Student centered teaching represents a fundamental shift from the teacher being the center of attention in the classroom to the student as the center of learning. Student centered teaching follows seven principles (Weimer, 2002):
1. Teachers Do Learning Tasks Less
Students do more of:
- Organizing the content
- Generating the examples
- Asking the questions
- Answering the questions
- Summarizing the discussion
- Solving problems
- Constructing diagrams
2. Teachers Do Less Telling; Students Do More Discovering
Stop telling students everything and hold them accountable for knowing or asking.
3. Teachers Do More Design Work
Effective assignments and activities:
- Increase student skills
- Motivate student involvement and participation
- Work that is related to the discipline/real world
- Develop content knowledge, learning skills, and awareness
4. Faculty Do More Modeling
Demonstrate for students how an expert approaches a learning task.
5. Faculty Do More to Get Students Learning from and with Each Other
Use collaborative and cooperative groups for learning.
6. Faculty Work to Create Climates for Learning
Create an environment of student accountability.
7. Faculty Do More with Feedback
Provide formative feedback separate from evaluation and grading.
The application of these principles can support a shift in the classroom from superficial surface learning to transformative deep learning. Surface learning focuses on the identification, memorization, and recall of facts and surface levels information. Deep learning, in contrast, emphasizes developing the cognitive constructs that link learning with existing knowledge, focuses on the understanding of complex processes of why and how, develops knowledge that is generalizable to other contexts and situations. Surface learning is frequently short term, knowledge gained for the test or class. Deep learning yields long lasting mental constructs.
Another way to look at the contrast between surface and deep learning is Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1953). Bloom and his associates define six hierarchical levels for learning outcomes:
1. Knowledge (Remember): Observation and recall of information (dates, events, places)
Outcome Verbs: list, define, tell, describe, identify, show, label, collect, name
2. Comprehension (Understand): Understanding information (meanings, predict consequences, order, group, infer causes)
Outcome Verbs: summarize, describe, interpret, contrast, predict, associate, or distinguish
3. Application (Apply): Use information (solve problems using required skills or knowledge)
Outcome Verbs: apply, demonstrate, calculate, illustrate, solve, or experiment
4. Analysis (Analyze): Seeing patterns and organization (recognition of hidden meanings)
Outcome Verbs: analyze, explain, classify, select, or infer
5. Synthesis (Create): Use old ideas to create new ones (relate knowledge from several areas)
Outcome Verbs: combine, integrate, plan, create, design, or generalize
6. Evaluation (Evaluate): Assess values of ideas (make choices based on supported arguments)
Outcome Verbs: assess, decide, rank, grade, test, recommend, select, explain, or judge
Surface level learning occurs when students do not progress past the first or second level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Classical teaching of lectures and tests generally does not support the development of student skills past these levels. A student can not learn to apply knowledge without having the opportunity to practice that application.
The Oxford Center for Staff Development (1995) identifies four critical ingredients for deep learning to occur:
1. Motivational Context: Students should be motivated to learn because they recognize the value in the learning not simply to pass an exam.
2. Active Learning: Students are actively engaged in learning and the learning experience rather than passive observers.
3. Interaction with Others: Students have opportunities to explore the learning content through discourse with peers and the teacher.
4. A Well-Structured Knowledge Base: New learning must be integrated both with itself and connected to what the student already knows and believes.
1. Lesson Planning
The implementation of student centered instruction and deep learning begins with a standard outline for in-class and out-of-class activities:
Class sessions can be structured around 25 minute blocks.
Each class should begin with:
- An entry task that explores previous knowledge and correction, assessment, and re-teaching of entry task or in place of an entry task, homework can be reviewed and used to assess student understanding. (15 minutes)
Each class should end with:
- Final discussion to summarize entire session and integrate the component parts (5 minutes)
- Advanced organizer/preview for next class and readings (5 minutes)
This leaves 3 blocks in a 2 hour class and 7 blocks in a 4 hour class. Depending on course outcomes and content, the instructor will select a combination of blocks of presentation of new material, guided practice, or independent practice as a structure for the class session
Presentation of new material:
- Present new material (15 minutes)
- Assess student understanding (10 minutes)
Guided practice (group or whole class works together):
- Guided practice (20 minutes)
- Closure to allow students to reflect on and communicate what they learned (5 minutes)
Independent practice (student works individually):
- Independent practice (20 minutes)
- Closure to allow students to reflect on and communicate what they learned (5 minutes)
Tests, exams, field trips, student presentations, and other special events deviate from this outline, but this model provides a general structure for the traditional class session. Some class activities might require more than 25 minutes. These can be broken into smaller chunks to maintain instructional variety and insure that students are using reflective practice as they go along rather than just a single reflection at the end of an activity.
For every 1 hour of in-class time, students should expect to spend 2-3 hours outside of class on activities such as:
- Reading and research
- Additional independent or group practice
- Reflection and writing
The goal of student centered teaching rests on two methodological pillars: active teaching strategies and cooperative and collaborative learning. This lesson plan outline provides a structure for planning the learning experience, but these instructional methodologies put the meat on the bones of this structure.
B. Active Teaching Strategies
In its most general sense, a teaching strategy is an instructor’s plan for what he/she will say and do to enable and empower the student to learn. Classical teaching strategies view learning as merely the transmission of information from the teacher to the student. The instructor is the primary source of knowledge, and lecture is the primary form of transferring this knowledge.
Traditional teaching strategies have several limitations. First, lecture is a passive form of teaching. It is rarely as engaging or interesting to the student as it is to the instructor. Lecture can only be effective for low level learning outcomes such as the observation and recall of information. Lecture also focuses on the inputs to learning, which is to say the book or the instructor’s notes, but not on the outcome, which is student learning. To quote Immanuel Kant, “Lecture is the process by which the faculties’ notes become the students’ notes without passing through the heads of either.”
Classical, instructor centered learning does not make sense when one considers what learning is. To quote Bruce Lee, “Learning is definitely not mere imitation, nor is it the ability to accumulate and regurgitate fixed knowledge. Learning is a constant process of discovery, a process without end.” Learning must take place with the student, and thus the student should be the focus of the process, not the instructor.
Classical teaching is also limited because it assumes that all learners are the same and that a single lecture and presentation of information meets the needs of every student. In fact, learners vary widely in terms of personal learning styles, backgrounds, and preexisting knowledge, which makes any single teaching strategy inappropriate for some of the students in your class. Learning is a unique experience for each individual and using a variety of teaching strategies allows you to reach more students.
Classical teaching techniques are limited by an interesting paradox (Stolovitch and Keeps, 2003). There are two types of knowledge, declarative knowledge (knowledge about things…who, what where, when) and procedural knowledge (knowledge about how to do things). Experts have a great deal of procedural knowledge that forms the basis for their expertise. However, when asked to share or teach, experts will almost always attempt to share this procedural knowledge by explaining it in declarative terms. Unfortunately, research has shown that it is very difficult to translate declarative knowledge into procedural knowledge. Procedural knowledge can be best gained by doing.
Two documentaries (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 1997) vividly demonstrate the failings of traditional teaching methods to yield long term learning. “Can We Believe Our Eyes?” from the Minds of Our Own series (http://www.learner.org/resources/series26.html ) shows high school and college students unable to light a light bulb using a battery, piece of wire, and bulb. “A Private Universe” (http://www.learner.org/resources/series28.html ) begins with graduates, alumni, and faculty at Harvard and MIT graduation ceremonies unable to correctly explain the cause of the seasons. Clearly, the problems are not simply poor schools or poor students, but a fundamental flaw in the education model.
Active learning requires that students are engaged and active in the learning process. The instructor serves a coach or facilitator, guiding students through activities, but letting the students take control of the learning event itself. In this model, learning becomes a process of discovery like research. To quote Sophocles, “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.”
One way to look at the differences between traditional and active teaching strategies is to compare two strategies for how children learn vocabulary (from Miller and Gildea, quoted in Brown and Duguid, 2000, p. 133):
- Abstract and dictionary definitions: 100-200 words per year
- Everyday conversation: 5,000 words per year
Another example of the difference in learning achievement associated with active learning strategies is a research project from Sinclair Community College (Rowell, 2003). Introductory sociology courses were divided into a control and experimental groups and given a pre and post testing of a series of questions related to data analysis in the social sciences. The courses were taught the same except that the experimental group sections actually performed data analysis. The control sections saw no change from the pre to post test, while the experimental group performance improved from 44.6% of students on the pre-test were able to answer 5 or more questions right out of 9 to 70%.
Hake (2002) surveyed 62 introductory physics courses including 6542 student. Hake’s survey used a pre and post test to assess student learning from these courses. He also collected data on teaching methods used to be able to compare the outcomes of different teaching methodologies. Hake’s findings support that active teaching methods (described as “interactive engagement methods” in his study) generally produce greater student learning and develop stronger problem solving skills than traditional methods.
Active teaching strategies are particularly important to serve the needs of students who traditionally have been academically poor performers. Boylan and Saxon (1999) cite several sources to support their observation that “if traditional teaching methods had worked for these students, they would not be taking remedial courses.” (p. 3). In particular, Boylan and Saxon report that several studies have documented that most poor performing college students have a learning styles preference either for visual or hands-on approaches rather than auditory.
Boylan (2002) cite several other studies that support the value of active learning:
- Most effective teaching technique (McKeachie, 2002)
- Increases motivation of adult learners (Wlodkowski and Ginsberg, 1995)
- Increases student involvement in their own learning (Stahl, Simpson, and Hayes, 1992)
- Develops higher level thinking skills (Grubb, 1999)
- Increases student and peer evaluations of faculty (Young and Shaw, 1999)
Instructional Delivery for Active Learning
Active learning is most effective when implemented within an instructional delivery framework based on a strong theoretical model of how learning occurs in the classroom. Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning, derived from Lewin’s model of Action Research, provides one of the foundations for this model:
a. Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning (Kolb, 1984)
This model of learning follows these steps:
- Action- The learner performs some type of activity related to the lesson or subject.
- Reflection- The learner reflects about what they did and what happened as a result of their activity. This can be in one of several forms: free writing, journaling, or small or large group discussions.
- Knowledge/theory- The learner uses the results of the reflection to develop knowledge and theories, which helps further the learning process because the learner is conceptualizing their own theories, not accepting the theory of the instructor.
- Planning- Based on the learner’s theories, they plan what to do next and anticipate the results of further activity. This process moves the learner into the higher levels of thinking than merely recall/recite facts or information.
b. Merrill’s Instructional Phases
Merrill’s model utilizes the following steps:
- Problem-Identify a real-world problem to provide the context for the other phases, ensuring that the issue is at the “problem or task level, not just the operation or action level.” (Molenda, 2002).
- Activation-Stimulate the student’s prior experience and learning about the situation to build a foundation upon which to base their new knowledge and information.
- Demonstration-Demonstrate or model the new skill for the learners.
- Application-Allow the learner to apply the new skills to the problem or situation presented.
- Integration-Support the learner’s integration of learning into real world activities.
The Kolb and Merrill models can be combined to create a model that shows learning as a cycle of application that leads to reflection, through observation, which leads to experimentation that produces additional application of the material.
The Instructional Delivery for Active Learning Framework includes the following five components:
- Activation: Motivate the learner, stimulate recall of prior learning, and identify the purpose for the learning event.
- Presentation: Provide informational content to support the learning event.
- Application: Allow for an opportunity for the learner to practice and enact the learning that is taking place.
- Reflection: Allow the learner to articulate concepts and build mental models for later use.
- Learner guidance and support: Provide feedback and assessment from the practice that the learner can use to improve future performance.
The focus of teaching is helping the student obtain the knowledge that a student cannot learn on her or his own. This is different for each individual because of different learning styles and prior knowledge. The components listed above provide a suggested structure for developing and delivering learner-centered instruction that makes learning a unique experience for each student.
The components of this instructional delivery model address the four requirements for deep learning:
- Motivational Context: Activation includes activities to trigger student motivation.
- Learner Activity: Application provides a structure for learners to interact with the learning.
- Interaction with Others: Learner Support and Reflection provide opportunities for discourse and exchange.
- Well-Structured Knowledge Base: Activation, Presentation, and Reflection provide
by Baker College