The Emergence of Student-Centered Teaching in Professional Learning Networks on Twitter: The Role of Choice and Voice

The Emergence of Student-Centered Teaching in Professional Learning Networks on Twitter: The Role of Choice and Voice

Anna Noble (Boston College, USA), Patrick McQuillan (Boston College, USA), Shaneé Wangia (Boston College, USA) and Kate Soules (Boston College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0965-3.ch010

Abstract

Too many U.S. high schools are ineffective institutions—nurturing neither the growth and enrichment of students nor that of teachers. To understand these failings, at least in part, one needs to realize that many schools are anonymous, demeaning institutions for students and teachers alike. While there is no simple panacea for the challenges facing secondary school teachers and students, student-centered teaching holds considerable promise, offering a means to enrich learning while empowering both students and teachers. Despite this promise, in the current context teachers face formidable constraints to enacting such practices. Nonetheless, some teachers balance mandated curricular goals with student interests, creating learning environments where student choice and student voice figure prominently. The case studies in this chapter offer a sense for how this can occur, to the betterment of both teachers and students. And in these instances, teachers' use of Twitter networks contributed notably to these outcomes.
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Introduction

Too many U.S. high schools are ineffective institutions—nurturing neither the growth and enrichment of students, their alleged raison d’etre, nor that of teachers, those charged with promoting student growth. Simply consider the fact that U.S. secondary school systems produce over a million dropouts each year (Hemmings, 2012). To understand these failings, at least in part, one needs to realize that these schools are often anonymous, demeaning institutions for students and teachers alike (Hemmings, 2012; Sizer, 1984). Though always the majority, students seem nonentities in an institution that shows little interest in their intellectual or emotional well-being (Cook-Sather, 2002; Hemmings, 2012). Relationships with teachers are typically superficial and transient. Those with fellow students highly unpredictable: Some may become lifelong friends, others avowed enemies, at least during high school (Sizer, 1984).

Further, few experiences could be less democratic than a high school education. As not-yet-adults, schools treat students in ways “that largely deny their representational status as active citizens.” (Giroux, 1996: 31). Entrusted with little formal power and few significant responsibilities, they are largely expected to do what others tell them—be it how to solve a differential equation or when to use the bathroom (AUTHOR, 2008; Sarason, 1996). They are subordinate, passive recipients of information, not active, responsible participants in a learning community (Sizer, 1984).

In many respects, teachers face similar disheartening conditions. Unrealistic class loads, for example, often preclude them from knowing students as persons or learners (Ayers, et al., 2000). Moreover, teachers’ professional growth seems of little concern. Much like the student role in schools, professional development is typically done to teachers rather than with teachers. In a context of “contrived collegiality” (Hargreaves, 1994) matters of what, when, where, and how are decided by others. Teacher responses to this common predicament—which often entail apathy, resistance, and disillusionment—suggest a need for more teacher-driven professional development (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009). Working in isolation, many sink or swim on the basis of individual effort (Hargreaves, 2003). Seymour Sarason (1996) framed the matter in plain terms: “Teachers cannot create and sustain contexts for productive learning unless those conditions exist for them (p. 367; emphasis in original).

While there is no simple panacea for addressing the challenges facing secondary school teachers and students, student-centered learning holds considerable promise, offering a means to enrich learning while empowering both students and teachers. To begin, studies of effective features of student-centered teaching are plentiful (Doyle, 2011; Nave, 2015; Rallis, 1995). When connections between class content and real life are explicit, students become more engaged in learning (Margeson, 2015). And when students are accorded some choice in determining course content engagement is further enriched (Doyle, 2011) as students become “inclined to take more responsibility for their education because it is no longer something being done to them but rather something they do” (Cook-Sather, 2002 p. 10). In the same vein, McCombs and Whisler (1997) found “learner-centered practice results in increased motivation, learning, and achievement” (p. 48). Moreover, allowing students to be responsible for constructing and assessing aspects of their own learning can generate a depth of understanding and meta-awareness that teacher-directed memorization of facts and procedures fails to achieve (Margeson, 2015). In this context, students can gain a sense of their abilities, how they learn best (McCombs & Whisler, 1997), and through active reflection, can practice adjusting their learning to suit their perceived needs (Berger, Rugen, & Woodfin, 2014).

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