Student Centered Teaching and Learning


The paradigm for teaching and learning is slowly shifting from teacher-centered to student-centered. The old paradigm invented in the industrial revolution included teacher directed learning activities such as lecturing, discussion and testing. Of course, to all of us who were brought up in this method, this sounds like real school. And because the human mind is a natural learning machine, some amount of learning was accomplished. For the best learners who could sit for long periods of time, listen and memorize, and repeat what they had learned on standardized tests—much was learned. A limited number of learners from this bell-curve paradigm emerged: a few stars, a lost group at the bottom, and a lot of us somewhere in the middle. The best of this curve went on to teach, heal, argue and run our society. But so many of us came away with less than optimal learning outcomes.

The emergence of the world-wide-web and the explosion of information has hastened the shift for many schools who are moving away from this industrial learning paradigm. When the amount of available knowledge to individuals, schools and states surged through the internet and into computers and phones, it began to threaten the curriculum agreement for the amount and type of content taught in K-12 schools. Student-centered learning is the acknowledgement that both the content and the way in which we teach and learn is changing from teacher dominated to student directed. Read below for more ideas that will help us make this transition.

Flipped Classrooms

The new student-centered paradigm actually harnesses the flood of information and supports the equity and access to quality learning by flipping the work plan for class and homework. Students watch teacher videos, other professional videos and slides or powerpoints at night for homework. During class, students work in peer-to-peer learning groups to produce new learning with teachers carefully guiding their interactions. Students work harder and teachers are more effective with more students.

The advantages to this new student centered environment are that student learning is driven by accessing content anywhere they have an internet connection, they arrive in class ready to apply their knowledge and when they work in groups they learn from their peers. When they have questions about what they are doing, teachers are standing by to help. They are united in their common quest to perform in their groups. They experience more success and they are more likely to work harder. Every student has access and every student does well.


For too long, the center of power rests with school officials and not with families. In the student-centered paradigm, families are brought in from the start. Families help present, continue to provide input and are welcome at all student demonstrations of learning. Families find that traditional barriers to their participation in school decisions are reduced when a student-centered IEP plan is provided. For example, Childe & Summers (2005) found in their study, “Family Perceptions of Student Centered Planning and the IEP Meetings,” that the resulting satisfaction with the new form of collaboration was felt by families and by others involved with the process. Families

General IEP

In the student-centered paradigm, every student is assumed to be smart and developing. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) follows every student and leads teachers in diagnostic information gathering. Families continually contribute to this plan, as do former teachers and current adults. The student’s strengths and challenges are carefully documented and teaching plans are accompanied by student demonstrations of learning. The sharing of power through collaborative decision making would reduce the number of lawsuits brought by parents, increase communication between adults in and out of school and make transparency education decisions for the benefit of all students in a student-centered school.


Student centered learning places the learner at the center of the process. Although it may seem like schools today are organized this way, they actually are very inefficient at individual learning, mostly because they assume everyone learns the same way at the same pace. Students who can search, integrate and demonstrate will be better supported in the new student centered learning environments.


Searching is one of the most important learning skills. The explosion of information requires students to quickly sort through academic assignments with hundreds of answers and millions of hits. Getting online at night, students will be able to see the videos of their teachers, videos of their assignments and search the web for how this all makes sense to them. Coming into class the next day finds students ready to bring their search results to their group learning process


When students arrive in classrooms they now have to integrate. They have to integrate what their searching revealed to them the previous night, they have to integrate the separate pieces of knowledge they have learned in service of the assignment they were given, and they have to integrate their knowledge with other students and their searches.


Searching and integrating now leads to demonstrating. Students need to learn how to demonstrate what they know and can do. They need to search well for the information that will support their opinion, they need to marshal that information into evidence of an opinion, and they need to demonstrate their understanding by integrating everything into a coherent argument for what they know.


Assessment is ongoing, embedded in the work, and formative more than it is summative. Assessment is woven into the fabric of the course, into the work students produce. Assessment is part of how they learn, part of how teachers help students learn, part of how everyone is accountable.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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