Many education reformers and education pundits have been pushing for student-centered classrooms for quite some time.  The teacher should simply be a facilitator of the class, and let students construct their own knowledge.   Then students, left to themselves, with their natural curiosity and inner desire to learn freed from constraints, will take ownership of their learning and become lifelong learners.  The reason many have been calling for this change is that classrooms have been too teacher-centered for a long time.  In another post I shared some data from the Marzano Research group that indicates classrooms across the United States are heavily teacher-centered. So I get it.  We need to move away from the teacher as the sole deliverer of content.  But lets not throw out the baby with the bath water.


We can’t completely do away with teachers leading and teaching their classes.  I believe one reason many teachers hesitate to embrace a student-centered classroom is that a completely student-centered classroom goes too far.  Students often don’t know what they don’t know.  I, as a science teacher, am an expert on a topic such as Chemistry and know Chemistry very well.  My students, on the other hand, come to class not knowing Chemistry very well, if at all.  And though it seems well and good to think that we can have students completely construct knowledge on their own, we need to teach them the things that we do know.  We are experts in our field.  We went to college for a long time to learn specific content.   


Instead of choosing between student and teacher-centered classrooms, we should think of it more as a continuum. Teachers need to teach and students need to take ownership.  The best classes bring in both of these elements. The sweet spot is where they come together so that the classroom becomes neither student nor teacher-centered as a whole. See diagram below. The sweet spot will be different for each teacher depending on the subject taught and degree of willingness to give up some control.    



I believe one of the best ways to mak


e your class less teacher-centered is to flip your class.  Teachers can still teach and students can still construct knowledge.  If teachers are presenting content to a whole group of students at the same time on a consistent basis, then classes tend to be too teacher-centered.  The simple act of putting the direct instruction (the “teaching”) on a short instructional video allows for more time for student-centered activities.  Teachers still “teach,” but class time is now freed up for students to explore, expand, and receive assistance.  



What do you think?  To what extent do you think teachers need to teach and students need to construct?  Share with me your thoughts on how you can make class less teacher-centered and yet still allow you to teach.  Or if you think classes need to be student-centered.



11 thoughts on “A Critique of Student Centered Classrooms

  1. "Students often don’t know what they don’t know."  Yes! Exactly! That's how we have job security…. I'm a history teacher, so my students can't merely absorb information by observing their environment or playing with numbers. At the very least they need to be guided, and for some things they just need to be told.

    I think you have the blue arrow in a good place. In the course of a lesson or unit, I think the arrow can slide from teacher to facilitator.  When my students have a firm grasp of the basics about a topic (like basic tenets of the Constitution), then they can explore singular sub-topics more or less on their own. 

    1. Andrew:  I agree.  There needs to be some teacher direction (you are the expert), but also time and energy for kids to expore on their own.  This balance is the tension.  I do believe that for too long the “line” has been too far towards a teacher centered classroom, but I am uncomfortable with it going all the way over to the other side.


  2. But how do you get the students to take ownership of this learning?  I am on year two of "flipped" and set up my classroom with semi mastery where the students have stations each day and must pass a quiz prior to the tests, but I can not get them to do this learning style sucessfully.  I do not have bad grades, but I do have a lot of negative attitudes and resistance!  Please elaborate on how you got your students to buy in and take the ownership.

    1. Allison:  I would encourge you to keep with it.  It really wasn’t until the third year of us flipping the class that we felt we had really created it as a culture.  That said and there are lots of other things that can be done to help students make the jump.  Not sure of your whole story so it might be hard to help you through the blog. I encourage you to ask more questions on our network site: where you can ask more.  You might also consider attending our big conference this summer in Michgan. 

  3. It's interesting to read this because while you are approaching student-centered learnign from the flipped classroom in K12 point of view, I naturally approach it from the blended/hybrid in HE point of view.

    In short, I agree that student-centered learning can not be a binary construct, but must be considered as continuum(s) depending on what element you are emphasizing. In this particular case you're using a continuum to reference the teacher's role ("teacher" vs "facilitator"); in the past I've suggested a similar continuum, but focused on the design of the learning experience ("teacher-directed" vs "self-directed"). 

    I'm looking forward to a chance to talk about this idea more at the annual Canvas users conference this summer, so I appreciated reading your thoughts on the matter.

    1. Great thoughts Jared.  I do think we need to get to a “more” student centered classroom–that is the goal, but a purely student centered classroom seems a bit impractical for me. 

  4. This is my first year flipping, and it's going really well. In January, I began to shift towards an in-class rather than a "traditional" flipped environment for a few reasons. First, many of my students did not have consistent Internet access at home, and since I use EDpuzzle (awesome tool!) to assign my videos, reliable Internet is a must. Second, having the students watch the videos as a Bellringer or opening activity (2 somtimes 3 videos per week) allows me to be present for student questions and misunderstandings. This shift has created a happy medium for my classroom…I'll call it a teacher-facilitated student-centered environment 🙂

    1. Bethany:  I like how you are making flipped your own.  The key is always finding what is best for your student and I applaud you for doing just that.  Thanks for sharing. 

  5. Hello,

    I have found an issue with flipped classroom (specially with science subjects), since flipped classroom is trying to broaden the focus of students on the class subjects we want them to go further, going beyond  the limits that teacher was setting up with his specific and detailed lectures. Some students specially the perfectionists get into a panic when they begin to search infomation and find many books, web pages, presentations, etc available in Internet where they find introductory, basic and advanced information about the subjects. That incredible quantity of information available creates a panic feeling and they don't know where to stop. Teachers, applying their experience, should guide students to set up boundaries in order to let them know what is right and what is too much (not for knowledge adquisition but for practical issues like time avaiable to deliver the homework, time available  to study, time to do homework, etc.).

    1. That is definitely true if you are having students search for their own video content.  I reccomend that teachers create their own content so that it limits the choices, creates a personal connection, and the content is taught the way the teacher wants it taught.


  6. Here would be my suggestion as a student. Having a student-centered class doesn’t necessarily have to do away with the teacher. What the teacher can do is act as a supportive measure. That there is where your pre-acquired knowledge when going to college or university comes into things. Having students that don’t understand Chemistry? Give them the basics of it and show them what branches of Chemistry is available, then let them go from there. If they need help comprehending something, or if they aren’t sure where to focus their learning, then the teacher can come in to help with their catering. Despite having a teacher-centered environment, my teachers learned very quickly that I didn’t need to talk to them to get the job done and still outdo everyone else in the school. It may have pissed a lot of them off, especially the ones teaching the online subjects I currently am taking, but it can be quite simple, really. If we aren’t motivated, good luck trying to get someone to reach their potential. If their not focused, good luck getting them to do their best. I’ll admit, I’m still not motivated to do work, nor am I happy with school. But I can still do the job I need to because teachers leave me alone.

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