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Teacher-Centered vs. Student-Centered Pedagogy

by Christopher Cascio

Teacher-centered and student-centered styles of teaching are models of classroom education, with the teacher-centered format being more traditional while a student-centered format is newer, more progressive and more closely associated with other progressive models such as cooperative learning. The most significant shift toward student-centered teaching came in 2001 with the passing of No Child Left Behind. Since then, student-centered teaching has become the preferred method for K-12 instruction. However, both styles have benefits and drawbacks.

Focus of Attention

The titles communicate the focus shift well: student-centered teaching takes the focus off the teacher's delivery of lesson materials and places it on the needs of the student. Specifically, the needs of individual students are stressed over class performance as a whole. Student-centered methods encourage teachers to take the time to help each student develop a rich understanding of the subject, and to provide individual attention to students who learn differently, to help them reach their goals. The old style often involved simply moving on to new material as soon as teachers feel they've sufficiently covered the required amount of the old.

Clasroom Atmosphere

These two teaching methods lend themselves to very different classroom situations. In a teacher-centered learning environment, you can expect to find the teacher lecturing while the students sit quietly and take notes. In a student-centered environment, however, teachers encourage students to drive discussions and activities with their own ideas, while the teacher guides students toward the goal of the lesson. Student-centered environments do a better job of helping students apply the lessons they learn, along with the teamwork and communication skills required to complete tasks. What you lose in that environment, however, is a percentage of the teacher's expertise, because the teacher now has to spend more time managing the discussion than imparting direct academic knowledge.

Academic Standards

One of the strengths of teacher-centered instruction are high academic standards and dedication to time-tested classroom practices. For example, in a teacher-centered, college-level critical reading course, all students would learn how to write an explication: an analysis of a text that examines each individual word, and that cites specific grammatical techniques to prove an argument about the text's themes. In a student-centered critical reading course, you might spend time reading many different types of texts so you can better question the accepted definitions of literature, but never learn how to write an explication. When you move to a higher-level courses, you would have a well-rounded understanding of literature, but you'd be at a severe disadvantage when you're expected to write explications for major assignments.

Student Engagement

While some students might be captivated by a particular teacher or lecturer, the student-centered method prides itself on making teachers find new ways to engage students within the subject material through hands-on experience and rich group activities. In a student-centered classroom, students often work in teams, and even if they're not particularly interested in the subject matter, their assigned roles within their teams will keep them busy and their thoughts occupied.

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