Which is Better Teacher Centered or Student Centered in K-12?

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So many people in education find themselves hearing about new techniques and then truly wondering, which is better teacher centered or student centered instruction. When most of us think back about our time in school, it was a very teacher-centric model of instruction. The teacher told us what we needed to know, we digested that information quietly, and then at some point, we regurgitated it back to the teacher to prove how much of it we retained.

Today, the focus on how to teach students, especially Generation Z, has changed drastically. The push is for student-centric lessons, but there are a lot of questions about there in terms of what that means…and how to do it.

The main question is, which is better, teacher-centered or student-centered? Data doesn’t lie: with today’s students in our classroom, student-centered learning is a home run every time…but it must be implemented properly.

Why is student-centered learning so effective?

Many teachers make the mistake of thinking their students want freedom and independence in the classroom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Student-centered learning is about supporting student success by providing individualized challenges, giving them choices within limits, and creating a sense of community where they feel safe to take risks or try new things. It’s not what most of us think about when we hear the term.

Data gathered from all corners of the world show that when students are given the opportunity to learn in a way that is meaningful to them, they will make strides while other peers continue learning in their traditional teacher-centered style at a much slower pace.

This model is especially successful for Generation Z, as I mentioned. This is because the majority of Generation Z students have been raised in a world where they are used to getting their information, entertainment, and social needs from the internet.

Gen Z wants this kind of freedom in the classroom. They want to choose what they learn about and how they will demonstrate that learning. There is no longer one right answer for all; there are as many valuable answers as there are people around the world.

Which is better teacher centered or student centered

What does student-centered learning look like in practice? 

There is no one right way to do this, but it always starts with finding out what students already know and where they need help. 

So for example, if you have a group of 10th graders who have never taken algebra, ask them what they already know about it. Most students will tell you that this is the “fun” part of math and that they are scared to take it because people in the class don’t like it.

In other words, if your students understand they are going to be successful with a specific goal, and they feel safe in your classroom, they can take just about any risk and the end result will be a positive one. (Using data to track progress is the best way to do this.)

You have now created a sense of community in your classroom where students are no longer afraid to try something new. 

Why teacher-centered classrooms are no longer effective

We have to remember that kids today are not just different; their brains are actually structured differently. 

The human brain is a complex organ, and it was designed for connecting with others in small groups of people who needed resources from each other on a daily basis.

Remember learning about the prefrontal cortex? It’s responsible for decision-making, planning, and controlling our behavior.

Today’s classrooms are full of individual desks, whiteboards, computers (and the Internet!), and even different activities within each classroom that make it difficult for students to focus on one activity at a time. Students are bombarded with stimuli every day, especially Generation Zers!

The neurological reality is that this type of classroom is actually inhibiting student learning because it interrupts the natural flow in the brain.

Now, add a group of people who are not interested in what they’re doing to that kind of scenario and you have Generation Z.  It’s no wonder that teachers all over the world are feeling frustrated with their students!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: education is not about passing on knowledge, it is about creating a thirst for learning.

When should teachers switch to student-centered learning? 

The bad news: if you want to become an effective teacher in the 21st century, you have to make this change first—and that’s probably going to be a big change for you since most teachers are trained in traditional teaching methods.

What’s the good news?  You can make this change without having to get rid of all your whiteboards and computers! What I’ve learned from my own experiences has been that finding ways to blend the two styles is key.

The solution to solving this dilemma starts by thinking about the two types of questioning: closed-ended and open-ended.

Closed-ended questions are great for getting answers, but they don’t usually encourage critical or creative thought. The problem with these kinds of questions is that students have to think using a formula instead of being able to truly apply their knowledge freely.  Open-ended questions, on the other hand, are the perfect way to help students break out of a stereotypical thought pattern and find solutions without thinking along narrow lines.

The next time you plan an activity in your classroom or think about how to approach a lesson, ask yourself these two things: 1) Is this closed-ended questioning that is going to help my students achieve a specific goal? [If the answer is yes, go for it!] 2) Is this open-ended questioning that will help create critical or creative thinkers?

How can teachers implement student-centered learning effectively?

The key to implementing student-centered learning effectively is making it an organic part of your curriculum. Some teachers see it as a method for motivating students or something that will allow them to “get away with more”, but when done properly, student-centered learning models drive better outcomes and make life easier on busy educators.

Here are some of the best ways to implement student-centered learning in your classroom

1. Create a Safe Space for Your Students

Students aren’t used to being able to speak up and voice their opinions on things. In most classrooms, if students have an idea worth sharing, they keep it to themselves or share it online via social media.

2. Encourage Risk-Taking

Students also aren’t used to taking risks in their schoolwork. After all, they’re building that college application (and maybe even worried about standardized testing). So, it may be difficult for them to feel like they can take chances with their work without fear of getting a failing grade or losing points for an assignment.

3. Give Feedback in Real-Time

Finally, teachers should be giving students regular feedback and encouraging them to get the help they need frequently instead of searing one time at the end of a semester or grading period. The best way to encourage them is to make your classroom a place where they can freely ask for help, discuss new ideas, and take risks without fear of receiving something less than the highest grade.

4. Be Flexible with Your Teaching Style

We’ve all experienced a class where the teacher uses a wildly different teaching style for each subject or tries to make every test feel like the same one you took two months ago…again.

5. Encourage Your Students to Be Innovators

By instituting a student-centered classroom, you’re encouraging students to speak up when they have new ideas and new ways to get things done. You’ll also help them build on their strengths and work around their weaknesses without frustration or anxiety that could lead to emotional outbursts or even worse: dropping out of school.

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What teaching methods should teachers use in a student-centered classroom? 

If you’re going to switch your teaching methods to support student-centered learning, you’ll need to make sure that you’re using the right ones. Here are some of the most effective:

1. Problem-based Learning

This method gives students all of the information they need to learn about a topic, and then it lets them figure out solutions for themselves. The best part is that it shows them as many different strategies as possible without giving them a right or wrong answer. As long as they reach the same solution that you did, that’s fine!

2. Cooperative Learning

This method is particularly effective for allowing students to work together on projects and assignments (after all, we’re in the 21st century now) and allows them to get help from others when they need it instead of trying to figure it out on their own.

3. Project-based Learning

This is another favorite method for modern educators who want their students to work together and learn about the real world without watching TV or going to a museum. In this model, teachers give students all of the materials they need to create a project that will bring their class together and help them master the subject matter they’re learning.

4. Inquiry-based Learning

Want to get your students to actually care about what you’re teaching? Then try an inquiry-based lesson plan! This method gives them a problem, then lets them find out how to solve it for themselves as they work with one another. If that’s not student-centered learning, we don’t know what is!

What are some other benefits of the teaching methods in a student-centered classroom?

The methods of a student-centered classroom have only one true goal: to help students reach success. So many educators use the methods listed above because they work. Here are just a few of the other benefits:

1. Students Learn More About Themselves

An emphasis on student-centered learning means that students are going to have time to explore their interests instead of being locked away from them for hours at a time. This is especially beneficial for high schoolers who are trying to figure out what they want to study and what they want to do with their futures.

2. Teachers Get More Time for One-on-One Help

The methods in a student-centered classroom are designed to give students the freedom and support they need to learn on their own, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be there when they need you! If you’re using the right methods, your students will be able to learn with fewer interruptions from the teacher. This gives you more time to check in and help a struggling student or just relax for a little bit!

3. Students Are More Likely to Learn from Their Mistakes

Mistakes should always be an important part of a student’s education—that way they don’t make the same mistakes that others have made before them. To help students learn from their errors, you’ll need to give them the freedom to explore and fail in your classroom.

Looking at mistakes like these makes you understand a bit more which is Better teacher centered or student centered in K-12. Truly, there is a simple answer to this knowing what we know about Generation Z. Today’s classroom requires a higher level of student engagement because students have more power over their learning outcome than ever before, ultimately leading to a student-led superiority of which is better teacher centered or student centered.

In the past, maybe students were just happy to have a seat in a room. Also, teachers may have been advised that being teacher-centered was the best method because “teachers know what is best for their classroom”. In today’s education world, this is not as relevant as it once was. Education has changed and started to recognize that student-centered learning is the best method for engaging today’s learners.

Though the question of which is better teacher centered or student centered still comes to the forefront in conversations fairly often, the data makes no mistake that learner-centered classrooms that are executed properly are the winner in both the short and long term.

The case for student-centered learning is pretty clear. It’s obvious, but teachers don’t always agree with this point of view. Reasons people argue against students being teacher-centered include: ” Not every kid learns the same way”, “I am a better teacher than my peers”, and “Honestly I just don’t want to change my practices.” The problem with these statements is that we are not always the best judge of our abilities and we don’t always know what is best. Instead, it’s important to be open-minded and allow students to determine their own learning path through self-directed inquiry. This will surely increase student engagement and participation which has been shown to lead to higher academic achievement.

Since social media came into existence, Gen Z has taken on more of a leadership role with their educational success because they are making their own path in life. If you look around most high schools today, the majority of students already realize that it’s important for them to take charge of their education themselves. This is why student-centered learning is gaining ground in education.

Ultimately with the case of which is better teacher centered or student centered, being a great leader in today’s world is not about telling your employees/students what to do and then just standing back and watch it happen. A great leader works in tandem with their team, allowing them to work autonomously when they can. After all, if you are leading a group of students or employees to success, you do not want to be the one holding them back.

Moving from a teacher-centered classroom is easier than you would think

If you want to move your classroom from a teacher-centered model into a student-centered one, all you need to do is make the choice and put in the hard work. The methods for learning that you start using today can go a long way toward preparing your students for life outside of school—and that’s something that all educators should strive for.

The methods in a student-centered classroom can only be as successful as the teacher who implements them! For every great method that an educator has, there will probably be one or two things they didn’t think of along the way. To make sure that your new student-centered classroom is a success, here are three things you need to know:

1. The Student’s Perspective Comes First

It should come as no surprise that your students’ opinions and feelings will play the biggest role in any student-centered lesson plan. Just like making sure that their paths through school match up with their interests, you won’t want to go any other direction when it comes to deciding what methods you’ll use in a student-centered class.

2. Your Materials Must Reflect the Way Students Learn Best

When students have more freedom to explore their interests, they are going to need materials that help them do so—and those usually aren’t the same kinds of books and worksheets you’ve been using in your class up to this point. You’ll also need to know that fact when it comes to grading and giving feedback: if a student is doing something wrong, they should have the freedom to learn from it without having their grade suffer because of it.

3. Your Classroom Structure Must Reflect an Emphasis on Student Success

As you move your classroom from a teacher-centered model to a student-centered one, you’ll want to slowly change the structure of your classroom. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still keep track of attendance and have rules; it just means that the consequences behind these things should be more about making sure students learn instead of trying to punish them for not doing so.

You don’t have to go at it alone! Let’s talk about the 4 keys.

As you’re determining which is better teacher centered or student centered in your classroom, remember that you’re not going to be able to do it on your own. It’s time to take your focus off helping students achieve success at school and put it onto helping them learn valuable skills like critical thinking, creativity, and real-world problem-solving. That’s where you can use the help of an expert!

Implementing student-centered learning isn’t difficult, it just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom. If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.

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