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How to create a student-driven classroom

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Language teachers - try these 2 easy tips!

 أَهْلاً Salut, language teachers! Welcome back to Adventures in Language. In this article, we’re talking about how to create a student-driven classroom. We’ll explain what exactly student-driven learning is and share 2 simple solutions you can use to make your classroom a student-driven learning environment. Well, bando alle ciance, let’s get to it!

What is a student-driven classroom?

A student-driven classroom is one that focuses on the learner and is driven by guided self-discovery. “Flipped” classes and active learning strategies are good examples. It stands in contrast to teacher-driven classrooms, which you’d recognize by the more traditional teaching approaches (such as lecturing), which tend to place students in a more passive learning role. In recent years, there’s been a general shift in the pedagogical paradigm from teachers being the “sage on the stage” towards being the “guide on the side.” And that shift has everything to do with student-driven learning.

 
Why does it matter?

There’s no question that student-driven learning is quite a trendy teaching method these days. And you may be asking, “Is that popularity warranted?” In other words, is there evidence to support this shift in pedagogical approach? The answer is yes. When compared with teacher-driven approaches, learners in student-driven classrooms have more positive learning outcomes and higher student satisfaction." If you’d like to explore more about the research behind this general finding, check out the articles we’ve linked for you at the end of this article. So, we know that student-driven learning is a good goal. But, making the switch can be tough for teachers - for a variety of reasons. No matter what your teaching style is, every teacher is capable of achieving a student-driven classroom. Of course, it does take practice. Luckily - there are 2 easy principles that will help you get there, which we’re going to share with you in this article! They are (1) to make time for metacognitive activities and (2) to use facilitating questions. Now let’s break those down…

 

 
#1: Make time for metacognitive activities.

1-metacognative-activities-mango

Metacognition means “thinking about thinking.” Put another way, it refers to (a) our ability to identify what it is that we do and don’t understand about the learning material and (b) our capacity to regulate our own learning processes. The goal here is for students to become self-regulated learners. This matters because you won’t always be their teacher -- and if they use you as a crutch in their learning process, it’s much less likely that they’ll become self-sufficient learners long-term. What we know is that metacognition isn’t a developmental skill that necessarily “kicks in” at a certain age. It’s a skill that needs to be nurtured, so your support in building your students' metacognitive skills can go a long way. But how can you actually implement this? How can you give your students opportunities to build their metacognitive skills? Here are several ways to to this:

  • Make it a course goal. Put it on your syllabus. This is very easy to implement, and it signals to your students how important you consider this skill. Right alongside content-based goals like ‘Attain intermediate communicative competence’ add a skill-based goal such as ‘Develop habits of metacognitive reflection.’ 

  • Set up class discussions about metacognition. This could mean organizing a think-pair-share activity where students are asked to reflect openly on questions like (a) How would you describe your current proficiency level? (b) What are your biggest strengths in the target language? (c) What is one grammatical concept that you are currently struggling with? (c) How do you study outside of class? Pro-tip: You can also have them do this individually by assigning them a goal-setting worksheet like the (FREE) one we’ve created for you here. Speaking of self-reflection…

  • Use exam wrappers! Upon returning exams, ask students to spend 5 minutes writing about what they did well, where their learning gaps remain, and how their study strategies are (or are not) serving them. 

  • Encourage them to use the Mango app! If you’re already a Mango user, you’ve probably noticed that the app is built to engage your metacognitive skills. Take, for example, our Voice Comparison feature. You record yourself speaking in the target language and we show you your audio waveforms right alongside a native speaker’s, which allows you to explicitly address the gaps between your pronunciation and theirs. Features like this encourage you to think critically about how/why your pronunciation may not yet be quite right, and what specific sounds you’re struggling with. In other words, while the app takes you on a curated learning experience, you’re ultimately the one driving the process.


#2: Use facilitating questions.
2-facilitating-questions

This tip is all about asking questions before providing answers. Imagine your student asks you, “How would I say the sentence This past weekend, I hung out with my friends.”? How would you respond? Well, if you were in a teacher-driven classroom, you would provide them with the answer to their question. So, if you’re a Spanish teacher, you’d say El fin de semana pasado, pasé tiempo con mis amigos. In other words, you would do the thinking for them. But in a student-driven classroom, you make them do the thinking - but with some strategic guidance, of course. Rather than telling them the right answer, you’d ask them the right question. You’d get them to engage their prior knowledge to help them discover the answer on their own. To do this, consider using scaffolding techniques to help them break down the sentence into easily digestible parts. What parts of this sentence do you already know? Don’t worry about whether you’re 100% correct. And you can even guess! If they need some more guidance, you might add Well, how would you say ‘last weekend’? Now, how would you say ‘‘to pass time’? Now, what verb tense do you need there? This tip is great because it’s so easy and actionable. More importantly, it’s going to keep students in the drivers’ seat of their language learning journeys because you’re not teaching them per say -- you’re facilitating their learning. Hence, the use of facilitating questions. ;)

 

Well, there you have it!

The 2 principles we outlined for creating your student-driven classroom were:

  1. make time for metacognitive activities 

  2. use facilitating questions with your students 

And guess what? Using the Mango app can help you implement both of these solutions! Our lesson sequences follow a scaffolding pattern of asking you carefully designed facilitating questions to guide your self-driven learning journey and engage your metacognition.

 

Thanks for reading!

Now that you’ve finished the article, we hope you feel inspired to try these tips out in your own classrooms. Want more engaging language content like this? Join the Mango fam and subscribe to our YouTube channel. Or follow us on Instagram @MangoLanguages! Well, language learners - that’s all for now. مَعَ أَلْـف سَلامة. La revedere! Happy teaching -- and thanks for being a part of the Mango fam! We look forward to seeing you back here for our next article. To embark on your next language adventure, visit us at mangolanguages.com!

Wondering what languages were used in this article? أَهْلاً (AH.lan) and مَعَ أَلْـف سَلامة. (ma alf saLEHma) are ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in Egyptian Arabic, the de facto national working language of Egypt; currently spoken by roughly 70 million speakers, most of whom live in Egypt. Salut (sa.LOOT) and la revedere (lah rehvehDEHreh) are ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in Romanian, the statutory national language of Romania, spoken by ~24 million people. Bando alle ciance (BAN.doh ah.lay CHAN.chay) is the Italian equivalent of 'without further ado' (a colloquial expression that literally translates as ‘ban the chatter’). Italian is the statutory national language of Italy and is spoken by ~68 million people around the world. Interested in learning Egyptian Arabic, Romanian, Italian or one of the other 70+ languages that the Mango app offers? Click here to learn more!

Want to know more about the scientific research underlying this article

  • To learn more about the role of metacognition in the language learning process, check out Ambrose et al.’s 2010 book How Learning Works. Chapter 7 (titled How Do Students Become Self-Directed Learners?) is of particular relevance to this article, as it provides a nice review for how recent theoretical models for metacognitive learning activities can explain how language learning works in real-life situations. Or read through Mahdavi, M. (2014). An overview: Metacognition in education. International Journal of Multidisciplinary and current research, 2(6), 529-535. 

  • To read some scholarly articles about the effectiveness of student-driven classrooms, check out these three recent papers: (1) Zheng, L., Bhagat, K. K., Zhen, Y., & Zhang, X. (2020). The Effectiveness of the Flipped Classroom on Students’ Learning Achievement and Learning Motivation: A Meta-Analysis. Educational Technology & Society, 23 (1), 1–15. (2) Låg, T., & Sæle, R. G. (2019). Does the flipped classroom improve student learning and satisfaction? A systematic review and meta-analysis. AERA open, 5(3), 2332858419870489. (3) Shahnama, M., Ghonsooly, B., & Shirvan, M. E. (2021). A meta-analysis of relative effectiveness of flipped learning in English as second/foreign language research. Educational Technology Research and Development, 1-32.

  • For more information about how the Mango app is structured to build learners’ metacognition, read this overview here. It highlights the app’s primary features and how they have been built upon principles from Second Language Acquisition research.

Additional language learning resources to help you out

Download your free PDF: How To Set Good Language Learning Goals  

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Emily Rae Sabo
Written by Emily Rae Sabo

Emily, a Pittsburgh native, is a linguist at Mango Languages whose areas of specialization are the social and cognitive factors that impact bilingual language processing and production. Having studied 7 languages and lived in various countries abroad, she sees multilingualism—and the cultural diversity that accompanies it—as the coolest of superpowers. Complementary to her work at Mango, Emily is a Lecturer of Spanish at the University of Tennessee, a Producer of the We Are What We Speak docu-series, and get this...a story-telling standup comedian!

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