Student-Centered Learning

Overview

Student-Centered Learning

At its core, “student-centered learning” is the idea that each student is an individual who learns in unique ways. Students come to school with prior knowledge, educational experiences, trauma, attitudes, interests, preferences, strengths and weaknesses unique to their lived experiences. At their best, student-centered approaches give students agency over their learning so they are active participants in the process, rather than empty vessels to be filled.

At its core, “student-centered learning” is the idea that each student is an individual who learns in unique ways. Students come to school with prior knowledge, educational experiences, trauma, attitudes, interests, preferences, strengths and weaknesses unique to their lived experiences. At their best, student-centered approaches give students agency over their learning so they are active participants in the process, rather than empty vessels to be filled.

Working in teams, ninth graders at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) in New York City are challenged to identify a social issue they want to support, find a local nonprofit aligned to those goals, and then create a presentation advocating for the organization. The most persuasive team wins a $5,000 grant for their partner nonprofit. And the public school’s 12th-grade economics students pitch their ideas — “Shark Tank” style — to real philanthropists who can decide to invest or not. The projects are relevant, real-world, and directed at an authentic audience, all markers of learning that is student-centered.

The work is connected to issues students care about. It requires field work and interaction with experts, while challenging students to build not only academic skills — such as research, writing and public speaking — but also asks them to manage their time, overcome challenges, work with others, and communicate their visions effectively. WHEELS exemplifies student-centered learning that gives students agency over what and how they learn, connects to their lives and passions, and allows each student to move forward in important skills, no matter where they started. The majority of WHEELS students come from low-income families and often start high school behind grade level. But they all engage in these types of motivating and engaging learning experiences.

More schools are trying to follow the example of schools like WHEELS, which has shown strong academic outcomes for neighborhood students over the decade it has been open. In recent years, the idea  that students are individuals who learn in different ways and at different paces has gained traction. At the same time, high school graduates are entering a world that is more uncertain than ever before; formerly stable jobs are disappearing and adaptability has become one of the most important job skills. Increasingly educators, policymakers, and parents are realizing that one standardized approach to learning may not be appropriate for all students or prepare them for challenges they will face after school.

Of the four practices that make up student-centered learning, personalized learning has become the most ubiquitous; indeed educators sometimes use the term synonymously with student-centered learning. However, when educators call learning “personalized” they are often only referring to the pace of instruction.

Several large philanthropies interested in changing and improving how US schools educate children have backed initiatives on elements of student-centered learning, which generally holds to four educational tenets: learning must be personalized, competency-based, accessible anytime/anywhere, and owned by the student. When these four practices are present in combination, the thinking goes, young people will have a strong foundation to pursue deeper learning, a term referring to the skills, knowledge and dispositions needed for success in college, career and civic life. (See this reporter guide to “Decoding Deeper Learning” for more information.)

Rather than every student listening to the same teacher-delivered lecture followed by identical assignments, some schools are using technology to adapt curriculum to the student’s pace, serving up content as the student is ready for it. But allowing students to move through a prescribed set of lessons at their own pace is only one part of owning the learning experience.  Personalization through technology also doesn’t necessarily mean that learning can happen anytime or anywhere, especially if students come from disadvantaged families without access to the internet at home. Summit Public Schools, Rocketship and Teach to One are some examples of organizations exploring how to make learning student-centered through technology-enhanced learning.  

How Teaching is Changing

A different  approach to personalization focuses less on the pace of standardized content and more on the interests and passions of students as a lever for motivation and engagement. Teachers following this approach offer students more choice over how they demonstrate knowledge and build learning plans around student interests. Often technology is a part of these programs as well, but less often as a primary mechanism of content delivery. Several districts and networks of schools champion approaches like this, including High Tech High, New Tech Network, Big Picture Learning, EL Education and the Innovation Network in Philadelphia. None of these networks or the schools within them look exactly the same, but most subscribe to the idea that student choice and voice is a key element of personalization.

Student-centered learning can be hard to do well. Most teachers learned in traditional, lectured-based environments, and don’t have strong models to emulate. Large class sizes and wide disparities in student abilities also make tailoring instruction to each student difficult. Research on the effectiveness of technology-enhanced personalized learning is still thin and generally mixed, making it difficult to draw concrete conclusions on effectiveness.

Increasingly researchers are also noticing differences in quality of instruction, with schools in poorer communities using “personalized learning” software that mimics traditional learning, while peers at wealthier schools are working on interest-based projects that are not only more engaging, but also require critical thinking, creativity and the kind of personal agency that leads to learning that sticks.

Measuring the effectiveness of student-centered approaches is also a challenge. While public schools are still accountable for standardized test scores, many progressive educators argue those tests don’t measure important skills like collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication that are crucial for success in an increasingly global and knowledge-based economy. Some schools and states, like New Hampshire, are piloting performance-based assessments as a more authentic and aligned means of evaluating student-centered learning.

Schools participating in the Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) alternate between traditional standardized tests and performance tasks that are aligned with classroom assignments, but are developed collaboratively among participating schools. The pilot program hopes to show that these performance tasks, which don’t require teachers to stop regular classroom instruction for testing, are equally valid ways to hold schools accountable.

What States Are Doing

Many states are embracing some aspect of student-centered learning, such as personalization, even if only partially or in a pilot form. Rhode Island is “the one to watch” on the personalized learning front, says Rebecca Wolfe, associate vice president of Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization focusing on improving college and career readiness among underserved populations. And Idaho’s relatively new shift to mastery-based education is also worth keeping tabs on, she says.

A few examples of other state-level initiatives:

  • Vermont has the most unified statewide plan to support “personalized learning” under Act 77, including proficiency-based diplomas, personalized learning plans, and a comprehensive system of assessment that includes performance-based assessment to ensure students are progressing and have the supports they need.
  • Kentucky and Colorado are examples of states that have created innovation zones or districts, which offer waivers to districts seeking to pilot or develop more student-centered approaches that could be scaled up.
  • Maine, Colorado, and Arizona have moved towards proficiency-based diplomas, which assess a student’s readiness to graduate based on how they show what they know as opposed to seat-time requirements.
  • Additionally, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers states more flexibility over accountability measures and explicitly requires assessments to measure “higher order thinking skills and understanding.” The law also allows for multiple assessment measures including “portfolios, projects, or extended-performance tasks,” which could help drive student-centered pedagogies.

What the Research Shows

Some experts contend that the research on student-centered learning is thin and rarely takes into account all four dimensions included in the definition of student-centered learning. Often studies are small, and few are rigorous, randomized controlled trials. (For more on recent studies, visit Jobs for the Future’s Students at the Center Research Portal.)

The most-researched area is “personalized learning,” which can mean a range of things depending on who is defining the term, a challenge for consistent comparisons. Among the larger, recent studies in this realm:

  • A 2015 study by the RAND Corporation, “Continued Progress: Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning,” is one of the largest conducted on the impact of personalized learning approaches on student achievement. The researchers saw some gains in math and reading scores in schools using personalized learning, but they caution that implementation and types of personalization across schools varied greatly.
  • The American Institutes for Research conducted a trio of studies comparing schools self-identified as practicing “deeper learning” to schools with similar demographics at traditional schools. Together, the three studies found students in deeper learning schools graduate high school and attend college at higher rates. More notably, students at deeper learning schools were 4 percentage points more likely to attend four-year institutions.
  • In an Education Week article summarizing research on the effectiveness of personalized learning Benjamin Herold writes: “While a fair amount of research exists on specific personalization strategies, such as the use of adaptive math software, the literature includes very little on personalized learning as a comprehensive approach.” Some aspects of student-centered learning, like student agency over learning, can be hard to measure and correlate to test scores, which may contribute to the lack of research.
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Rethinking High School: What Do Students Need?

Students at the MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland don’t sit through lectures all day. They learn through projects, like designing and building above-ground gardens, calculating the powers of a comic book superhero or constructing a recording studio to record a song.

Latest News

Teachers Gear Up For A New Kind Of Ninth Grade

Furr High School is gearing up to launch a new kind of ninth grade. It’s part of how Furr, which used to have a reputation for drop-outs and gang violence, is trying to transform high school, with the help of a $10 million grant. At one recent workshop, half a dozen ninth grade instructors brainstormed for the new ninth grade, thinking about how to give students more ownership in the curriculum and testing.

Latest News

Personalized Learning: Modest Gains, Big Challenges, RAND Study Finds

There’s new evidence to suggest that customizing instruction for every student can generate modest gains in math and reading scores, according to a report released today by the RAND Corp.

Despite the promising signs, though, the researchers behind the most comprehensive ongoing study to date of personalized learning describe their latest findings as a “cautionary tale” about a trend whose popularity—and backing from philanthropists, venture capitalists, and the ed-tech industry—far outpaces its evidence base.

Latest News

San Diego-Area High School Tries Personalized Education

A $10 million prize from the national nonprofit XQ Super School Project is already overhauling Vista High, encouraging more cross-disciplinary, independent projects; enhanced access to technology; and close attention to social and emotional skills. The changes support a contention of high-school reformers nationally and some educators here: “The way we’re teaching students, it’s not working,” the Vista science teacher Allison Whitman said during a recent weekday before school ended for the summer.

Latest News

‘Last Chance’ Schools Prove To Be Best Chance For Struggling Students

At Boston Day and Evening Academy, there are no such things as freshmen, F’s, or detention.

Sixteen-year-olds share classrooms with 20-somethings, students earn diplomas at their own pace, and if anyone has a problem with a peer, they’re encouraged to talk about it like adults. It is features like these that have helped former high school dropouts such as Rocheli Burgos – and other students who have struggled in school – get a second chance at earning a diploma.

EWA Radio

A Houston High School’s Transformation
EWA Radio: Episode 129

Laura Isensee of Houston Public Media discusses Furr High School, which recently received a $10 million grant to help it reinvent what, when, and how students learn. The changes are already underway: a veteran principal was lured out of retirement to take the helm; students are able dig into their own areas of interest during regular periods of “Genius Time”; and even the hiring process for teachers and staff has taken some innovative turns. What’s been the response of the school community to these new developments?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

D.C.’s ‘Opportunity Academies’ Aim to Get Students Back on Track

The rapid improvement over the past decade in Washington, D.C.’s district-run schools — as measured by rising test scores and graduation rates — has drawn national notice.

But officials with the District of Columbia Public Schools remain concerned that too many students still slip through the cracks, with 31 percent failing to graduate high school on time, based on the most recent DCPS data.

Latest News

Pacesetter In Personalized Learning: Summit Charter Network Shares Its Model Nationwide

How does a thermometer work? A group of 7th graders discuss their ideas.

Nearby, a student named Ferdinand is modifying a swallow so the bird can survive in the video-game fantasy world he’s designed on the computer. “I’m giving it spiked feathers,” he says with a grin. “My world has insane predators.”

Some students are working in pairs. Others are on their Chromebooks. The classroom is abuzz with activity.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Girls Get Fresh Start at All-Female Charter School

Ask the principal of any U.S. high school and they’ll likely tell you their goal is to graduate all of their students “college- or career-ready.” That is, students should be prepared to begin postsecondary education or enter the workforce and be successful.

Andrea Purcell, the principal of an all-girls charter school, is no different, despite the fact that her group of 120 or so high school-aged students are among the most at-risk for dropping out.

EWA Radio

Why (and How) Vermont Schools Are Getting Personal
EWA Radio: Episode 116

Some school districts are experimenting with ways to get students more engaged in their own learning, and to connect their individual interests to long-term goals. John Tulenko, a contributor to The Hechinger Report, visited Vermont, where a statewide investment in personalized learning is starting to gain traction. What kinds of learning opportunities are students creating for themselves? How are teachers responding to the instructional shift?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

USC Charter School Sets Students’ Sights on College

The waiting list to get into USC Hybrid High College Prep in downtown Los Angeles is long – about two students for every one admitted – and so is the commute for many of the students who go there. An hour-and-a-half each way by bus or car isn’t uncommon.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What Does Charter School Innovation Look Like?

At Summit Public Schools campuses, you won’t see PowerPoint lectures on “Antigone” in English class or witness lofty explanations of the Pythagorean theorem in geometry. Instead, you’ll hear a discussion about the morals and ethics in the ancient Greek tragedy tied to students’ own teenage identity formation and observe discussions on how real-life problem-solving skills can be applied to math.

EWA Radio

Beyond Buzzwords: What Does “Student-Centered Learning” Look Like?
EWA Radio: Episode 100

Katrina Schwartz of KQED Public Radio in San Francisco joins the 100th episode of EWA Radio to discuss the growing interest in student-centered learning and  personalized instruction. What are promising examples of these approaches in action? Can personalization and efficiency co-exist? How is data — big and small — informing teachers and shaping individual student learning? And what are some big stories to watch for in the coming months?

Webinar

Measuring the Soft Skills: What Reporters Need to Know

Measuring the Soft Skills: What Reporters Need to Know

Should schools measure skills like cooperation, communication, self-confidence and the ability to organize? Efforts to gauge these so-called “soft skills” are gaining traction in the classroom, especially with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The new federal law calls on states and school districts to incorporate at least one measure beyond test scores and graduation rates in their accountability systems.

Seminar

Dr. Frances Jensen Discusses the Development of the Teenage Brain
Author Discusses Book, "The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults​"

(Harper)

Join Education Writers Association for a brown bag lunch with noted neuroscientist Frances Jensen, author of “The Teenage Brain.”

Teens may look like amateur adults, equipped with the kind of know-how parents and teachers take for granted. But behind those side-eyes and earbuds is a brain fast at work learning to cope with an onslaught of hormones, sensory experiences and the last gasps of adolescence.

Hager Sharp offices
1030 15th Street, NW, Suite 600E
Washington, DC 20005
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Building a ‘Super School,’ for $10 Million

Students at the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School this week during a visit by U.S. Department of Education officials. The school is one of 10 winning applications in a competition to reinvent the high school model. (Photo credit: Ethan Covey)

In Louisiana, a high school focused around the theme of coastal restoration will be built on a barge — yes, a barge. Two Los Angeles educators have dreamed up plans for a high school designed to serve foster and homeless children. And the Somerville, Mass., district is planning a year-round high school that “feels more like a research and design studio,” reports the Boston Globe.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Why Student Voices Matter

Claire Faulkner will be a junior this fall at the Journalism and Media Academy Magnet School (JMA) in Hartford, Connecticut. She was selected to represent her program as a student journalist at this year's EWA National Seminar in Boston. (Photo courtesy of Claire Faulkner)

Here’s why I attended this year’s Education Writers Association National Seminar: As a high school student, I wanted to gain a new perspective on public schools and what is being done to improve them. And as an aspiring journalist, I was hoping to learn more about news coverage of education and why it is so important.

I attended many sessions over the course of the three-day event, but the session that stood out to me and that I continue to think about months later is Students At Center Stage. 

Report

Looking Under the Hood of Competency-Based Education
American Institutes for Research, Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Competency-based education (CBE), an instructional approach that emphasizes what students learn and master rather than how much time they spend in school, is gaining popularity nationwide. CBE environments provide students with personalized learning, autonomy, flexibility, and responsibility for their own learning, which is theorized to improved learning behaviors.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

‘Student-Centered’ Approach Transforms High School

EWA journalist members talk with students in a Mandarin Chinese language class at Revere High School near Boston, Mass. in May, 2016. (Emily Richmond/EWA)

For Nancy Barile, who teaches English at Revere High School, turning around a reluctant reader meant turning on her own TV.

The student wouldn’t read or do homework, Barile said, but he was “obsessed” with The Walking Dead and urged his teacher to watch the program. So Bartile, who has taught at Revere for 21 years, made a deal: She would watch the TV show if he would read.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Putting Students in Charge of Their Own Learning

Students from El Centro de Estudiantes learn from their mentors at Philadelphia's Wooden Boat Factory. Providing more personalized learning experiences has been found to improve students' motivation and academic outcomes. (Photo credit: Big Picture Learning)

Imagine you’re a student: You walk into school and check an electronic board for your name and where you go for the day. At the assigned station, you and a small group of fellow students work with a teacher on algebra, which builds on the lesson you mastered the day before. Then, you take a short quiz that helps to create your class schedule for the next day.

Report

Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance

Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners summarizes the research on five categories of noncognitive factors that are related to academic performance: academic behaviors, academic perseverance, academic mindsets, learning strategies and social skills, and proposes a framework for thinking about how these factors interact to affect academic performance, and what the relationship is between noncognitive factors and classroom/school context, as well as the larger socio-cultural context.

Key Coverage

How to Teach Students Grit

All of which brings me back to the question of how to help children develop those mysterious noncognitive capacities. If we want students to act in ways that will maximize their future opportunities—to persevere through challenges, to delay gratification, to control their impulses—we need to consider what might motivate them to take those difficult steps.

Multimedia

Students at Center Stage
Video Resources from the 69th EWA National Seminar

Students at Center Stage

Many conversations about school improvement skip an essential element: student voices. This session stars students who are learning to advocate for themselves — both inside and outside the classroom. What’s firing them up, particularly in “student-centered learning” environments? What do they want reporters to know about the real world of schools?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Wellness, Creativity, and Exemplary Teaching: The Codman Academy Formula

Physics teacher Maggie Mahmood works with sophomore students at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, Mass. (Liana Heitin for EWA)

At Codman Academy Charter Public School, the walls in the lower school hallways aren’t covered in the bright reds, yellows, and oranges visitors might expect in an elementary setting. Instead, they’re subdued neutrals, mostly creams and browns. Rather than large chart paper displays and murals, there are natural wood panels, internal and external windows, and glass panels decorated with branches and leaves.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Angela Duckworth: Raising Test Scores Is Not a Sign of Grit

In the dozen years that Angela Duckworth has researched the concept of grit, she’s found new ways to test its validity, identified examples of it in popular culture, and worked to bust myths about its application in schools. But she hasn’t developed a just-add-water curriculum package that interested schools can use to develop the character trait in their students.

Key Coverage

The Promise of Social and Emotional Learning in U.S. Schools

For the eighth grader Kimberly Wilborn, a lesson about Nelson Mandela made it all click.

“Ms. Plante was talking about Nelson Mandela and how he forgave his jailers,” remembers Wilborn, who is being raised by her aunt on Chicago’s South Side. “And I thought if he can forgive them, I can forgive my birth mom and my dad for not being there for me. I actually cried. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Deeper Learning, Smarter Testing

Linda Darling-Hammond speaks to reporters at a seminar on motivation at Stanford in November. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

Since 2003, more information is produced every two days than the total sum of information produced between that year and the dawn of time, the CEO of Google said in 2010.  Easily web-accessible facts, names and articles have grown exponentially, so much so that some say students can’t be taught like they were in the past, when rote memorization was the gold standard for learning and information wasn’t at almost everyone’s fingertips.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Growing Minds, Changing Math Classes

Jo Boaler speakers to reporters during EWA's seminar on motivation held at Stanford University in November (Credit: Stanford University/Marc Franklin)

As the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” plays out over the music video, the lyrics are a bit different:

“We will make mistakes…our method’s gonna break…not a piece of cake…we’re gonna shake it off, shake it off…”

It was in this video Stanford University Professor and author Jo Boaler says she was compelled to do something she didn’t want to do. “They made me rap,” she said. When her undergraduate students challenged whether she had a growth mindset about her rhyme skills, Boaler said to herself, “Oh my gosh. I’m gonna have to rap.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Carol Dweck Explains ‘Growth Mindsets’

Carol Dweck addresses reporters at EWA's seminar on Motivation on the Stanford University campus, Nov. 11, 2015 (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

One of the most popular ideas in education today is also one that is often misunderstood. While Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” has a emerged as a meme for motivation less than a decade after the publication of her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” the Stanford psychology professor is worried about its misapplication.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

To Improve Learning, More Researchers Say Students Should Feel Like They Belong in the Classroom

Camille Farrington speaks to reporters at EWA's seminar on motivation at Stanford, Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

About a third of the students who started college in 2009 have since dropped out, joining the millions of young adults who never entered college in the first place.

Several years into a massive push by both the federal government and states to increase postsecondary graduation rates, education policymakers across the country are asking what else they can do to get more students to and through college.

Seminar

69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: Story Ideas That Shine

Flickr/OddHarmonic

While it may seem that every back-to-school story has been written, the well is far from dry. Are you following the blogs teachers in your district write? Have you amassed the data sets you’ll need to write that deep dive explaining why so many local high school graduates land in remedial classes when they first enter college?

No? It’s OK. You’re not alone.

EWA Radio

Rethinking Classroom Discipline
EWA Radio: Episode 32

Conversations about classroom discipline typically focus on ways to teach kids there are consequences to their actions as a means of controlling future behavior. But a new approach gaining ground removes the sliding scale of punishment from the equation.

Clinical psychologist Ross Greene — whose books are well known to parents of so-called “problem kids,” is rewriting the rules for how some schools respond to challenging students.

EWA Radio

What Grit and Perseverance Could Look Like in the Classroom
EWA Radio: Episode 31

(Flickr/Steven Depolo)

Nestled within the new-agey sounding concept of “noncognitive factors” are fairly concrete examples of what parents and educators should and shouldn’t do to prepare students for the rigors of college and careers. Gleaned from research into brain development and human behavior, a toolkit is emerging on how to make the best of the scholarship focused on qualities like grit, persistence and learning from mistakes.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

When Wrong Answers Lead to the Right Outcomes

Moderator Ki Sung (L) listens as Camille Farrington (R) explains the role non-cognitive research plays in schools. (Credit: Mikhail Zinshteyn/EWA)

In a second-grade classroom outside of Palo Alto, Calif., students were sharing their answers to a math quiz. A young boy named Michael held up his answer, and, as was customary, his classmates showed their verdict on the answer – thumbs up or thumbs down.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Beyond the Buzzwords: Understanding ‘Deeper Learning’

Students work on robotics projects as part of the LEGO Education program, one approach to a "deeper learning" mindset in classroom instruction. (Flickr/Jeff Peterson)

Focusing on student learning, and structuring the school to fit students’ varied learning paces, is proving to be a game changer, said panelists at EWA’s recent National Seminar in Chicago, moderated by journalist Katrina Schwartz of Mindshift at KQED Public Radio.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Student and Teacher Voices on Student-Centered Learning

From left: Stephanie Hernandez, Lesley Perez, Joshua Botterman and Jennifer Hayes at EWA's National Seminar in Chicago, April 21, 2015. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

If teachers and principals want students on center stage in their classrooms, they’ll first have to do a lot of work backstage. However, as a panel of teachers and students told attendees at EWA’s recent National Seminar in Chicago, the return on investment can be substantial.

When Revere High School, outside Boston, began moving to a more student-centered approach, the educators didn’t expect an overnight miracle.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Students, Teachers Don’t Study The Way Science Says They Should

Henry Roediger listens as Bror Saxberg answers a reporter's question at EWA's 68th National Seminar in Chicago. (Photo credit: Mikhail Zinshteyn/EWA)

Most students don’t study using methods backed by scientific research, panelists at the Education Writers Association’s deep dive on the science of learning told reporters in Chicago at the association’s 68th National Seminar.

“Why do people find learning so hard?” asked Henry Roediger, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who participated in the April event.

EWA Radio

Mindful Learning: Reporting on Classroom Innovations
EWA Radio: Episode 23

How do teachers and parents determine whether school reform is effective? Hint: it’s not all about test scores.

Reporter Katrina Schwartz focuses on classroom innovations for KQED San Francisco’s Mindshift education blog, which is produced in partnership with NPR.

She spoke to EWA’s Emily Richmond and Mikhail Zinshteyn about sifting through the buzzwords, what attracts her to a potential education story, and why anecdotal evidence is worth considering when evaluating school and student performance.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How One Charter Group Took a Start-Up Approach to Teaching

Classroom with Chromebooks Flickr/kjarrett (CC BY 2.0)

At Summit Public School: Denali, young learners do it differently. Most of the students at this Bay Area-area school complete their coursework on school-issued Chromebooks, where they access a portal to online videos, assigned readings and interim assessments they take at their own pace. It’s a competency-based approach to proving they have mastered the subject at hand. 

Report

The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape – Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

The study finds that the Carnegie Unit remains the central organizing feature of the vast American education system, from elementary school to graduate school, and provides students with an important opportunity-to-learn standard. But at best, the Carnegie Unit is a crude proxy for student learning. The U.S. education system needs more informative measures of student performance. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Stand and Deliver: A School Where Students Defend Their Work

On Day 2 of "Bursting the Bubbles: Reassessing Assessments," journalists took a field trip to Impact Academy. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

Education journalists took a field trip to Impact Academy of Arts and Technology this week to see project-based learning in action, including observing classrooms and watching a student defend her project on World War II and the Holocaust. Check out some Tweets from the visiting reporters, as well as more highlights from the first day at the EWA seminar at Stanford University. (Also, check out this earlier blog post about our testing seminar.)

Report

The Past and the Promise: Today’s Competency Education Movement

Competency education is attracting significant interest as a promising way to help meet our national priority of ensuring that all young people are ready for college and careers. In competency-based schools, students advance at different rates, based on their ability to demonstrate mastery of learning objectives. Teachers provide customized supports to help propel everyone to proficiency. 

Report

A New Era for Educational Assessment

Among education researchers, there is a growing consensus that college and career readiness depends on not just academic knowledge and skills but on a wide range of social and developmental competencies, as well—such as the ability to monitor one’s own learning, persist at challenging tasks, solve complex problems, set realistic goals, and communicate effectively in many kinds of settings. Yet, most U.S. schools continue to use standardized achievement tests, focusing exclusively on reading and math, as their primary means of gauging student progress.

Report

Are Personalized Learning Environments the Next Wave of K-12 Education Reform?
American Institutes for Research

Are Personalized Learning Environments the Next Wave of K-12 Education Reform?, the first issue paper in a new series from AIR, examines 16 successful applications from the first round of Race to the Top District (RTT-D) awards. It identifies trends and lessons learned from these pioneering grantees’ efforts to implement and scale teaching and learning innovations.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Are Competency-Based Education and Student-Centered Learning Changing Schools?

Elena Silva of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Photo credit: Melissa Bailey

More students are earning high school diplomas – but the diplomas don’t mean those students are ready to succeed in college.

Nicholas Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made that observation as he began to argue for a dramatic rethinking of the way schools measure learning, promote students and award diplomas. He made the argument during a “Deep Dive on Competency-Based Education and Student-Centered Learning” at EWA’s National Seminar in Nashville in May.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

EWA Webinar: Reporting On Summer Learning

While students might be basking in a long summer break, that leisure time carries a heavy price tag: on average, students will return to school in the fall a month behind where they performed in the spring. And the learning loss is typically even greater for low-income students who were already behind their more affluent peers. 

Organization

Students at the Center

A project of the nonprofit Jobs For the Future, Students at the Center “synthesizes and adapts for practice current research on key components of student-centered approaches to learning and deeper learning outcomes.” The organization’s mission is to “strengthen the ability of practitioners and policymakers to engage each student in acquiring the skills, knowledge, and expertise needed for success in college, career, and civic life.”

Organization

James Irvine Foundation

Founded in 1937 to benefit the people of California, the James Irvine Foundation’s mission is expanding opportunity. The foundation has awarded more than $1.3 billion in grants to over 3,500 nonprofit organizations across the state.

Organization

Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Based in Quincy, Mass., the nonprofit Nellie Mae Education Foundation focuses on improving the equity and quality of public schools in New England, with a special emphasis on student-centered learning, district and state-level change, research and analysis, and increasing the public’s understanding.

Organization

Coalition of Essential Schools

This organization grew out of the work of Theodore Sizer, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who advocated an aggressive overhaul of how the nation’s high schools are structured, with a goal of improving student interest and engagement. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Word on the Beat No. 3: Differentiated Instruction

Each week, The Educated Reporter will feature a buzzword or phrase that You Need To Know (yes, this designation is highly subjective but we’re giving it a shot). Send your Word on the Beat suggestions to erichmond@ewa.org.
 

Word on the Beat: Differentiated instruction.

Key Coverage

N.H. Schools Embrace Competency-Based Learning

Brittany Rollins is hanging out a lot at the local animal shelter this year. Delving into the issue of pet euthanasia and writing about it will help her earn English/language arts credits toward graduation. The 17-year-old senior at Newfound Regional High School, in the rural central New Hampshire town of Bristol, is part of one of the most aggressive statewide efforts in the country to embrace competency-based learning.