A Critique of Student Centered Classrooms

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 make 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.