In Get Common Core Ready: Achieve Dynamic Student-led Discussions (3/8/15), Aitlin Tucker states, 

"Discussion can be a powerful tool for learning yet engaging all students in equitable discussions can be challenging. When I began teaching, I was frustrated because in-class discussions were dominated by a small group of vocal students while the rest of the class sat quietly avoiding eye contact. It wasn’t until I incorporated online discussions into my traditional class that I was able to engage every voice in our class dialog.

"Is writing a reflection of silently talking to ourselves? Should we have our writing students talk more as they consider different views and ways to express their thoughts?"

What do you reading and writing instructors think? This is a very innovative approach which I think has great promise. In her article, Catlin lists resources and several strategies to include online discussion in onsite classes. Though a K-12 teacher,  several ideas call for application among adults. Do you agree? What benefit do you see in having students talk online more before they write? Leecy

Comments (6)

Christi Connell's picture

I like that idea and agree that discussion, even if it's only self-talk or arguing with myself, contributes a lot to writing better. I don't work a lot with CC standards, but I'm told that it focuses on student-centered learning. Is there a difference between student-centered and student-driven learning? It seems to me that the first is more top down than the other. I would think that having students discuss ideas online and then writing about topics would be more student-driven learning. I'm not sure. Christi

Edward Latham's picture

Just a few thoughts that eco what Christi was thinking...

I can see both options being similar to taking a trip in a car:

In a student centered trip, someone (Usually the teacher) has arranged a number of destinations that should be experienced and there is typically some product ideas set up at each attraction you visit. 

In a student driven trip, there may not be any map at all and the trip is determined by what interests are in focus on any given day. At each attraction the student (or student and teacher) construct activities that are relevant to the attraction and some goals. 

Student centered may have goals that are more firmly established in some sort of order or in some hierarchy while student driven could really diverge from one goal to another based on individual decisions. The assessments used and the activities available can vary more widely in a student driven exploration whereas a student centered exploration may have a few more established options that a student can choose from. 

Lastly, if I must consider time as an element (groan), the student centered models are geared to move the explorations along at some kind of measured pace. In a student driven model, some explorations can be very quick and shallow while others may be quite a bit more involved in time or deeper. From that perspective, I think that student centered models probably have a better chance of "fitting in" to our current time-based education models. 

Christi, I wonder in your last example: 

I would think that having students discuss ideas online and then writing about topics would be more student-driven learning

In a student driven, I would imagine the students start by just sharing ideas on their mind that day, maybe decided to look online to see other perspective on those ideas and then maybe chose to write about the ideas from the group and from online. All of this would probably have happened through discussion, but I don't see it as students choosing from some list of options. I see the student driven model as a more organic experience we all might have had when someone gave us a magnifying glass on a hot day in an area that had lots of ant hills and dry leaves. A teacher might start a discussion going, maybe throw in a tool or resource for contemplation, but it is ultimately the student discussion or exploration that determines where they end up. Thinking about our magnifying glass exploration we may see different outcomes. Maybe there is a massive wild fire started from dry leaves or maybe just some ants that get lazer-beamed. Possibly no destruction is involved at all and just a closer inspection of both leaf and ant leads to discovery of how the two life forms are related to each other. Many different directions could happen and the facilitator simply helps offer options along the way. 

Do others have different perceptions of Student-centered or Student-driven? 

Leecy's picture

Christi and Ed, thanks for expanding on the ideas brought up in this thread: (1) online discussion as a first step to writing and (2) student-driven vs centered learning.

Re the first, I have found that students who normally don't participate in online discussions blossom online. I attribute that to the fact that appearance factors, which so often limit students from being vocal, are eliminated online. Of course, other factors come to play, such as the fear of not writing correctly to begin with! I know that in discussions like ours here, many Adult Ed instructors are afraid to speak up and look bad to such a huge audience of professionals. In writing classes, maybe students could use pseudonyms?  In any case, it seems that giving students a chance to argue or discuss issues online prior to writing would at least gain the participation of some students who don't speak up in f-2-f situations. Maybe the solution would be to have both?

Re the second thread here, student-driven vs centered learning, I'm glad that Christi raised that issue. I know that many teachers tell me, "Students shouldn't be allowed to direct instruction. That's what I'm there for. They don't have the skills to do that. If they did, they wouldn't be in my class!" Hmmm... So we go back to the sage on the stage approach.  I appreciated the analogies, Ed.

Let's all talk more. Do those reading this thread have further thoughts that we might consider? These are topics that really influence how we help students develop academic and personal development skills. Leecy

Di Baycich's picture

 "Students shouldn't be allowed to direct instruction. That's what I'm there for. They don't have the skills to do that. If they did, they wouldn't be in my class!"  Did anyone else cringe when they read this? How does that attitude affect retention I wonder since this is the same attitutde that caused many of our adult learners to flee the K-12 system. And according the the resesarch done by Victoria Purcell-Gates, it's the student centered/directed programs that have more success with adults taking their literacy practices out of the classroom into their homes and communities.

Edward Latham's picture

I agree with Di's perspective and thoughts and offer the following perspectives.

The role of educator seems to be in need of some shifting. Just a few years ago, information was much harder to find and teachers often held many of the keys to access to very complex topics. Today, information is available from so many places. Assessment options have also opened in that students can now share their voice and learning with the world and get feedback that may differ a great deal from what any one instructor may offer. It used to be teachers would help navigate through studies and then textbook companies took over that role in many ways so that instructors often help learners navigate through the very fixed pathways offered by publishers. Most of all, a teacher's domain was almost sacred ground and he or she was lord of their domain and others in the outside world trusted and respected the teacher would have their students' best interests at heart. 

All of the above seems to have changed quite a bit in a very short time. We see information available to such an extent that students now need help in learning to sift through all that information and they need help in how to apply all that information in some useful way. We see a focus on individuals; individual strengths, weaknesses, career ambitions and even temperaments all come into play when designing learning experiences and means of expressing what was learned. Memorization seems to be a skill that is not needed to the extent it once was. Instead, one needs to be able to quickly and efficiently find information. Students need to be able to communicate not only in academia, but communication within social networks have become increasingly important. Perhaps most significantly, the workplace desire to have good thinkers and problem solvers clashes with the polar opposite social requirements to "test" education with one-size-fits-all testing algorithms. 

Our learners need educational navigators. As teachers make the change over to that of coach or navigator instead of director or disseminator, the public in general may come to respect the role of educators more as they once did in the past. Shifting from teacher-centric models to student-centric models helps students feel their efforts individual efforts are all to help the individual rather than simply placate someone in authority. Thus the process of getting an education can be perceived as someone getting help in their life paths rather than something one must endure in order to pass on to the next compliance check. 

Christi Connell's picture

Thank you, Ed. Those examples make sense. I guess online discussions could be designed to be student-centered or student driven. It depends on who chooses the topics. Christi