FreshGrade's blog on having a student-centered classroom

6 Aha! Moments on a Learning Journey: What’s your moment?

Article written by: Kathy Cote’ Rogers, Teacher of Children at Pizitz Middle School, Vestavia Hills, Alabama

Guiding my students along their learning journeys requires that I set aside my ego and relinquish – or at least share – control. Above all, to sustain a truly student-centered classroom I am challenged to get out of my students’ way.  In a classroom environment that is focused on student learning (and not on the teacher’s presentation of the curriculum) one of the most important roles for me is as a “Guide-on-the-Side”. Do not misunderstand:  the role of teacher as guide is not a diminished one! I still direct, support, nurture and celebrate my students’ learning. I do this by guiding my students’ learning journeys and allowing them to be active learners. I believe that all learners – teachers and students – are motivated by the proverbial:  “Aha-Moment.” Seeking these moments of clarity and reflecting on them is essential to the practice of good teaching and the process of learning. In this blog post, I will share with you some of the Aha-Moments I am experiencing on my journey to become a better teacher.

FreshGrade's blog on having a student-centered classroom

Aha! It’s About the Learning

In our (not my) classroom, I am striving to keep the focus on student learning. I have ditched my desk, provided a classroom environment that features flexible seating options, reduced homework and implemented FreshGrade digital portfolios. I have all but eliminated traditional grades in favor of feedback. The most significant feature of our student-centered classroom is our use of FreshGrade. My students and I utilize this digital portfolio platform to engage in conversations about learning and to reflect on and document progress. In my 28th year as an educator, I am growing in my practice and evolving along with my students as we travel on our learning journeys. FreshGrade is having a huge impact on that process.

Aha! Kids Love to Learn — But Sometimes We Get in Their Way

FreshGrade improves my practice by providing a place to reflect on student learning. An essential piece in the reflection process involves listening to my students and engaging them in conversation. Recently, while observing a group of seventh graders during homeroom time, I noticed that they were unusually busy. They were asking each other for help, searching for tape, scissors and glue sticks. Midterm Grades were due and these kiddos were scrambling to assemble their —— Notebooks. As they were busily organizing, gluing and taping, I asked a question that had been rolling around my brain. I have noticed the phrase “youtube something,” essentially using YouTube as a verb, creeping into everyday speech.  I was curious to know about this group’s experience. I asked them to raise their hand if they had ever gone to YouTube to learn something that they were interested in, not for a class at school, not for a grade, but simply because they wanted to learn something new. Every. Single. Hand. Went. Up.

I listened as these students enthusiastically described to me a broad range of interests and achievements, everything from learning song lyrics in Korean, to creating an App using coding blocks and mastering hacks for playing Fortnite.

  • And the Aha-Moment hit me:  kids love to learn!
  • And another Aha-Moment:  sometimes what we ask kids to do at school could get in the way of their learning…
  • and finally, I was confronted with these questions:

Was I empowering or hindering my students’ learning?

What did I need to do to stay out of the way of my students’ innate desire to learn?

Aha!  I Am No Longer the Keeper of the Content

The reality is that my students are actively seeking out information and are constantly engaged in learning new things — on their own time. How can I harness and nurture their innate desire to learn in the context of our student-centered classroom? Along with this realization comes another Aha-Moment as I contemplate the fact that I am no longer the “Keeper of the Content.”  My expertise may still be key to setting the stage for successful learning experiences, but that doesn’t mean that I have to control every aspect of the learning. A curriculum map is now a road map for individualized learning journeys. I need to be intentional about staying out of the way and not placing roadblocks along my students’ paths. I am ashamed to say that in my early years in the classroom I was guilty of trying to keep all my classes on the same page, or of denying a student an explanation because that content wasn’t on the syllabus until next semester, etc. In those days we relied heavily on textbooks and curriculum guides, and as the German Teacher, my students needed me to provide content and explanations. It was quite heady stuff; good for the ego and perfect for a frustrated actress/control freak. But, Aha! — times have changed! I no longer tell my students to “Wait … we’ll get to that tomorrow.” or “That’s in the next chapter.” In a student-centered classroom –in 2019– I must meet my students where they are, and  they are on-line and learning!

FreshGrade's blog on having a student-centered classroom

Aha! I Can Trust My Students to Take the Wheel

I have begun to think about our student-centered classroom by way of the following analogy. I picture learning as a journey, a road trip of sorts, and try to see myself in the passenger seat with my students behind the wheel. At first, this image takes your breath away, doesn’t it? And then all sorts of fears pop-up, what if my kids don’t know where they are going or how to get there? What if they don’t arrive on time or at all? It is becoming increasingly clear that my responsibility, as the teacher in a student-centered classroom, is to trust my students and to get out of their way. I’m definitely still along for the ride, but I’m letting my students take the wheel. I’m moving to the passenger seat. I am buckled-in and taking a learning road trip with my students!

Aha! I Am My Students’ GPS

So what does it take for me to allow my students to move to the driver’s seat? We begin by having a conversation about where we are headed and consider the routes each can take to reach their destination. We discuss Standards and Learning Targets. I present my students with options for formative activities and opportunities to “Show What They Know”. While it is true that we as teachers are the ones with the road (aka curriculum) maps, I believe that my most effective role on a learning road trip is to guide from the side as a Global Positioning System  GPS.  I see myself as the reassuring voice (I prefer an Australian accent) in Google Maps. I know where each student is at, where they are going and I can suggest multiple paths to reach a destination. When a student needs to re-do an assignment, I help  by “recalculating route!” I assist in assessing and reflecting on their progress and celebrate with them as they arrive at milestones along their way. Taking this analogy further, we can even send a postcard to parents by way of the FreshGrade App. When my students are in the driver’s seat on their own learning road trip, they are taking control of their learning. Student ownership of learning is an essential feature of our student-centered classroom.

Aha! The Path of a Lifelong Learner is Endless

In advocating for teachers to make the move from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat I acknowledge that it can be difficult to relinquish control. But the reality is that when I nurture student ownership of learning, I am not giving up control, I am sharing responsibility for learning. My role has changed and my practice has evolved; I am learning to become a better teacher. I am striving to stay out of their way as I use my experience to guide my students’ learning. In our student-centered classroom, my job is to recalculate the route, avoid traffic jams and sometimes point the way to a scenic byway. And I am enjoying the ride! What a thrill it is to accompany someone as they learn and grow and to learn and grow along with them! This road trip comparison begs one last reflection:  does a learning journey have a final destination? Do we ever arrive at the end of our learning? I trust you’re having an Aha-Moment and answering, “Absolutely not!” As you reflect on my Revelations from the Road, and on your own Aha-Moments, I hope that you find something useful, something that will propel you forward and guide you on your learning journey.

Have a wonderful trip!


German Teacher Kathy Rogers writes a blog post on a student-centered classroom

About Kathy Rogers

Kathy Cote’ Rogers learns about German and Coding with her students at Pizitz Middle School in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.

When asked the question:  “What do you teach?” I used to proudly state,  “ I am a German Teacher” and wait for the predictable responses: “Isn’t German hard to learn?” and “German is such a harsh language, not pretty like French.” While telling people that I taught German made for interesting conversation, it really missed the point for me. Labelling myself as a ‘Teacher of German’ didn’t tell the whole story. It felt false because the part of my job that is the most meaningful to me isn’t the content that I teach, it is the relationships that I have with my students. So, I’ve recently begun responding in a new way when asked, “What do you teach?” Now I answer:   “I teach children.” This shift in my response reflects the changing environment in our classroom. My students and I are making the shift from a teacher-directed to a student-centered classroom.

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