Student-Centered Learning with Kasie Giallombardo

2017 Lawrence W. O’Toole Award winner Kasie Giallombardo is a social studies teacher at Nokomis Regional High School in Maine. A strategy she employs to empower student voice in learning is to act as a coach. She encourages students in class with probing questions to lead them deeper in their analyses. She approaches each lesson with each student in mind, meeting them where they are and providing each of them with appropriate next steps.

On Ms. Giallombardo’s blog, The Backstage Teacher, she captures educators’ student-centered practices-in-action and the strategies behind those practices. In the video below, Ms. Giallombardo “shows-and-tells” her own practice, specifically the implementation of “Soft Skills Friday” in her social studies class. Students share that they feel more engaged because they get to pick the topics and “are allowed to speak our opinions.”

Further Commentary: Q & A with Kasie Giallombardo

What takeaways did you have about your practice after implementing “Soft Skills Friday”?

To me, the heart of student-centered learning is allowing students choice in what they learn, how they learn it, or in what way they will demonstrate their knowledge or skill. I am an educator. This means I am both a teacher and a facilitator of learning. I have two important goals for my students: to teach them the academic foundations to become confident in themselves and to create lifelong learners who will continue their education long after traditional schooling. If we are always the teacher, we send students the misguided message that learning can only happen when an expert is there to direct. We know as adults this is not true of our own continued learning; we are often self-directed, we locate our own sources, and persevere as we figure it out ourselves, only seeking help when stumped. Therefore, by purposely taking time to facilitate learning in the classroom, shifting our role to coaching,  we allow students the opportunity to direct and practice their own learning, developing soft skills with our assistance. My idea around Soft Skills Friday was allow students exactly this- using inquiry and choice to allow students time to practice these skills.

What advice do you have for educators who are new to the profession or new to student-centered teaching?

I’ll be honest, my first few years of teaching, worked much harder than my students. Isn’t that the ultimate litmus test for ourselves today as teachers- who was doing the most work during class? It should certainly be the students, while our energy should be spent before and after the lessons. Before lessons, we need to think analytically of how to differentiate to meet our students where they are and provide each the appropriate next steps. After, we need to be reflective, flexible and ready to adapt our lessons based on formative assessments. By shifting our focus to before and after the lesson, it allows us to be present in class and most importantly, have students engaging in the hard thinking and work during class hours. In this lesson, you’ll notice that while I provide whole group instruction at first, most of the class consists of students doing the work, where I provide 1:1 coaching to students.

This blog was adapted for the Students at the Center blog by Clare Bertrand; Sections of this blog were originally posted on The Backstage Teacher blog

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