The audience will explore a multi-age classroom that focuses on the importance of setting up the
environment, multiple intelligences, differentiated instruction, and authentic assessment in order to create
a child-centered learning community that cultivates lifelong learners with strong leadership skills and
Best Practices in Child-Centered Learning
By Syeda Maimoona Ali & Valencia Ashley
“Dude, what would happen if you put a group of third, fourth, and fifth grade students together in
one classroom, gave them a weekly work plan, told them to get to work, and then sat down in a
comfortable chair to sip your morning coffee and grade a few papers?” This is the big question that a
group of frustrated educators had when they were envisioning building the perfect school. Fed up with
doing the same old thing and getting the same old results, and armed with knowledge of the best
pedagogy in the field of education, these teachers and administrators met weekly over many months to lay
the foundation of Good Tree Academy, a private Islamic school located in Richardson, Texas.
As reverted American Muslim educators, we have experienced public schools as students and
private Islamic schools as teachers. Upon close reflection, our experiences in the classrooms of both of
these realms of educational institutions have been mundanely similar. Students enter the classroom and
sit down and wait until the teacher tells them what to do. If the teacher takes too long to tell them what to
do, the students often make their own agenda, which can include everything from gossiping, to practical
jokes, to bullying their classmates, to throwing spit wads at the teacher while her back is turned.
Then, the teacher has to waste precious time getting the class to realize that she is ready to present
her lesson and that their attention is appreciated. At this point, students (innocently) realize that they
forgot their notebook, pencil, or textbook and waste more precious minutes running here or there to
retrieve these missed items. Now, fifteen minutes into the class, everyone is sitting quietly at their desk,
with all necessary supplies, and ready for the “sage on stage” to perform. Thereafter, the teacher
commences to spew all of the knowledge she has on a particular subject, expecting the students to soak up
all of her wisdom, and not knowing that five minutes into her spiel, she had lost half of the class.
A few students will be thumbing through the textbook looking for gross pictures to share with
their classmates. A few more will be passing notes back and forth to each other. Others will be doodling
in their notebooks or daydreaming about what they will be doing after school. Some might be hunkered
down on their desk with their textbooks upright and hiding their faces so the teacher doesn’t know they
are sleeping. One or two might be secretly studying for the science test they will have later in the day.
Then don’t forget the voracious readers who have hidden the latest Harry Potter behind their textbooks
and are in a different world altogether. What about the ones wondering the hallways with an overactive
bladder? This list could go on and on. The bottom line is the students are not engaged in the lesson and
the teacher is the only one who is learning.
After the lesson has finished, the students are all given the same assignment to complete quietly
and independently at their desks. A few of the advanced students finish quickly because they had already
completed most of the assignment while the teacher had been yacking away. Now they have “free time”
and are bored so they commence to distracting other students in the class who are still working. Another
group of students will look at the questions, feel overwhelmed, and either give up completely or resort to
getting the answers from their buddies.
All of them are wondering why the teacher is making them learn this and what it has to do with
life in the “real