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Teaching Centered vs. Learning Centered

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Teaching Centered vs. Learning Centered

Are we transitioning from a “teaching centered” system to a “learning centered” system...should we be?


We put together a great lesson, rehearse the presentation, take out the kinks and present it...no one seems interested but us. We study the standards, we know the material, we know the mechanics of presenting the material and we present it...we look out in the classroom and find no one is paying attention. Does this sound familiar or has it happened to you?

How many times have we heard about how kids have changed and that they no longer listen or behave – or about apathetic parents that don’t support school endeavors or initiatives. How about a breakdown of the family and family values which ultimately create classroom management problems? We present the material the same way we’ve been successfully presenting it for years and we are now finding that kids are not learning the material.

We teach but the kids aren’t learning.

Are we trying to hold on to an outdated philosophy that is no longer effective? Would we agree that what has worked in the past is no longer effective with today’s students? If so, what must change? Who? How?

One might argue that it is not enough to merely teach – the most important element is that students learn. Teaching and learning are not necessarily synonymous. One can be an expert in a given field, know, and have mastered the latest presentation techniques, be thoroughly organized and teach students the material – yet the students may not learn the material. The Random House College Dictionary gives the following definition of the word “teach”: “To impart knowledge of or skill in; give instruction in.” Additionally, the definition of “learn” is as follows: “To acquire knowledge of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience.”

Thus, to impart knowledge does not ensure the acquisition of knowledge. Might this subtle point reflect of one of the major problems facing the teaching profession today – as well as student academic success? For years, teachers taught – and students were responsible for learning the material. As long as the teacher imparted the correct or appropriate knowledge, it was incumbent upon the student to acquire the knowledge for success. For the teacher, the primary concern was to impart the knowledge. If this could be demonstrated the teacher was considered to have done his or her job and student failure was solely the students’ responsibility. For purposes of discussion let’s refer to this as being a “teaching centered” philosophy. Although management, due to social and community pressures, may have changed its expectations of teacher responsibilities; have teachers changed their philosophy and methods in light of the revised responsibilities to ensure student success?

One might argue that even though student needs and readiness levels have changed considerably, the vast majority of teachers still adhere to the “teaching centered” philosophy. Perhaps rather than viewing the challenges that today’s students bring to the classroom as opportunities for innovation and growth many of today’s teachers view these challenges as additional reasons to explain why they are unable to adequately “teach” today’s students and thus as obstacles to student academic success. Might it be that these challenges are viewed as overwhelming obstacles that preclude successful teaching performance as opposed to the changing needs of today’s student that must be effectively addressed by the teacher?

The “learner centered” philosophy dictates that student learning is the primary goal of the teacher as opposed to teaching. This is particularly important from a teacher’s perspective. This philosophy espouses that it is the teacher’s responsibility to facilitate student learning. The teacher must motivate the students to learn, participate, critically think and successfully perform on standardized tests. The responsibility for learning shifts. This philosophy is much more challenging for the teacher. The teacher now must facilitate learning in spite of the challenges today’s students bring into the classroom. Rather than viewing these challenges as obstacles which present successful performance the effective teacher must view them as obstacles which must be overcome rather than merely identified. To overcome these obstacles the teacher must learn what motivates his/her students, what their individual needs are, what their strengths and weaknesses are and what their learning styles are. The teacher must use a wide array of “tools” to motivate students; cooperative learning; “real life” application of information and assignments; critical thinking, hands-on learning; graphic organizers, innovative teaching and learning mediums and venues. “Out-of-the-box” thinking becomes the norm to address the wide diversity of student challenges.

We are seeing greater pressures placed upon school districts and administrators by the state, parents, and the community to increase student academic performance. Consequently, administrators are emphasizing increased student academic performance to teachers. Student performance on standardized tests is playing a larger role in teacher evaluations in addition to student failure rates and success. While we all generally acknowledge that changes in the family unit, values, mores, discipline, abuse and financial hardships are having a significant impact on student academic success, we also realize that many of these issues are outside the control of teachers – yet teachers are being asked to facilitate successful student learning in spite of these issues. These dynamics may be changing the roles and expectations of teachers – perhaps a paradigm shift is already underway. One thing is certain, our perspective and philosophy must change if we are to be successful. What we’ve done in the past cannot be counted on to work in the present or future. The skill sets, philosophy, and personalities needed by today’s teachers are much different than those of the past.

Must we transition to a “learning centered” philosophy or is it a question of increasing the rate of that transition?

Lesson by Charles Brickman

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