Isaac Castellano, University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Abstract: The focus in the classroom has steadily changed from a teacher-centered approach to a learner- centered approach. This allows the attention to be on the student’s individual needs and is tapered to the best method for them to succeed with the immense, diverse backgrounds that are intertwined in schools today. There are many different approaches to how to do this, such as: small groups, intro exams, and different exam and retention methods. With all of the approaches, the focus is on the individual student and how well they are learning the material and retaining that knowledge for future use. The idea of learner-centered is applying to all levels of education and should be incorporated into all classrooms across the world to get the most out of upcoming generations.

Keywords: Learner-Centered, tapered, focal point, retention methods

Introduction

Classrooms across the United States have centered the attention on achieving excellence on the high-stakes tests that students, at a particular grade level, are required to take. With this focus around these certain tests, students are merely a number to educators as the focus for both educators and administrations is to achieve the highest scores possible. With this focus, students are becoming invisible to teachers as teachers are trying to force all students to conform to their one style of teaching as this is the only way, in the eyes of the teacher, to properly prepare for the standardized tests. To properly assess a student, the individual’s background, heredity, talents, interests, and capacities must be taken into context and an individualized plan must be put into place for them to succeed.

Changing the Focus

The focus in the classroom has steadily changed from a teacher-centered focus, which is how the teacher is able to portray the material and how well one does on the standardized tests, to a learner-centered focus, where the individual student’s background, heredity, talents, interests, etc. are all taken into account to get the best results and retention out of a student. The focus now changes to what factors into an individuals’ ability to learn: experiences, backgrounds, their heredity, perspectives, talents, interests, needs, and the capacity at which they can learn. The focus also changes to learning the knowledge and about how teachers can effectively explain and teach the lesson at hand (McCombs, 2000). With the focus off of the teacher’s ability to teach the topic and onto the student’s ability to learn and retain the lesson at hand, students feel a higher connection to what the material is and to the teacher.   As students start to retain the information and connect with the teacher, the student’s motivation to achieve higher scores and to do well will increase too. As assessment has been put on high-stakes tests, switching the focus from teachers and educators need to achieve high test scores to the students’ actual ability to learn (McCombs, 2000). With the focus switching from how teachers’ are teaching to what the students are actually learning will allow a more relaxed atmosphere in classrooms and the promotion of actually learning instead of being on a strict schedule to meet.

With the student’s motivation and retention going up due to the teacher’s focus on each individual student and their individual background, now the focus of the material needs to be changed. This is a drastic mindset change as both parents and teachers need to understand what is best for their child/student to achieve the highest merits they can. As noted in, Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, the focus needs to change from the amount of material the students are learning, to the type of material the students are learning (Weimer, 2002). In many school districts across America, the focus is to get through as many sections of material as possible because that is the way to prepare students for the standardized tests that awaits each and every one of them. But with a learner-centered approach, the material is broken down even further to allow the students to grasp the concept and to retain the knowledge for a longer period of time. Through this focus change, teachers, and parents, must be patient as the process develops; parents and teachers must encourage the process and aid in any misunderstanding so the student gets the most out of what is being taught. In the article, From teacher-centered to learner-centered curriculum: Improving learning in diverse classrooms. Education, teachers need to realize that their job as an educator is to educate the students that enter the door to their classroom every day. In the majority, teachers need to realize that their focus is about the students’ ability to learn, and not the teacher’s ability to teach. This adaptation from a teacher-centered approach to a learner-centered approach needs to be done by the teachers themselves as they are the ones who are learning the new techniques, new strategies, and most importantly, they need to know how backgrounds of an individual impact their success in the classroom (Brown, 2003). Teachers now have to switch the focal point off of them as educators and onto each and every student, as an individual. Teacher’s role in the classroom is more enhanced to allow the students a chance to succeed, no matter their background, their talents, or their interests.

Switching the Approach

As the focus is changing from what the teacher is teaching to the entire class, to how they are teaching it to each individual student, a new approach needs to be developed for maximum success. The anxiety that surrounds changes is enough to put educators and administrators over the edge, so an effective and useful approach must be made to assure that the students’ efforts and successes are able to achieve the fullest potential. To begin the switch, teachers must buy in to the philosophy that the student’s individual needs must be met to successfully grow and advance in the classroom. Next, the purpose of teaching must change from memorization and bulk knowledge, to if a student as successfully learned and comprehended a certain area and feels comfortable and confident to move on in the specific area (McCombs, 2000). Teaching strategies in the past have been to teach at a specific pace to ensure that the material needed for the standardized tests is taught. The problem with this way of teaching, teacher-centered learning, is that some students excel while others are not comprehending the material and are set up to fail. After the student has fallen behind, their knowledge, motivation, and retention go out the door and they may give up on the idea of schooling all together. The idea that “One teaching style fits all” is a thing of the past as our culture is changing and the individuals in the school system are changing as well, coming from more diverse backgrounds and cultures (Brown, 2003). If a fish was tested on its’ ability to climb a tree, it will believe it has failed in everything it has done. This is the same concept that goes hand in hand with a “One teaching style fits all” as some students are hands on, while others learn best by just observing; no one way to teach a classroom is the correct way, but the teacher must be able to gauge what works for one student and what works for another.

As the teachers begin to figure specific strategies for each student, they can start taking a more personal approach to their classroom. As noted by Norman & Sopher, Learner-centered approach allows the teacher a more personal approach to hand-pick problems and lessons that fit a certain student and their interests, beliefs, and backgrounds (Norman & Sopher, 1996). Through this personalization aspect to the classroom, students and teachers can feel closer to each other as the student knows the teacher is trying and the teacher is beginning to see the student in their own light. With problems built for a specific student, or a group of students, they can learn how to collaborate with each other and problem-solve to find the solution, which is being diminished in the school system in today’s world. Students are told not to think outside of the box and just to learn the material that is right in front of them and that is it, but through learner-centered approach, thinking outside the box to problem-solve and determine the solution is encouraged. Through teaching students how to collaborate and think, they are learning skills that will translate into their future jobs and beyond.

Gauging the Success

Now that the approach has changed from teaching each student as one large group, to a more individualized approach, teachers can start implementing ways in how to gauge the success of the individualization. Through the process of learning, teachers can break the students up into smaller groups with students from similar backgrounds and similar interests. Through these small groups, the students can teach each other, with the help of a student aid or from the teacher, help each other, and evaluate each other. As noted by Weimer, “The evaluation process change[s]… No longer [does] faculty do all the evaluation… peers and learners themselves are involved in the evaluation activities. The ability to self-assess accurately and constructively judge the work of peers is an essential learning skill” (Weimer, 2002). With students gaining the skill of evaluation that teachers use to evaluate the classroom, they begin to see what is needed from a project or assignment and will gain more retention as they must know what they are evaluating before they can. Implementing peer evaluation will help assess if the learner-centered approach is an accurate tool. Another useful to help assess the learner-centered approach is to begin with a baseline test, which is the same for every student, and then immediately after, give each student a test that has hand-picked problems that are tailored to their specific interests and their prior knowledge. This will allow the faculty to see the difference between having a generalized test versus a test that is tapered to fit each individual student. After, compare how the class did as a whole on the test that was generalized for the entire class versus how each student did on their individualized test. The results should show that students are more likely to learn and retain information if it is a topic that interests them and they feel connected to.

So through the few assessment options, I believe that every school in America should switch from the teacher-centered approach to a learner-centered approach to best prepare the generations to come for the world after schooling.

References

Brown, K. L. (2003). From teacher-centered to learner-centered curriculum: Improving learning in diverse classroomsEducation124(1), 49.

McCombs, B. L. (2000). Assessing the Role of Educational Technology in the Teaching and Learning Process: A Learner-Centered Perspective

Norman, D. A., & Spohrer, J. C. (1996).       Learner-centered education. Communications of the ACM39(4), 24-27.

Paris, S. G. (1998). Why learner-centered assessment is better than high-stakes testing.

Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. John Wiley & Sons.