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An introduction to Teacher-Centered and Student-Centered learning

Iain MTEFL Contributor
Photo by Andy Barbour

The term teaching method refers to a wide range of principles, pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching as a theoretical concept), and classroom management strategies used in teaching. Your choice of teaching method depends on what suits you, your educational beliefs, the demographic of your learners, and your teaching institution’s mission.

Teaching methodologies can be grouped into two main approaches: a teacher-centered approach and a student-centered approach.

Through these different approaches to teaching in general, ESL and EFL teachers can gain a better understanding of how best to approach teaching and learning in their classrooms, perform instruction, and connect with students.

The Teacher-Centered approach to learning

The teacher-centered approach to learning is the more traditional approach and sees the teacher function in the conventional role of classroom lecturer. The teacher is responsible for presenting knowledge to students who are expected to passively receive it. Student progress and performance is measured by way of formal tests and assessments, typically objectively scored. Objective scoring is typically done with a key or formula so that different assessors arrive at the same score for the same set of answers and responses. This can be contrasted to subjective scoring in which the score depends on the assessor’s opinion or interpretation of student answers and responses.

There are a number of methods to consider in the teacher-centered approach. Here are a few that you might find useful for teaching English as a foreign language.

Direct Instruction

Direct instruction is a conventional method of teaching performed by way of lectures and teacher-led demonstrations. The teacher might perform a number of roles including, but not limited to the following:

  • The Formal Authority
    Teachers are in a position of authority because of their level of knowledge. Classroom management styles are traditional and typically focus on rules and expectations.
  • The Expert
    An Expert teacher’s role is to guide and direct learners through the learning process. The Expert is in possession of the knowledge and expertise required to instruct. Students are viewed as the receptors of the Expert’s knowledge.

As the primary teaching strategy in the teacher-centered approach, direct instruction encourages passive learning.  Students learn by listening and watching the teacher’s instruction. Teachers are the sole supplier of knowledge and under the direct instruction strategy teachers typically use scripted lesson plans in their classes.

Benefits of a Teacher-Centered Classroom

  • Students are quiet as the teacher enforces control of the classroom and activities in the lesson.
  • Teachers are usually not concerned that students may be missing important information.
  • Teachers may feel more comfortable in charge of classroom activities.
  • Students have no choice but to focus their attention on the teacher.

Drawbacks of a Teacher-Centered Classroom

  • Students may become bored unless the teacher can make the lesson interesting and fun.
  • Collaboration is usually not encouraged and, as a result, students miss opportunities to share the process of learning with their peers.
  • Students may have less opportunity to develop their communication and critical-thinking skills.

The Student-Centered approach to learning

In a student-centered teaching approach to learning, teachers and students play an equally active role in the learning process. The teacher’s primary role is to coach and encourage student learning. Student progress and performance is often assessed through group projects, assignments, and class participation.

Inquiry-based learning

Inquiry-based learning is a teaching method in which the teacher primarily provides guidance and support for students throughout their learning process. It incorporates active participation of students by involving them in research and encourages asking questions and considering real-life experiences. The teacher might perform a number of roles including, but not limited to the following:

  • The Facilitator
    The Facilitator doesn’t rely solely on teacher instruction; both the student and the teacher cooperate. The Facilitator guides the students through the learning process. The Facilitator is focused on encouraging independence, practical learning, and exploration.
  • The Delegator
    The Delegator’s role is answering questions and reviewing progress. The Delegator plays a passive role in student learning and students are active and engaged participants of their own learning process. The goal of a Delegator is to encourage a sense of student independence in the learning process.
  • The Personal Model
    Teachers who adopt this style lead by example by demonstrating to students how to access and comprehend information. In this teaching model, students learn through observing and following the teacher’s process.

The student-centered teaching approach allows students to ask questions and consider what they want to get from the material in regard to their learning goals. Students are encouraged to research questions, find information, and solve problems they may encounter during their learning process. Inquiry-based learning can make great use of technology through online research sites and social media.

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning is relatively new educational model and it’s still evolving. In essence, students follow personalized learning plans that are specific to their interests, skills, and learning goals. Student self-direction and choice in lesson topics are hallmarks of personalized learning.

Benefits of a Student-Centered Classroom

  • Learning becomes a shared experience between the teacher, the students, and the students’ peers.
  • Students build both collaboration and communication skills.
  • Students tend to be more interested in learning when they can interact with each another and participate actively in their own learning.
  • Students learn how to work independently and interact with others as part of the learning process.

Drawbacks of a Student-Centered Classroom

  • The classroom may seem noisy or chaotic as students are free to collaborate and interact.
  • Classroom management can become more of a challenge for the teacher.
  • Contrary to direct instruction in the teacher-centered approach, there may be a concern that students may miss important information.
  • A student-centered approach does not seem ideal for students who prefer to work alone.
Iain MTEFL Contributor
Iain has over ten years of experience as an ESL/EFL instructor, teaching students of all ages. He has operated and managed an English language school and is now dedicated to creating teaching material.

Disclaimer  We aim to provide useful ESL and EFL teaching resources and educational ideas. Our articles are written by educators with extension TEFL experience. They contain only general information about teaching English as a foreign language and are meant purely for informational purposes.

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