Module 3: Unit 1: Activity 3: Student Case Study - Jonathan Barford

Practical application of student-centered activities, approaches, and practices most relevant to my students and teaching situation. For a learner who needs additional intervention, enrichment, or support.

This is based on one of the case studies provided in the Activity resources. The case study is The Chatterers (2009) - Chatty Cathy and her BFF Conversational Carl and can be retrieved at

A very quick summary of the case study is that a teacher has two students, Cathy and Carl, who will not stop talking during a lecture portion of the class, despite a verbal admonition from the teacher and glares from other students.

There are a number of reactive measures a teacher could take to put a stop to that type of behavior, such as separating the two students to opposite ends of the room, threatening or delivering on some type of corrective action, calling the parents, etc. However, we would like to be a bit more positive and proactive, so we are going to look at ways to make lessons less teacher-centered (of which a lecture is the classic example) and make the lesson more student-centered, which will hopefully encourage Cathy and Carl to be more engaged in their education.

Based on our cohort’s suggestions from the previous activity on student-centered learning, we’ll start with the first way to engage Cathy and Carl - by changing the physical environment of the classroom:

  • If possible, make sure there’s enough sunlight in the room and it is a comfortable temperature. Don’t teach in a cave if you can avoid it, unless you’re actually trying to put your students to sleep.
  • Give the students a voice in the design and layout of the classroom - let them take some ownership of their learning space.
  • Make the room as interactive as possible. Beyond wifi and connected devices, more low-tech approaches such as IdeaPaint on walls and desks and furniture which can be easily moved can be utilized.

Next, we need to get the students more physically involved in their own learning. Students are not empty passive vessels to be filled up by the wisdom of a lecture. They need to take ownership of their learning. We can begin with strategies of student-centered learning that include actual physical movement. These include:

  • The students literally getting up out of their chairs and moving to a different location in the room for different parts of lesson.
  • Giving students the opportunity to act out answers and include movement as part of discussions.
  • Entry slips and exit tickets, so the students have to physically hand a piece of paper to the teacher.
  • Mini-whiteboards for students to hold up and display their work to the teacher only, or to a partner only.

Next, students need to be given the opportunity to collaborate, revise, and assess their work together. Although individual work has its time and place and some are more introverted than others, humans are a social species and increased interaction between members is generally beneficial. There are a few ways to increase student interaction and collaboration:

  • Having students more frequently operate in groups in experiencing lesson material rather than working on their own.
  • Letting students draw up their own standards of conduct and expectations from each other.
  • Encouraging the use of rubrics which can be used for self-assessment and peer assessment. Students can also help each other in developing a process and work portfolio.
  • Certain topics and units can be undertaken as cooperative learning, in which students are assigned small chunks of a topic to research and explain to other members of their group.
  • Use more project-based learning in the class, in which students define their own line of inquiry, and present their results in whichever way they feel is most appropriate given the project undertaken.

Assuming that the room is set up appropriately and that Cathy and Carl aren’t particularly malicious in their intent, and that they’re just a couple of bored kids, then a student-centered approach that would work for them is one that plays to their strengths and desires - to be able to spend more time interacting with each other. The key is to make their desire for interaction educationally constructive, rather than just making it easier for them to sit a talk about their plans for the weekend. This can be accomplished using some of the strategies listed above. In addition, firm deadlines and a bit of extra attention from the teacher can help to ensure that the students stay on task and that their time in the classroom is spent learning and is also enjoyable for all involved.

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