We’s Make Better Me’s: Moving from Teacher-Centered to Student-Centered Teaching and Learning

Topics: Building Capacity, Vision and Culture

When I was just starting out as a teacher, I remember thinking that my classroom was going to be how I would change the world because, you know, I could do it all by myself with my students. I didn’t need any help and I certainly didn’t need to rely on or align with any of my colleagues. Their style was up to them and I would be doing my own thing in my room. My evaluation was all about me, and how my students were or were not benefiting from my teaching. Sure, I was a team player and worked well with my colleagues, but the bigger picture wasn’t my priority. I was going to rock it out, and build a small revolution, one classroom at a time. Me. Me. Me.

As long as my students were learning, that was the point. Right? Well … sort of.

Yes, we want students learning. We want data, both qualitative and quantitative, that is evidence that students are growing. We want to be able to say without a doubt that whatever method we have put into place is working. When we discuss why we are educators, we want everyone in the room to simply say, “We’re here for the students.”

It’s not about what teachers teach, but what the students learn.

To be student-centered is much more than an educator in one classroom. In fact, I’d argue that you can’t be student-centered when acting in isolation; instead, we must work at becoming student-centered as a system. Becoming student-centered is a journey of like-minded individuals with a mission to improve student learning together. What one educator is doing in her classroom does matter, but it matters so much more when that educator behaves with a Systems Thinking Mindset.

Of course, you can do it in isolation. After all, look at all of those “pockets of excellence” that exist. And that’s great for the kids who are lucky enough to have the experience. But great teaching and learning should be the norm for all students and not the exception. By working alongside other people in your state, community, district or school, you can help create powerful teaching and learning experiences.

We is more effective than me.

So now what? My colleague Robin Kanaan shares four great tips to help you get started making your classroom more student-centered. Still not sure what the difference is between teacher-centered and student-centered? This side-by-side chart we’ve shared previously helps show the differences:

Differences between teacher-centered and learner-centered learning

Teacher-Centered Learner-Centered
Focus is on instructor Focus is on both students and instructor
Focus is on language forms and structures (what the instructor knows about the language) Focus is on language use in typical situations (how students will use the language)
Instructor talks; students listen Instructor models; students interact with instructor and one another
Students work alone Students work in pairs, in groups, or alone depending on the purpose of the activity
Instructor monitors and corrects every student utterance Students talk without constant instructor monitoring; instructor provides feedback/correction when questions arise
Instructor answers students’ questions about language Students answer each other’s questions, using instructor as an information resource
Instructor chooses topics Students have some choice of topics
Instructor evaluates student learning Students evaluate their own learning; instructor also evaluates
Classroom is quiet Classroom is often noisy and busy

Source: The National Capitol Language Resource Center (a project of the George Washington University)

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