When Equity and Student-Centered Learning Go Hand in Hand

By Chris Sturgis
November 2, 2018

I spent two days at the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative meeting last week. Kudos to the Student at the Center team for integrating equity and student-centered learning so deeply that they were one and the same. I’ll share three highlights of the meeting:

First, Eric Toshalis opened up the meeting with an acknowledgment that the meeting was taking place on lands that were originally those of Native Americans and that we were there without permission. After my trip to Aotearoa New Zealand, I have become a firm believer that we can build much stronger cultures of inclusivity if we are in a process of reconciliation and healing. I hold the greatest respect for Eric and JFF in launching the meeting in this way. (For those of you who are interested, this resource on how to honor native land can be helpful.)

Second, the meeting wrapped up with Jamila Lyiscott on the topic of If You Think You Are Giving Your Youth of Color a Voice, Get Over It. (You can see her TEDTalk here.) Dr. Lysicott created an interactive experience so adults could begin to understand the impact of controlling how students express themselves in relation to learning. At one point she chose to use poetry to outline issues related to race, language, and power. The point was well made — we may be reinforcing a dominant society when we expect all communication to be organized in linear, bullet-pointed, PowerPointed language. If we want to create inclusive cultures and if we want to prepare all students for a global economy, it only makes sense that we are creating opportunities for switching between different forms of language.

Third, the research. Oh my goodness, the research!

Four of the research projects have released reports in October. Here is a quick look with lots more to be found at the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative website:

Released in October

Learning With Others: A Study Exploring the Relationship Between Collaboration, Personalization, and Equity

The American Institutes of Research (AIR) explored collaboration as a strategy to personalize learning for diverse student groups. Focusing on grades 9-12 in four high schools, the study looked at connections between collaboration in student-centered learning classrooms and student outcomes and how these differed by race and ethnicity. Additionally, the study sought to understand from teachers how school contexts helped or hindered collaboration opportunities in diverse classrooms. (Find the full report here and two blogs highlighting findings: The Opportunity to Learn with Others: A Question of Equity and Are We at Risk of Creating a One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Personalization?)

Examples of findings: Student reports of having opportunities for high-quality collaboration were strongly associated with positive classroom experiences and higher engagement, motivation, and self-efficacy. However, there were a number of variations between Black and White students. Be sure to read the sections on Implications for Schools and Educators — it’s important to understand how to structure high-quality collaboration if you are going to benefit Black students.

Understanding Implementation of Proficiency-Based Education in Maine

In 2012, Maine passed legislation requiring all students to graduate from high school with a proficiency-based diploma. Education Development Center partnered with ten districts in rural Maine to investigate exposure to proficiency-based education, including links to engagement and academic outcomes as well as the nature of implementation. (Find the report here.)

Example of one of the many findings: Implementation has largely focused on identifying graduation standards and implementing new proficiency -based grading practices, with traditional classroom practices still fairly commonplace. This raises a question: If Maine schools had spent more time improving instruction (and culture) rather than just focusing on setting standards and changing grading, would Maine still be on a statewide pathway toward proficiency-based diplomas?

Maximizing Student Agency: Implementation of Student-Centered Learning Approaches

Working with New Tech Network schools, the research team at American Institutes for Research created multiple opportunities to design, test, and revise teacher practices as part of a Networked Improvement Community (NIC). The NIC’s goal was to develop a menu of effective teaching practices in support of student-centered learning geared toward student ownership of learning or agency. The study also looked at how student agency was related to academic outcomes and how these varied for students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.(Find the final report here.)

Implications from findings: Check out the list of teacher practices developed from this research.

Abolishing the Phrase “I’m Not a Math Person”

Partnering with middle and high schools from four districts, the research investigated how to improve student agency and learning outcomes in math — particularly for students from traditionally marginalized groups. With an improvement science framework, the collaborative tested, refined and spread “high-leverage” practices that reframed mathematical struggle as learning and engaged students in collaborative problem-solving. They also worked with students to discuss how they thought about math and made visible the diverse ways problems can be solved and the relationship to a growth mindset. (Find the report and change package here.)

Implications of the research: There are seven student-centered practices that can make a difference for students. One important point is to make sure that students understand that there are different ways to solve problems, not just one that makes the others wrong.

Want to learn more? You can find the video of the webinar and presentation here at the bottom of the page. Also see Ed Week blog highlighting some of the findings.

You can also find tools developed by Research Fellows on the website, including a tool for developing a Learner-Centered Professional Learning Culture (Kim Carter) and Student-Centered Learning Self-Reflection Tool (Mary Bellavance).

In closing, if you haven’t read Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice, it’s an important read for everyone involved in making the shift to personalized, competency education.

This article was originally posted in Competency Works on October 18, 2018

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