As Bain claims, student centered learning does not make professor or student performance its primary concern. It begins with the attitudes he describes; those with which we approach and determine the particulars of our classes. I admit, I first subjected my students to the tortures of short-term-memory-recall teaching. Only after encountering Maggie Chernick, my cooperating teacher, did I focus on engaging my students in the quest(ion) or process of learning i.e. understanding the greater significance, context, and application of the knowledge that we teach, and then help them in the struggle to synthesize that understanding into their established schemas. Practically speaking, this means I had to start with the end in mind. My learning objectives began to show how the knowledge I taught would increase or shape my students’ understanding of the discipline, their lives, and the world at large to some meaningful end. “How” here implies action, thus knowledge in action, or skills. In essence, I was using my course content to teach students skills and then helping them to apply those skills in practical ways. Maggie showed me the benefits of acting as part content expert, part learning facilitator – and I argue that Bain would support her conclusions.
Crucial to the success of a student-centered classroom is the “expectation failure” Bain describes. It seems almost intuitive when you stop to think about it. For instance, when I wrote my first essay, built my first stud frame, and even when I learned to drive, I and most everyone else, had to be corrected on mistakes made during the process. If a student is to truly learn, he or she must be expected to do something with the knowledge we have imparted. It follows that we certainly cannot expect them to do those things perfectly, but must work with them through those failures to achieve success. This must be an attitude set up during the first days of class, for it will take time to sink in and prompt students to act. On the first day I passed out the “3 axioms of Mr. Susak’s class:” 1. This will be the hardest English class you have taken 2. I expect you to fail 3. I care! Students were noticeably disturbed by my axioms. Each axiom had its own explanation that not only soothed their fears, but also represented a contractual agreement between myself and the students. The second (the axiom of failure) communicated that I expected them to fail repeatedly while trying to work out the best way to move forward. The axiom of failure was my promise to help lead them through those failures and into excellence. Also, my students were glad to hear me admit that even I would fail at times. Once I demonstrated this attitude in practice, it produced an atmosphere of confidence, eagerness, and expected achievement. My students wanted to do and be the best they could. So, in conclusion, I ask “How can we practically and appropriately manifest student centered attitudes in all or most of our classroom activity?” and “Is expectance failure crucial to learning?” If so, then “How do we go about introducing and practicing this attitude without discouraging or ‘freaking’ students out of our classes?”