Wired magazine recently shared a great story about Sergio Juarez Correa, a teacher just across the border in Matamoros, Mexico. Mr. Correa was young but already disenchanted with teaching and in search of new pedagogies and more professional fulfillment. He took the radical step of taking control of his own learning, finding professional books to read that exposed him to new ideas. He became particularly enthralled with the work of Sugata Mitra and his learner-centered ideas. The Wired story relates what happened when Correa committed to changing his practices, and he began to make learners the central focus of learning. His story is really an amazing account of what can happen when a teacher is willing to get off the stage and put students squarely at the center of the classroom. It’s also something that most teachers are unwilling or unable to do (often due to mandates from above to teach this and do it this way). This is despite the fact that in the vast majority of pedagogical debate, the majority of educators would likely wholeheartedly agree that this is the ideal way for kids to learn. In reality, of course, classrooms are rarely places that are either exclusively teacher-centered or exclusively learner-centered, however. They usually at some point along a scale between the two, and very often in a different place from one day to the next or even one moment to the next. Teachers dip their toes into the learner-centered pool whenever the curriculum allows it to fit naturally and comfortably.
I would like to offer the following (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) quiz to assess how far along the teacher-centered to learner-centered spectrum your practice falls. For every “true” response, give yourself 1 point.
- The district or school curriculum is faithfully and thoroughly followed in my classroom. We have walk-throughs, you know. (True/False)
- The arrangement of classroom furniture is a carefully crafted, scientific plan created by me for maximum discipline and efficiency. (True/False)
- My students are well-behaved. My voice is the most frequently heard voice in the classroom. (True/False)
- You can have my interactive whiteboard and document camera when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers. (True/False)
- I work hard to master my subject area knowledge and skills, so that I can impart my brilliance on to students. (True/False)
- Time is precious, so the day must be planned down to the last detail in order to ensure we cover the material. (True/False)
- Students should study what interests them, absolutely. Right after their homework is finished. (True/False)
- I take pride in being a magnificent lecturer. Students have literally cried after my recount of the Gadsden Purchase. (True/False)
- Risks are the natural results of poor planning. (True/False)
Scoring: The higher the score, the greater the likelihood you prefer a traditional, teacher-centered approach. The lower, the better the chance your students have greater influence over teaching and learning.
Now do one more thing. Close your eyes (after reading the rest of this). Picture your favorite teacher, the one who inspired and engaged you and who you strived to be like when you started teaching. Rate them using the same quiz. Where do they fall? Who we respect and admire speaks volumes about who we eventually become, doesn’t it?
Finally, if you didn’t before, read the Wired article. It will take a little while, but it is a really compelling argument for giving learners more control over what is learned and how it is learned. Also of interest to me was the reaction of a Mexican bureaucrat to the happenings in Mr. Correa’s classroom (Shows how alike our countries can be.).
What’s your take on teacher-centered versus learner-centered instruction? Is it a valuable shift in practice, or is it a fad that will likely fade and be replaced by the tried-and-true teacher leader practices we’ve employed for centuries? What barriers exist to becoming more learner-centered?