Many of today’s teachers may have grown up in teacher-centered classrooms, but more and more contemporary schools expect learner- or learning-centered instruction from their educators.
The way educators understand the fundamentals of teaching and learning shifts from generation to generation and from culture to culture. Like anything else, teaching philosophies move in and out of fashion. Still, the fundamentals of good pedagogy methods stay much the same, in spite of educational trends.
Putting the most effective pedagogy principles to use in the classroom can be tough, though, especially if those principles are new to the instructor. Nevertheless, teachers who understand the principles, approaches, and strategies of pedagogy can employ effective instructional methods for a variety of learners.
Types of Pedagogy
All the great teachers of history, from Plato and Socrates to Confucius, understood the principles of good teaching, and they used specific pedagogies to address their audiences. Modern educators divide the field of instruction into three distinct types of pedagogy, each designed for different contexts and environments.
In this approach, the teacher assumes the central focus of the class. As such, the instructor takes the active role of giving information to students, and the students assume the passive role of receiving the information that the teacher provides.
For example, the teacher talks while the student listens. The teacher corrects when the student makes mistakes. The teacher chooses topics and strategies, while the student has little or no choice in how learning happens.
Teacher-centered pedagogy usually produces orderly, quiet classrooms. It may, however, create dependency in students, reducing their initiative and creativity in learning. In general, this approach works most effectively when a teacher needs to communicate large amounts of complex information in a short amount of time.
In a learner-centered classroom, students take on more responsibility for their own learning than they do in a traditional environment.
According to educational consultant John McCarthy, “Teachers encourage student-centered learning by allowing students to share in decisions, believing in their capacity to lead, and remembering how it feels to learn.” The learner-centered approach is more empathy-driven than its teacher-centered counterpart, and it emphasizes shared decision making in learning.
A teacher who employs a learner-centered pedagogy might offer several different learning activities for students to choose from. This approach works best when students are learning critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Advocates of learning-centered pedagogy say their approach removes the person as the central focus of the classroom. Instead, this method places the emphasis on the action rather than the actor.
An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education said learning-centered pedagogy balances achievement with learner needs and motivations. A learning-centered teacher, therefore, moves between the roles of content expert and learning coach.
Pedagogy in teaching and learning can have ramifications that extend far beyond textbook theories of classroom instruction, so it’s important to understand the theory and goals behind each type.
In his landmark book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,”Brazilian educator Paulo Freire said teacher-centered pedagogy, which tilts the balance of power in the classroom towards the teacher, perpetuates oppressive class systems. He called this pedagogical approach dehumanizing and suggested a cooperative classroom was more appropriate, particularly for students from marginalized cultures.
Other educators and social theorists have taken distinctly different, though sometimes related, approaches from Freire. Maria Montessori, for instance, believed in a learner-directed environment, in which the emphasis was on the student. Montessori saw initiative and curiosity as the primary drivers of learning. Today, specialized Montessori schools design their instruction around her philosophy, but many traditional elementary schools have appropriated parts of her approach as well.
William C. Bagley, an educational theorist in the early 20th century, advocated a different approach from either Montessori or Freire. Bagley said the role of education was to preserve society, not to alter it. Consequently, Bagley proposed a teacher-centered educational model still practiced in many U.S. schools. His ideas reached their peak of popularity with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2005.
The principle of pedagogy adopted in a classroom affects everything from the content being taught to the goals of student evaluation. A traditional, teacher-centered pedagogy sees evaluation as a measurement of retention, which then gets encoded into a grade. It also gives a teacher complete power over what students learn and how. This approach mimics the traditional industrial or corporate structure in the U.S. but may feel out of date in an increasingly entrepreneurial economy.
In a learner-centered environment, on the other hand, evaluation may include self- or peer-directed evaluation tools. Students might also be given some measure of control over the content they learn and will likely be expected to show application of the ideas they’ve explored. These methods can help develop independent thinking more suited to the contemporary job market.
Methods of Pedagogy
Methods of classroom instruction differ depending on the types of pedagogy that underpins the teacher and institution. According to an article on Teach.com, some of those methods include:
- Methods in teacher-centered pedagogy: Since teacher-centered pedagogy relies on the instructor’s expertise, the teacher in this setting primarily uses direct instruction. This can include technology, such as pre-recorded lectures, along with kinesthetic activities such as drawing, role playing, or sports. In a teacher-centered environment, the instructor selects and monitors all activities.
- Methods in learner-centered pedagogy: Teachers who operate in learner-centered classrooms may provide personalized, differentiated instruction based on each student’s preferred learning style. Online games, small groups, and differentiated reading communities are popular learner-centered methods. In this pedagogical type, teachers might also encourage students to research and compile information on their own.
- Methods in learning-centered pedagogy: Learning-centered pedagogy may borrow from both teacher-centered and learner-centered pedagogy methods. The emphasis in a learning-centered classroom is on content rather than personality, making nearly any method of instruction viable. In many cases, the challenge in a learning-centered environment is to determine how to create benchmarks that define success.
Understanding the goals and challenges of an educational environment allows educators to select the pedagogical methods best suited to their particular learning context.
Some people simply call pedagogical strategies instructional design. At this level, the educator has chosen to implement a specific pedagogical type, adopted its principles, and restricted themselves to its methodologies. Now, the educator goes one step further to select a single strategy to promote learning.
These strategies might include lectures, videos, group work, or games. Nearly any strategy could be teacher-centered, learner-centered, or learning-centered depending upon how it is used. For instance, a lecture might seem teacher-centered by nature, but a short, powerful lecture can provide the perfect lead-in to a learner-chosen activity. PowerPoint can be teacher-centered if the instructor creates it and uses it, or it can be learner-centered if the students create it using their own ideas. Podcasts that deliver teacher-designed lectures can fit into a teacher-centered approach, but student-created podcasts may be learner-centered or learning-centered.
There may be some misconception that modern or high-tech strategies are inherently learner-centered while traditional ones are teacher-centered, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Selecting a strategy often means adapting an instructional approach to a pre-existing pedagogical type and methodology. Just as lectures can have a role in a learner-centered environment, collaborative learning or digital labs can be presented in a teacher-centered fashion. Pedagogical types influence how strategies are presented, but they don’t have to dictate the strategies are chosen.
In his autobiography, “The Thread That Runs So True,” teacher Jesse Stuart recalled how as a 17-year-old starting his career at a rural Kentucky school in the early 20th century, he struggled to instruct first graders who slept through classes. Though he didn’t have the terminology to describe pedagogical strategy then, Stuart knew he had to innovate on the teacher-centered model prized at the time.
So, he created pictures, number cards, and other hands-on learning tools for his disenchanted first graders. In doing so, Stuart introduced a learning-centered pedagogy to a one-room school during an era in which few models existed other than the teacher-centered approach. Though practical application will vary according to context, educators who understand how to put pedagogy principles to use in their classrooms like Stuart did will be able to move comfortably between teacher-, learner-, and learning-centered models as needed. Shawnee State University’s online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction helps educators enhance their planning, instruction, and assessment techniques to work within a variety of pedagogical styles. Our flexible, fully online program makes it easy for practicing teachers to return to school while keeping up with the responsibilities of work and life. If you’re interested in taking your teaching career to the next level, it’s time to learn what SSU can do for you.