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Empowering Youth: The Power of Student-Centered Approaches

Student-centered learning provides students with opportunities to learn in meaningful ways. These experiences can be attached to a classroom course or done independently.

Student-centered learning allows for personalized learning that can be tailored to each individual student’s interests. It also fosters a greater sense of independence in students. Some examples of this include:

Inquiry-Based Learning

Rather than a teacher lecturing on an idea, students take control of their learning experience by exploring the subject themselves. This method improves student comprehension and builds skills needed for other areas of learning, such as communication and critical thinking.

Facilitators can encourage inquiry-based learning through classroom debates and projects. Field trips can also be used to help youth see the relevance of their education in real-world situations.

Though more complex to implement, inquiry-based learning can be easier on educators than traditional instruction because it shifts some of the responsibilities of instruction from teachers to learners. However, facilitators must still provide guidance for the process. They should visit each team often and encourage them to discuss what is working, what is not working, and record observations (see NPASS2 in Resources). This will help them to become familiar with the process. They should also encourage youth to use the scientific method to discover answers to their questions.

Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is one of the most creative strategies to empower youth. It connects knowledge to real-world contexts, honors student voice and choice and fosters equitable learning experiences that are grounded in students' strengths.

In the projects snapshots shared above, students were able to address issues that resonated with their interests and passions. This naturally boosts their engagement and motivation to learn. It also helps them develop 21st century skills including critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creative analysis.

Project-based learning can also take students out into the community to work with experts and community members, as well as experience obstacles and challenges that they must overcome. This teaches them that their projects have real-world value and empowers them to make a difference in their communities. In addition, it allows them to develop leadership and teamwork skills. Moreover, this approach to education helps students build self-efficacy, the belief that they can manage their own lives and future careers.

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning, sometimes referred to as learn-by-doing, is the practice of teaching through hands-on activities that allow students to experience situations and reflect on them. This student-centered approach can help improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It also promotes teamwork and increases motivation.

While this type of learning can take many forms, some of the most common examples include field trips, student teaching, interactive experiments and apprenticeships. In experiential learning, the instructor acts as a guide and a facilitator.

An empowered youth recognizes his or her worth, believes in himself and isn't afraid to try new things. It is important to meet young people where they are, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Trying to wring leadership from a youth that is emotionally, spiritually or physically drained won't yield the desired results. Instead, a youth who feels he or she can make a difference takes action. Creating opportunities for them to renew themselves helps empower them to advocate for themselves and their communities.

Problem-Solving Activities

Problem-solving activities help students learn to think creatively, make connections, and take action. Some of these activities are ideal for youth to use to connect learning with the community and empower them to address social issues and injustices.

As children develop into middle childhood and adolescence, they begin to develop more advanced problem-solving skills. They learn to consider multiple factors when generating and testing hypotheses, as well as utilize logic and reasoning to arrive at solutions.

For instance, a student might work on a project to improve access to healthy foods for low-income families, or design a program to help young mothers gain the necessary skills and knowledge to find sustainable employment. A student might also help an organization review and test curriculum materials to ensure they are appropriate for a youth audience. Or, a student might participate in structured interviews or focus groups with other youth to provide feedback on a program's implementation.

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