Preparing to Make the Switch to Student Centered Learning: The 60% Mindset

Updated: Jul 9, 2021


students already know 60% of what we are going to teach them

Only a few pages into the introduction of Almarode's text, Visible Learning for Science, he highlights the findings of an education researcher named Graham Nuthall who has declared that students already know 60% of what we expect them to learn in our classrooms each year.


. . . students already know 60% of what we expect them to learn in our classrooms each year.

You can bet I didn't skimp on highlighter ink for that statement!

And, the notion stuck with me.  For years I had researched and experimented with instructional trends that would encourage my students to accept more responsibility for their learning. 


I tried the flipped classroom.  It wasn't a success.  It required too much student time and focus outside the classroom, in the midst of their sometimes complex personal lives and away from the positive, nurturing environment where they are able to get help if they need it.  Yes, they were able to choose to take control of their learning with the resources and structure of a flipped classroom, but they could much more easily choose not to.  In contrast to what I now understand student centered learning to be, the flipped approach seems more focused on forcing students to demonstrate effort and responsibility than encouraging true ownership of the learning process. While I, personally, completely agree with the notion that school provides a social-emotional foundation for young adults to function responsibly in society, there are education models where content mastery and competency win. Cyber school and any other distance learning model falls into that category. In providing virtual education, teachers must expect that students won't work on their own. It's paramount that live meeting time is productive; evidence of student learning can be collected at the end.


In providing virtual education, teachers must expect that students won't work on their own. It's paramount that live meeting time is productive; evidence of student learning can be collected at the end.

"If they actually know 60% of what I'm going to teach," I thought, "I can challenge them to do so much more with our time together."

I teach chemistry. It goes without saying that even the brightest students in the classroom don't know much about nuclear fission, the electronegativity of atoms or the partial pressure of gases when they begin their chemistry course in high school, so I did hesitate to accept this idea. 


In fact, for all of my years teaching in cyber school, I've believed and tried to convince others of the exact opposite:  too many students enrolled in this college-prep course weren't properly prepared for it and/or didn't have the reasoning skills to reach their goals.  I'm not talking IEPs. I've had exceptional students enroll in my class with a laundry list of IEP accomodations.


When surveyed, 75% of the students enrolled in my class one year indicated that they had no intention of attending college. Many didn't even have specific aspirations, marking on the survey that after graduation they planned to "get a job, any job". Of those students who did have specific goals as juniors in high school, their intended careers included contracting/building, cosmetology, and hotel management. In many other schools, counselors may have directed them to a "Chemistry in the Community" type of course where they'd discuss chemical impacts on the world. In my school, though, we have a limited science elective offering and students need to graduate with a specific number of science credits.


Other students had barely passed prerequisite courses like Algebra I or biology.


I had spent too long fighting the fight of ensuring our students were properly placed in courses. Acceptance doesn't come easily to me and I'm learning to embrace that aspect of my personality, but I couldn't continue trying to affect internal change. Year after year, the mentality I had about my class list was damaging, to me and my work, to my students and their work. If I was going to believe in "the 60%", I would have to make a very purposeful choice to do so; it wouldn't come naturally.  That said, I'm not sure I had the option if I wanted to work toward positive change.

If I was going to believe in "the 60%", I would have to make a very purposeful choice to do so; it wouldn't come naturally.

I made the switch to student centered learning following a year where the wall may very well have been my most trusted companion! That year, most of my student rarely would do me the courtesy of saying, "Hello".  Adding insult to injury, only one other teacher within the science department at my school with whom I spoke about this admitted to experiencing the same classroom environment.  I didn't feel frustrated.  I felt failure.


But, what do they say?   "Necessity is the mother of invention," I think?! Also, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."  I think they (whoever 'they' are) were right.  ;) 


UPDATE 7/9/21: I've also since heard the suggestion to "make your misery your ministry". And ... that's why I'm here with you. 🥰


As it turns out, believing in "the 60%" was the only thing that made the switch to student centered learning possible for me.  Even then, it was unnerving, at best.  There were days I might have actually held my breath while I waited for them to complete an activity, shuttering to think that they may refuse to do it at all or that the majority would claim they "just don't understand".  I went prepared to every lesson with an answer key completed, just in case no one stepped up.


Psst  . .  spoiler alert!  THEY STEPPED UP.


As it turns out, believing in "the 60%" was the only thing that made the student-centered classroom transformation possible for me. 

If you are feeling or thinking:

  • "These students just can't learn this content."

  • "This content just can't be effectively taught virtually."

  • "Nothing will work, I've tried everything."

  • "My students won't complete the most basic tasks, I can't plan for them to observe, record, analyze and communicate every day!"

KNOW THEY CAN DO IT.

KNOW YOU CAN DO IT.

IT CAN BE DONE!


As teachers, we should be living and breathing growth mindset. If you're anything like me, you apply growth mindset to aspects of your personal and professional life, believing that you will get it . . . eventually. But, how often do you truly believe that others can do it and will get it?


I didn't.


I do now.

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