Making the Shift: Moving from a Teacher Centered Classroom to a Student Centered Classroom

Making the Shift
Moving from a Teacher Centered Classroom to a Student Centered Classroom

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 34,601 views |

In the past, classrooms were often all about the teacher. This “sage on the stage” was there to offer what he or she knew, and it was up to the student to make the most of it.

These days, though, we know that student centered classrooms make a better and more effective learning environment for students. Sometimes knowing just how to change the focus from the teacher to the student is, well, hard. It’s easy to stand up front and talk for an hour but not as easy to create an environment where your students take the center stage. Whether you are just moving to a student centered classroom or are a pro at stepping back and letting your students take the stage, here are some tips for making the shift and staying there.

Isn't It Time to Move from a Teacher Centered Classroom to a Student Centered Classroom?

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    In a teacher centered classroom, the goal is for the teacher to transfer his or her knowledge to the student. As a teacher, I have something important that my students should know, and I am going to give them that information. And although it is true that the teacher possesses more knowledge on his subject than his or her students, this outlook on learning is more about the teacher than the student. Student centered classrooms focus on the students’ desire and ability to acquire knowledge. I want to know something, and my teacher is here to help me figure or find it out. Ask your students what they want to know when possible, and let them play a part in determining what you learn in class.

  2. 2


    It may seem obvious, but a teacher centered classroom is focused on the teacher. He or she stands at the front of the room, and all eyes are on him. A student centered classroom focuses on the student. Teachers move around the classroom and check in with students’ progress and productivity. Students do more of the talking, and class is designed to meet their needs rather than the material the teacher hopes to cover. Make a point of avoiding traditional lectures. Make sure your students do more talking than you do each day, and let your students know that you are there as a resource for them.

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    Classrooms need some type of structure, but a teacher centered classroom puts more value on the plan than it does on the participants. There is an agenda or curriculum, and the material must be covered. Student centered classrooms, on the other hand, are more fluid and flexible. Sometimes the best lesson for the day is the unplanned lesson but the one that meets the needs of the students. Be flexible in what you cover in class. Take advantage of bunny trails and teachable moments. They may be the best lessons you cover all year!

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    Those who look will see the subtle difference between the objectives of the teacher centered and the student centered classrooms. The former focus on teaching objectives. We must cover the material set out in the plans and do it in such a way to meet the teaching objectives. The latter classroom, however, focuses on the learning outcomes of the students. What will it take for the members of the class to learn particular points? That is what determines what is covered in class and how it is covered. Think about what you want your students to learn (or what they have said they want to learn) and then design a path to get them to that knowledge.

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    Questions and Answers

    In the teacher centered classroom, the teacher’s goal is to provide answers to his or her students. Again, it is a matter of the teacher having knowledge that he or she wants to impart to his students. The student centered classroom, however, focuses more on students asking questions. When students ask questions, they engage with the material and have a personal investment in the answers that are coming. Students and their interests influence what material their classes contain. Encourage your students to ask questions. Pay attention to the questions they ask. Make sure you are meeting the needs of your students and not just the requirements of your curriculum.

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    Follow the leader might be an accurate description of the teacher centered classroom. I have material I am going to cover, and I want you to track with me. When a classroom is student centered, however, the teacher is more of a guide than a leader. The teacher points out important points on the students’ educational journey. They help students move in the right direction as they explore and motivate their own learning. Give your students a chance to discover knowledge or figure things out on their own. It may take longer to get to the final goal, but your students will gain more along the journey.

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    In the teacher centered classroom, students are passive. They are there to take in what the teacher presents. They are a sponge. In the student centered classroom, on the other hand, students are actively engaged in class. They influence so much of what happens in class, and they are actively participating. They are not a sponge taking in knowledge but an archaeologist digging for treasures of knowledge. Encourage your students’ inquisitiveness and curiosity. Show them you value their questions and their input, and make sure they know that you are there as a resource for them.

Some differences between the teacher centered classroom and the student centered classroom are subtle. Others are blaringly at odds.

Some teachers may have a difficult time walking the narrow line between the two if they have pressure from administration but still want to meet the needs of their students. Ultimately, only you can decide what the best way to run your classroom is, but the more we can focus on students and their needs the better language learners they will become.

What do you do to make your classroom more student centered?

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