Student-centered learning and the fight against fascism

By David Kilpatrick

Anyone who has taken a course with Ms. Donovan knows that the feeling of the classroom and way she teaches are unique to St. Vincent. Rather than a traditional setup of a teacher standing in front of rows and desks, she sits in a circle with her students.

She likes the circle because then during discussion everyone can “see each other,” and that it “gets people more involved, it facilitates discussion better, we aren’t talking to the back of our heads, and it feels better.”

Her method of teaching, often called student-centered learning, has been popular in academia for thousands of years, drawing as far back as the Socratic Method. While commonly used in many liberal-arts colleges, it is rarely present in a high school setting. Ms. Donovan believes for that reason her class is, “more suited for seniors to go to college,” saying that, “being in graduate school classes that are run that way was very dynamic and creative.”

Aside from being a good teaching strategy, students seem to enjoy the experience, too. St. Vincent Senior Julian Barone says that student-centered learning, “makes it more personal and you are forced to look at everyone who is talking.” Ms. Donovan said that when her first period class entered and saw the rows arranged differently they were taken aback and upset by the change. Julian agrees with the sentiment, saying that, “after doing it so many times I couldn’t imagine it any other way, at the very least, I’d fall asleep a lot more.”

The critical pedagogy of Ms. Donovan’s classroom also incorporates a refreshing approach to literature. She argues that because of evolving social locations, “each time a book is read, its read differently,” she aims to base discussion around, “student experience as a way of opening up literature to student response.” In the spirit of Paolo Freire’s 1968 book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, she believes, “it challenges the old idea that the meaning of literature resides within it, instead it’s an interactive process with the book.”

While she certainly believes her approach to education increases productivity, her most important reason for engaging her classroom is that, “it makes it fun to talk about literature.”

*This story was originally published in SVHS’ student newspaper, The Onlooker.