Changing to student-centered learning in Utah schools

May 4, 2023, 8:00 AM | Updated: May 5, 2023, 9:28 am

a teacher speaks to her students, a website is leading to confusion about school vouchers in utah...

FILE: Students listen as kindergarten teacher Stephanie Cobabe gives a math lesson during a full-day kindergarten class at East Sandy Elementary School in Sandy on Feb. 27, 2023. (Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

(Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The public education system operates in much the same way today as it did 100 years ago.

Utah State Superintendent for Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson explained, “If you think about it, it was really that old Carnegie unit and how much time equates to a credit.”

Dickson said the 100-year-old model is still how things are done, “and yet we know that students learn at different paces and in different ways. So, we’re trying to unpack the whole system to say, ‘Can we be more student-centered in our approach to learning?'”

Student-centered learning

The goal is to give students “more choice within guardrails,” the superintendent said. “So, if we set a standard and say we want you to learn this standard, there are multiple ways that they can get there and show us how they know.”

Related: Utah lawmakers pass over 100 education-related bills, USBE member says it’s ‘too many’

This is the kind of system already in place at Washington Fields Intermediate in Washington, Utah. You can walk up to any student in that school and say, “Tell me what you’re studying this week.”

The student may tell you what they’re working on in a particular class. They may say, “I’m currently at a two, but I’m trying to get to a four.”

“Look Mom — I got all fours!”

Washington Fields uses a number system. Instead of an A, when you reach competency in a particular standard, you might get a four.

“It’s a very different way of thinking about learning,” Dickson said. “It’s very student-centered instead of time-centered or teacher-centered or even unit centered.”

Think about students who are docked for being late, but they’re late because they have to walk their younger siblings to school. There are students who master the subject but get poor grades on homework assignments because of responsibilities at home. In a student-centered way of learning, they have a better chance of success.

Related: Voters will now say whether Utah changes how the state funds education

“We learned a lot through the pandemic about seat time and what really matters,” Dickson explained. “We’re getting down to what are the things that students need to know and be able to do when they leave system.”

Student-centered learning helps students who struggle with the traditional model but can also help accelerated students.

“If they’re ahead of the rest of the class, why would we hold them back and give them busy work?” Dickson asked. “Maybe they want to go deeper into a project or move on to a different standard.”

Change in standardized tests

Some Utah students are taking assessment tests this week. A move to student-centered learning could have an effect on the way kids take those standardized tests in the future.

“Instead of taking one end of level assessment, some states are looking at chunking those so you can take a portion of the assessment when you’re ready,” Dickson said.

Will all Utah Districts make the change to student-centered learning?

Right now, schools in the Juab District and a handful of other schools have already moved over to student-centered learning. “We think it’s the way of the future,” Dickson said. “Even as a young  teacher many years ago, I was playing with these things, but the system bound us. Now, we’re saying let’s take off some of those system binders.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

K-12 Education

school bus is snowy, cache county school district apologized for not having a snow day...

Jessica Lowell

Cache County School District apologizes for not holding a snow day

The Cache County School District decided to hold a regular school day on Tuesday despite weather conditions. 

5 days ago

utah senate shown...

Heather Peterson

Bill regulating microschools in Utah heads to governor’s desk

Microschools in Utah would be treated more like a business and less like a school under a proposed law.

5 days ago

Chronic absenteeism, classroom...

Eric Cabrera

Proposed law addresses chronic absenteeism in schools

A new law aims to identify and address students who are continuously absent from school in grades K-12 by bring teacher and parents together.

6 days ago

students walk to a bus, kindness ewalls coming to utah's k-12 schools...

Britt Johnson

Schools in Utah to get Kindness eWalls

Kindness eWalls display positive messages submitted by a school's students, teachers and parents.

6 days ago

Utah State School Board Member Natalie Cline announced over Facebook Monday that she is running for...

Derrick Jones

Natalie Cline announces run for reelection after being asked to resign

The news comes just days after a special board meeting where the school board censured Cline and asked her to resign over a controversial social media.

7 days ago

Fort Herriman Principal Glen Richins in three of the outfits he's worn to school. His plan is to he...

Heather Peterson

On Thursday, the principal at Fort Herriman Middle School is dressed for success

Principal Glen Richins dresses in different outfits each Thursday, mostly depicting careers offered in his district's technical programs.

11 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Changing to student-centered learning in Utah schools