The Four Negotiables of Student Centered Learning
I spent most of last week guiding teachers on classroom walkthroughs. (Here's links to my protocol and some recent participant responses.) It's an effective approach to professional development - one that focuses on the students, not the teacher. Think of it as a roving Socratic seminar that provokes reflections on teaching and learning.
One of the subjects that often comes up during walk throughs is how to recognize a student-centered approach. I tell participants to watch the students and try to decide the extent to which they are being asked to manage the four central elements of any lesson - content, process, product and assessment. Any or all can be decided by the teacher, by the students, or some of both. As I often said to my own students when introducing a lesson - "Which elements do you want to be in charge of? Which do you want me to decide? Remember you don't all have to take the same approach."
You can't simply "throw students in the deep end" and expect them to take responsibility for all their learning decisions. But with scaffolding and support, students will increasingly take more responsibility for their learning. The reward is the increase in student motivation that comes with greater student choice. And as students take more ownership of the learning process, they are better able to monitor their own progress and reflect on themselves as learners. See my Taxonomy of Reflection for useful prompts.