01:16am Sunday 31 May 2020

Student-centred learning motivates children

Chris Brough

Student Focus: Chris Brough, who graduates with her Masters of Education (first class honours), says student-centred curriculum integration places students at the centre of their learning.

Chris Brough, from the University’s Tauranga campus, spent a year researching what happened when three primary school teachers used student-centred curriculum integration techniques in their classrooms.

Graduating with her Masters of Education (first class honours) this month, she says student-centred curriculum integration places students at the centre of their learning.

“The teacher involves them in classroom decisions and curriculum planning. It’s a more democratic way of teaching because it engages the children in their own learning rather than the teacher planning an entire unit in advance.”

In practice, student-centred curriculum integration takes place in many classrooms, says Ms Brough, when teachers expand an unplanned “teachable moment” into one or more sessions.

“In one school a digger arrived and the class went to watch. The children were fascinated by the different soil colours in the hole so, even though it was completely unplanned, the teacher worked with the children and expanded this into a bigger study.”

Ms Brough says while more schools are trying to bring these democratic principles and practices into their classrooms, this way of teaching is a more complicated approach and can be quite scary to new teachers.

“Pre-planning ensures teachers are meeting the curriculum standards,” she says. “Taking a student-centred approach means a teacher needs an open mind about where the learning is heading while still adhering to the curriculum.”

Working with three recent graduates based in North Island primary schools, Ms Brough supported the teachers, who had all studied student-centred curriculum integration at the University of Waikato, to practice the approach in their classrooms. In one class, a chance comment by one child about wanting a bigger classroom, spurred a study that lasted the whole year.

“At all times the teacher involved the children in planning what they wanted to find out about, for example, one unit led the class to make square metre cubes to measure their classroom,” says Ms Brough.

“Children were totally engaged – often they didn’t want to stop for lunch – and they could apply their knowledge to other contexts meaning learning was retained over time.”

Ms Brough says findings indicated the technique provided relevant, engaging and equitable learning environments for children. Prior to starting at the University in 2004 as a teaching fellow, Ms Brough was a primary school teacher for 10 years, and a strong advocate for student-centred curriculum integration. She is motivated as a lecturer to reach as many children as she can by teaching the future teachers.

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