocks; many changed topics partway through; some used the relaxed, non-directed nature of the classes to take, shall we say, a more relaxed approach to learning than I had hoped for. This is a project which could be extended over 10 weeks, or even a year.

Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. Here’s the plan for next year:

1. Give the students one section of the Math curriculum – for example, Measurement of Two-Dimensional figures (in grade 7, that includes using measurement in real life, devising the formulas for finding the area of parallelograms and trapezoids, and using those formulas to solve problems about area). Help them understand the language of the expectations.

2. Get them to choose (in groups of 2-3) one or two expectations. Their task then is to learn that information or skill, and then teach it to the rest of the class. How they learn it and how they teach it are up to them.

This is much more restricted than my experiment this year, but this is deliberate: I want to ease them into the freedom of student-driven learning gradually.

(this idea is taken from the blog of a Grade 6 teacher from Chicago, Josh Stumpenhorst. Check it out at http://stumpteacher.blogspot.ca/2011/03/student-driven-learning.html)

3. Spend some time early in the year helping students discover and explore their own learning styles, so they know their strengths and weaknesses as learners.

4. Discuss how to gather information (from multiple and varied sources), and how to master skills; help students see these as two separate learning activities, and discuss the differences in each approach.

5. Explore different presentation formats

6. After this initial project is done, begin a new project which will run for the whole term (10 weeks) or even the whole year. In this project, students choose what they are going to learn. It can be anything (within limits of appropriateness and feasibility). They then plan how they are going to learn it, and how they are going to show that they have learnt it.

7. Students keep a Learning Project Journal, recording the steps they are taking, including ‘failures’ and ‘mistakes’. Emphasize that mistakes are a vital part of learning!

8. Work with students to scaffold the task. Set weekly checks with each student; go over the week’s entries in the Journal.

9. Hold a Presentation Day – invite parents, administration, and anyone else the students want to come.

10. Throughout the process, create and exploit ‘meta-moments’: times when students engage in metacognition by reflecting on how they learn. Apply this thinking to other subject areas as much as possible.

11. Throughout the process, reflect and keep notes on what works and what doesn’t work so well, and refine the process for the following year.

I’m excited about this! I hope my students next year will begin to take control of their own learning in ways that I can’t even foresee.

Thanks for following my brief SCL experiment. This is my last blog on this topic, but I’d still love to hear from you about your experiences, thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, etc.  You can respond to this blog (I’ll get an email alert), or connect with me in Twitter (andrewcohen67).

Happy educating.

– Andrew Cohen


What do you want to learn? – where’s the tech??

The story so far… I’ve started a project with my grade 7 homeroom class based on some of the principles of Student-Centred Learning. I began by asking them, “What do you want to learn?”

What role has technology played in this experiment so far (other than allowing me to share it with the world…well, the very bored or slightly fixated part of the world, at least)?

We discovered in our exploration of SCL that we don’t really need technology to do SCL (kind of embarrassing in the middle of a course on ‘Online Technology in Education’, but there you go). Rather, technology has been the catalyst (to use F. Desjardin’s term) which has led to a new awareness of this approach to teaching and learning. Still, there are technologies out there which can support SCL.

So what technologies are my students using, and how are they using them, in this SCL experiment? Here’s what I’ve observed:

1) Retrieving information, using Google and Wikipedia, on classroom desktop computers.

2) Viewing Youtube videos on computers and mobile devices (sshhh: we’re not supposed to be doing BYOD in my school until next year. Don’t tell my principal).

3) Making videos using a (faulty) digital camera, and then an ipod; later, that student will be trying to edit the video on a computer, using a program she is still yet to discover…

4) Writing and listening to music using Finale (music-writing software), on a computer.

And that’s it, so far, and as far as I know. Fairly boring, really!  But this is their first experience of this, and our time is limited (summer is – woohoo! – fast approaching), and I haven’t really pushed this aspect of the project. I could, for example, have suggested that the students learning to play new instruments go online, find an online music teacher, and persuade them to give one free lesson. Or try to find someone through social media who would be willing to offer some advice.

(The student learning how to do origami is yet to consider the wealth of video on the subject on Youtube. He just sits there, folding paper, lesson after lesson. Hmm (shrug). I guess it is June already).

Over to you: what other ways could these students learn using technology? I’ll limit the question a bit: how could students use online technology to learn how to play a musical instrument?

– Andrew

First steps towards an SCL model

As I considered Anderson’s model (2008), I wondered what a model of learning would look like if we put students literally at the centre. This is NOT an attempt to re-do Anderson’s model, but just my initial musings, prompted by considering his model, in visual form.

e-learning model

The student is at the centre, surrounded by content. Learning occurs in every direction, not limited to learning in school. Learning can happen through teachers; through community; and independently. To avoid seeing teachers and community as ‘barriers’ between students and content which restrict learning (even though that can happen), I made the borders of those parts of the model broken, to show that learning occurs through these agents. And yes, it looks like a hockey puck, for some reason. Go figure. There must be something profound about that, but I can’t see it!

– Andrew

Source: Anderson, T. (2008). Towards a theory of Online Learning, in Theory and Practice of Online Learning. [pub.?]. Accessed June 11, 2012 from http://www.aupress.ca/books/120146/ebook/02_Anderson_2008-Theory_and_Practice_of_Online_Learning.pdf,

What do you want to learn – continued

The story so far… I’ve started a project with my grade 7 homeroom class based on some of the principles of Student-Centred Learning. I began by asking them, “What do you want to learn?”

Just a brief update. Today – about 1/2-way through this experiment – I asked the class, “When you are learning something, how do you know if you are learning it right?”

Two responses: “Use more than one source” (bravo!), and “Ask someone who knows”.

I find this second response interesting, in two ways:

1) Students are ingrained with the need to rely on others for their learning. How do I learn? By getting someone to teach me. What if I don’t learn? The teacher wasn’t very good.

2) Teachers are still needed in SCL. We’ve said that before, but the temptation is to see the role of the teacher disappear altogether, and that’s not the case. Learners need knowledgeable teachers who can direct the learners’ pathways, without taking over the learning for them. One teacher role that increases in importance in SCL, is that of assessor: one of the main ways of guiding learning is by giving students precise, positive assessment. This is assessment for learning, not of learning; it promotes learning, rather than ending it. It is a crucial part of self-directed learning. Does that assessment always have to be external? To a certain degree, yes: without any reference to some external measure, learners won’t know whether they are learning it ‘right’. But the external agent of assessment can be an authoritative text, a peer, an audience…and a teacher.

One ‘yes!’ moment today: my bass-playing learner left the bass at home today. “What can I do now?” “You work it out: how can you learn something about playing the bass without actually doing it?”  …. 60 minutes later, he’s back; I’m thinking he’s been downloading Google pics of bass guitars. Wrong! He returned to tell me he had worked in a music-writing program, writing out the bass part for the piece he’s trying to learn. Bravo! There’s some independent learning.  Woohoo!

– Andrew

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation…..

On Monday night Francois gave and assignment to read Terry Anderson’s chapter entitled Towards a Theory of Online and learning and answer two questions. 1)Can you identify at least one such element that you feel is NOT covered by Anderson’s model? 2) How would you modify Anderson’s model to acknowledge your contribution. Given time restraints here is my short answer to those questions. Enjoy!

After contributing to the students at the centre blog, attending classes and reading this article I would have to agree on many of Anderson’s ideas about online learning.  I think he does an amazing job of laying the foundations of what a theory of online learning could look like in the very near future. However, what I noticed about his model was that ( and this may seem simplistic) he does not refer to the element of motivation. Through this course one of the main ideas that our group has talked about is that of the idea of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  For anything to work, any theory to succeed there has to be a motivation on the part of both the learner and the teacher. One can have the best learning models, coupled with engaging activities. They can be student centred, teacher centred, web centred, community centred etc. but without motivation none of it will matter. And the interesting thing about motivation is that it has to be on the part of both the student and the teacher in order for it to work, and it is probably one of the most challenging things to do. You have to understand your students and what makes them motivated to learn, which as Anderson notes is hard to accomplish with online environments mostly because of the lack of physicality involved. And as a student you have to want to learn what your teacher is presenting, interested in their assignments, interested in what they are trying to achieve.

My revised model of Anderson’s model might look something like this with both the student and the teacher engaged in motivating each other. The green line is mine:)

Jen Levine

Concept map for The Blogging Adventure of the SS. BRC

Hi Everyone,

Here is our conecpt map for  The Blogging Adventure of SS.BRC:

Concept map…

Concept map created by group 2 can be found at:


Kindest Regards,

S Chislett

Just a thought that crossed my mind….

Every time I think of SCL in the primary classroom I can’t help but to picture myself at the front of my grade 1 classroom saying “Alright kids….ready to learn? Go do it.” That mental imagery still leaves me feeling quite unsettled.

How would my students react? What would they decide to learn? How would they learn it? Would they end up learning anything? Or would they just go completely crazy and become little unproductive beings?

I have a hunch it might be a bit of a wild experience. Perhaps I am a little bit of a control freak or maybe I am too focused on psychological factors but I personally feel 6 year-olds and 7 year-olds do not have the decision making skills in order to direct their own learning. This has led me to thinking about a possible correlation between brain development and being successful in a SCL environment. Brain research indicates that maturation of the prefrontal cortext is not complete until near the age of 25. The so-called “executive functions” the prefrontal cortex is responsible for includes focusing attention, organizing thoughts, problem solving, foreseeing and weighing possible consequences of behaviour, considering the future and making predictions, forming strategies and planning. Thus, I have a difficult time believing grade 1’s have the skills intact in order to decide “how” to learn something….however, I do see how SCL is  possible when the prefrontal cortext begins to develop more readily in the intermediate/senior grade level students.


I am not against SCL, I actually think it’s great….it’s just about the timing and when it would be most beneficial for the students.

Moreover, intermediate students and senior grade level students would be more technologically inclined and prepared to go off and discover their own learning without much assistance from an instructor. By this age, they are able to operate a PC or MAC operating system and are also able to travel through different programs and use the internet and various online technologies with ease. Thus, these students wouldn’t have a problem using different online technologies to learn something or to simply extrapolate information. Lastly, students in this age bracket are craving independence, whereas students in the primary levels are craving support and constant attention/hands-on.

Whether you agree or disagree these are only my thoughts!

Thanks for reading!

Kindest Regards,

S Chislett

A Conversation

I have thought on this topic a lot, and I think that the key to student centered learning is empowered conversation.

To summarize the sentiment from my previous posts on the topic, I noticed that the high school age students I talked with did not have answers to education problems per se, but the were engaged by the fact that I was asking them real questions about their education and that their opinion mattered. Link this to my post about learning occurring only when we glimpse and try to understand someone else’s perception of the world and so change our own, and you find the answer to motivating kids and guiding young people to become learners and thinkers: simply is to get them involved in a “real” way.

And I know, this does not seem like an earth shattering solution. It is pretty much exactly what your average person would say is the way to get kids motivated to learn. BUT, at least in my own personal journey, I have come to see that the way it has been implemented is the reason for its general ineffectiveness so far.

I have been saying for some time now that I do see glimpses of good things at work in the school system: guided release of responsibility, modeling, emphasis on student driven activities, pathways, etc. but what I notice is that these concepts, however valuable, are treated like a new formula to be applied to the same material in the same old way. I am not going to suggest that the content or “material” need change at all. But rather that these ideas cannot be “taught” to teachers, handed out like a new resource package. It makes me smile because we have seen that this approach does not work for the kids we teach (hand them facts and papers and expect them to find deep meaning and engage in the material, put it into practice) and yet we expect it to work with teachers. Maybe you get a half day PD session on guided release of responsibility (I know that is what I got), and then you think “ok how am I going to switch around my lesson plans to fit this model?” Instead of actually understanding how and why the model is effective and exploring from there. I fear this is starting to sound like an idealistic rant, but at least in my own practice, I know I am on to something.

But how do we get students to engage in their own learning? I myself have been cynical about this for a long time. I thought students did not want to learn, or had other priorities. Indeed, when I asked students if they would participate in the flipped classroom idea, they said they would be too lazy to learn at home, and didn’t care enough etc.  I had chosen to ask students who slacked for the entire period, but that conversation was the best I have had with a student in awhile because I was sincerely asking them for their honest opinion. This learned laziness can and must be changed, a task for educators as a whole.

I was supply teaching recently and ended up in a grade 9 applied French classroom. The students were working on a culminating task where they had to find pictures and information about an assigned french topic, i.e. Celine and create a poster presenting the information in French. The assignment required a variety of skills and there was lots of room for students to be creative. In practice what happened was students googled their topic, copy and pasted into online translators, then printed out the information in French, without understanding a word. Sadly, I believe this is typical of many students. However, the most shocking thing that I experienced was when a student tried to print his work. We had a printer in the classroom, and beside it sat a stack of computer paper. This actually happened:

I noticed him starting to get distracted, play with his chair, check his phone etc. I asked him why he wasn’t printing his work and the conversation went as follows:

Why are you not printing? I don’t know which printer to select.

Which classroom are we in? I don’t know.

How could you find out? Check the door, or ask someone.

Ok, so? Room 264, I still don’t know which printer it is.

Did you read the room numbers on the printer list? No…..

So check them. Okay, now what.

Well do you see 264? It’s at the top of the list. Oh yes, I see it ok, thanks.

Then he goes to get his work and I see him staring at the printer for a few minutes.

What’s wrong now? Light is flashing on the printer, my papers never came out.

So what’s wrong with it? How should I know?

Well the screen here tells you the problem. Out of paper. I don’t have an paper.

There is a pile of it right beside the printer isn’t there? Yea, so?

So put it in. But I don’t know which tray! I am not a computer repair person!

Neither am I. It says tray 2 is empty. I believe that is the one with the big “2”on it.

I think you get the idea. Anyway, this is an example of a student who has learned that the teacher is the controller of his educational fate and that he has no part in it. The teacher is the resource, the information giver. I don’t think he could possibly be less engaged in his learning.

This is the student we have to help. He is begging to be empowered. After we got his project printed, he went and sat down again. I noticed the printer light flashing again and went to investigate. It was out of paper again, so I added some and out came the last 5 pages of his assignment.

Will, are you missing something? No, why?I have a bunch of papers here. Oh, ok, thanks.You didn’t even look over your project? No, why would I?What would you have done if I didn’t help you get it printed? Not handed it in.What if you were at home and your printer didn’t work? I don’t know, not print it I guess.

My sister is a great resource, currently in university, and serves as a sounding board for me. When I told her about changing the role of the teacher from all-knowing deliverer of information to facilitator in light of information’s near universal availability, she said “yea, that would be great, but students still think the teacher is the resource.”I think she is right, and that this is a key idea that needs to change for SCL, or really learning in general, to happen.

Students have to know that they are free to use their own resourcefulness and creativity to complete assignments. Maybe then we can move to a more student driven system where they control their own learning, develop interests, ask and answer questions. Until the kids are empowered it won’t work. Teachers too must be empowered to use their professional knowledge and judgement to actually connect with students and engage with them in a real-world way, and not be afraid to actually talk to students. When we blur the lines of teacher and student and all engage together as learners sharing our perspectives, the game will change.

From the theoretical to the practical…

From the theoretical to the practical; is student centred learning (SCL) something that can really be implemented into the schools of today and what role does technology play? When I thought about this question I had yet to read Andrew’s posts regarding his ongoing experiment with his classroom. However, after reading what he was attempting I noticed that even though his students were given the opportunity to study anything they wished many came back to change their topic to music. It got me thinking about how much of an influence the physicality of an environment has on the learner and how this might affect the student centred learning experience. If you are surrounded my music, wouldn’t you want to learn more about it? If we take this idea and apply it to student centred learning, can student Centred Learning really exist in an environment that promotes its own agenda?  I think like any idea we take what we like about it, what we can do given our parameters and we apply it. This is what I believe SCL is to a conventional institutionalized environment; working within the system to create a learning experience that is centred on the learner while still adhering to the guidelines of the curriculum. Not an easy task for any teacher but evidence does show that many have done just that. One example is a teacher name Karen Timberlake. (http://www.karentimberlake.com/student-centered_classoom.htminsert) She wrote about how she turned her chemistry class into a student centred learning experience while still adhering to the curriculum expectations. Her work is impressive and the amount of effort she has put into understanding what it means to be a student is amazing. However, is that really student centred learning? After all did the students choose what in physics they were interested in or through the activities created by the teacher were they told what they were doing? Isn’t that more a situation of dynamic teaching?

I propose that to really understand what it takes to be student centred or student driven one has to take the experience out of the classroom. In order to truly understand what student wants to learn about, or what a student would be motivated to learn about they have to be able to be free to do that. What would that look like? Upon viewing a video by Will Richardson on Tedx ( see video below), he address this idea of student centred learning that occurs outside of the classroom. He believes that it is an “amazing time to be a learner…because we can learn what we want, when we want to, if we have the desire and the connection” ( Richardson, 2011). One story that he told was about a student named Mark Klassen (http://www.markaklassen.com/). Klassen is a cinematographer. He has his own company and is well known. However, he did not receive his cinematographic training in the traditional sense. In fact if ever there was a case for how student centred learning could be achieved outside of the classroom this is it. In a nut shell, Mark liked cinematography and could not find fulfillment in school, so through his blog he created an online community. This community was comprised of like minded people with a vast amount of collective experiences  who shared his passion and were willing to offer him guidance. Therefore, with trial and error and a lot of effort on his part to find answers where he could, he has been able to become successful at something he loves. He took his passion outside of the classroom and was motivated enough to find out more.

So, to go back to my original question, Is student centred learning something that can really be implemented into the schools of today and what role does technology play? I would have to answer yes and no. I truly believe that aspects of SCL can exist in the classroom with a teacher who is willing to take the chance with their students and technology can help with that by expanding their reach for information, but is the nature of the educational environment to protect students by limiting their reach into the technological world, and to teach them a curriculum. And that is where SCL gets trapped, therefore if one is to take it out of educational environment, like Mark, they might be able to explore a passion, create online communities that support them and learn and become eventual guides themselves.


Jen Levine



Klassen, M. (n.d.). Mark A. Klassen | Toronto Based Cinematographer. Mark A. Klassen | Toronto Based  Cinematographer. Retrieved June 9, 2012, from http://www.markaklassen.com/

TEDxNYED – Will Richardson – 03/05/2011 – YouTube . (n.d.). YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. . Retrieved June 5, 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ni75vIE4vdk

Timberlake, K. (n.d.). Student-Centered Class. Chemistry Quizzes, Tutorials, Books and Lessons. Retrieved  June 9, 2012, from http://www.karentimberlake.com/student-centered_classoom.htm