In May I finished a second edition of my Learner-Centered Teaching book. Revising it gave me the chance to revisit my thinking about the topic and look at work done since publication of the first edition ten years ago. It is a subject about which there is still considerable interest. The learner-centered label now gets attached to teaching strategies, teachers, classes, programs, departments and institutions. Like many trendy descriptors in higher education, with widespread use comes a certain definitional looseness. Active learning, student engagement and other strategies that involve students and mention learning are called learner-centered. And although learner-centered teaching and efforts to involve students have a kind of bread and butter relationship, they are not the same thing. In the interest of more definitional precision, I’d like to propose five characteristics of teaching that make it learner-centered.
1. Learner-centered teaching engages students in the hard, messy work of learning. I believe teachers are doing too many learning tasks for students. We ask the questions, we call on students, we add detail to their answers. We offer the examples. We organize the content. We do the preview and the review. On any given day, in most classes teachers are working much harder than students. I’m not suggesting we never do these tasks, but I don’t think students develop sophisticated learning skills without the chance to practice and in most classrooms the teacher gets far more practice than the students.
2. Learner-centered teaching includes explicit skill instruction. Learner-centered teachers teach students how to think, solve problems, evaluate evidence, analyze arguments, generate hypotheses—all those learning skills essential to mastering material in the discipline. They do not assume that students pick up these skills on their own, automatically. A few students do, but they tend to be the students most like us and most students aren’t that way. Research consistently confirms that learning skills develop faster if they are taught explicitly along with the content.
3. Learner-centered teaching encourages students to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning it. Learner-centered teachers talk about learning. In casual conversations, they ask students what they are learning. In class they may talk about their own learning. They challenge student assumptions about learning and encourage them to accept responsibility for decisions they make about learning; like how they study for exams, when they do assigned reading, whether they revise their writing or check their answers. Learner-centered teachers include assignment components in which students reflect, analyze and critique what they are learning and how they are learning it. The goal is to make students aware of themselves as learners and to make learning skills something students want to develop.
4. Learner-centered teaching motivates students by giving them some control over learning processes. I believe that teachers make too many of the decisions about learning for students. Teachers decide what students should learn, how they learn it, the pace at which they learn, the conditions under which they learn and then teachers determine whether students have learned. Students aren’t in a position to decide what content should be included in the course or which textbook is best, but when teachers make all the decisions, the motivation to learn decreases and learners become dependent. Learner-centered teachers search out ethically responsible ways to share power with students. They might give students some choice about which assignments they complete. They might make classroom policies something students can discuss. They might let students set assignment deadlines within a given time window. They might ask students to help create assessment criteria.
5. Learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration. It sees classrooms (online or face-to-face) as communities of learners. Learner-centered teachers recognize, and research consistently confirms, that students can learn from and with each other. Certainly the teacher has the expertise and an obligation to share it, but teachers can learn from students as well. Learner-centered teachers work to develop structures that promote shared commitments to learning. They see learning individually and collectively as the most important goal of any educational experience.
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Student-centered teaching and learning (31)
Student-Centered Teaching and Learning focuses on the needs, abilities, interests, and learning styles of the students and has many implications for the design of curriculum, course content, and interactivity of courses. Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be teacher-as-coach, to provoke students to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves, rather than the more traditional teacher-centered learning with teacher-as-deliverer-of-instructional-services, which places the teacher at its center in an active role and students in a passive, receptive role. This pedagogy acknowledges student voice as central to the learning experience for every learner and requires students to be active, responsible participants in their own learning. To capitalize on this, teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent. Decisions about the details of the course of study, the use of students’ and teachers’ time, and the choice of teaching materials and specific pedagogies must be unreservedly placed in the hands of the staff and students.
Transforming: Practice is reflected in student outcomes.
- Students take leadership in classroom, present their work, and facilitate groups. Students take ownership of their reading, writing, and learning to develop, test, and refine their thinking. Students engage in talk that is accountable to the text or task, the learning community, and standards of reasoning. Learning is negotiated and directed by students.
- The content and delivery of instruction is culturally responsive and respects and builds on the diverse resources and experiences of learners in the classroom. The school community uses best practices in language acquisition to support academic development and support in both English and native languages.
- Students work in flexible, cooperative groupings to solve problems and analyze texts to demonstrate understanding of a task or concept through multiple perspectives.
- The school supports the inclusion of all students, including English-language learners and special needs students, in regular academic classrooms through the use of best practices, such as dual-certified teachers, differentiated instruction, qualified aides, and individualized learning plans.
- Students consistently develop their own reasoning around concepts and ideas and can articulate the processes and thinking they engaged in while grappling with a task or idea. Students listen to one another as well as to their teachers, and they exchange different ideas to build upon and apply new learning and approaches to their own understanding of a concept or idea that increase in complexity.
- Students apply the habits of mind for reading, writing, and thinking in various genres and disciplines. Students make connections, pose questions, and explore solutions as a means to engage in real-world scenarios and application transfer. They apply knowledge to different contexts and scenarios.
- Talk and focus in all groupings use multiple strategies. Students use physical environment and discussions about group roles to explore various concepts and apply them to different scenarios or problems.
- Teachers plan the types of questions and prompts at multiple entry points throughout a lesson, which build students’ understanding of, and engagement toward, concepts and ideas and their application to real-world scenarios. Each teacher has clear and measurable objectives for what students will know and be able to do as a result of a lesson.
- The arts and vocational interests are included in academic curriculum, increasing students’ engagement, motivating students with a variety of learning styles to succeed in high school and pursue higher education, and developing students’ academic and intellectual growth.
- Schools value the health of all students, teaching them positive ways to bring balance to life’s challenges and a proactive, positive approach to wellness.
- Student work is collected in a portfolio representing a selection of performance. A portfolio may include a student’s best pieces and the student’s evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the pieces. It may also contain one or more works-in-progress that illustrate the creation of a product such as an essay evolving through various stages of conception, drafting, and revision.
- Students are assessed for process, group work, and product.
- Student voices are connected with adult allies (teachers, families, communities) toward the goal of improving student life, school culture, student communities, and students’ overall development.
- Examples of student-centered teaching and learning practices include advisory, service learning, internships, and project-based learning.
Developing: Practice is reflected in teacher planning and instruction.
- Thinking and discourse are thoughtful and extend ideas or develop new understanding.
- All students are challenged and supported in learning at their own level.
- Thinking and work is learning-based, not task-based.
- Teachers have clear and consistent expectations and supports for student learning, and students are clear as to what proficient work entails.
- Work is mostly rigorous. Students can articulate the how and why of their learning.
Early: Learning about and planning for the practice has become important to the teaching staff.
- Staff development has occurred or been planned around student-centered teaching and learning strategies.
- Teachers have begun to increase their expectations for student learning and engagement.
- Teachers have begun to recognize that they must connect learning outcomes to students needs.
- There is recognition that students need more support that they are receiving in the current practice and structure of the school.
- Work is still all task- or product-driven.
- Assessment is limited to work habits and does not address learning.
- Planning revolves around content, not student engagement and understanding.