Student centered teaching is a way of making teaching and learning better in the classroom. As this is a highly qualitative measure, it is sometimes hard to summarize the necessary changes or easily communicate the differences between student-centered and traditional teacher-led instruction.
What makes definition even harder, is the fact that student centered education is not really a method. It is a philosophy, based on the fact that each human being learns individually. What is taught in a classroom is not necessarily learned, because each student has a different perception of what was taught – and that is exactly how it should be, if we want to foster (critical) thinking skills. When we are asked to follow someone else’s thinking we will not create the same competence as while thinking it through on our own.
There are certain indicators for student centered teaching and learning. The three main characteristics to define whether a learning environment is student centered or not, are the use of cognitive, constructive and cooperative tools in teaching and learning. One very simple “measurement” is to pay attention to the amount of open-ended questions (as opposed to questions that have just single one correct answer). The other measure is the amount of individualization used in the classroom, and the learning environment supporting learner’s autonomy in majority of tasks and assignments.
Open-ended questions cater for the cognitive growth of your students. These questions also help your students grow as learners and understand the way their individual learning happens when they hear different correct answers to the same question. Discussing about the different points of view leading to these answers helps students understand the connections between concepts, and thus caters for deep learning. When you as teacher know how learning happens, you can easily guide students beyond rote memorization. The question to ask yourself while planning the lesson is: what will my students really learn about this?
Individualization sometimes seems like a bad word, or being something that only adds to the load for the teacher. But it does not have to be that way. Constructive teaching is student centered and acknowledges the importance of building the content to be learned so that it meets the students’ increasing understanding about the subject matter. Of course, introducing more complicated concepts after the basics have been learned is just plain common sense. But, the constructive way I have taught with also includes the idea of providing choices for students, so that the more advanced students can learn further on their own speed, while those students who may need extra time can review the content one more time, if necessary. This is not hard to do. And it still is basic common sense: keep the learning meaningful for all of your students. I used to assign different homework for students, too.
Learner’s autonomy requires cooperation in the class. Only cooperative learning is student centered, because teacher-led instruction is based on the teacher telling students what to do. Cooperation must happen between students to provide deeper understanding about the subject. Sometimes the students’ choice of words makes it easier for another student to understand, because they share the approximately same language level, which is not the case between the teacher and student. Cooperation in the teacher-student relationship takes away the unnecessary power struggle between teachers and students: why have a battle when we are aiming to a mutual goal? Providing autonomy in class empowers students to learn more on their own, and makes them become more interested in things they learn at school. This of course decreases the need for behaviour management in your class, when everyone is engaged in learning. Seems like a win-win situation to me!