Should teachers put students to the driver’s seat?


One of the most recurring ideas in teaching concerns the role of students and teachers. Progressive teaching methods advocate student-centric approaches, whereas traditional models promote teacher-led teaching. Which one works the best?

Having read an article in Education Week, in which a teacher with 29-years of experience criticised overusing student-centric methods in teaching, I decided to tackle this topic. The article makes several claims about what happens with regards to teaching when students are put to the driver’s seat (marked in bold). In italics you’ll find my reflection on the claims.

  • Fun over function, cosmetic engagement over actual learning
    One might wonder do teachers test out various student-centric teaching methods focusing overly on fun rather than practicality?
    If students are seemingly active or busy in the classroom, how can we verify they’re actually learning? Is it just easy to believe learning is taking place then? (Related see also my post about teacher’s survival strategies).
    Then again, the idea behind motivating learning process is that it should be somehow fun as well. If we focus solely on substance, we’re not catering to everyone’s needs.
  • Using technology-based ‘gimmicks’ to keep students entertained
    Kahoot-games, tablets etc. Has technology become the goal instead of a means for learning? Is technology used only because it’s the paradigm of today and ‘should be used’ or is it used because it’s seen as a necessity in learning? Also, what’s the balance (and purpose) between substance and entertainment – are teachers competing with videogames or are we trying to associate learning with them in order to increase meaningfulness?
  • Skills are forgotten
    Students are encouraged in classroom discussions, but how often we really practise how to discuss? Same with group work: We just assume students know how it should be carried out. This is a constant challenge – it’s not only about information, it’s equally as much how to use it. 
  • Teamwork equals ‘cafeteria socialisation’
    Modern teaching methods put cooperation first. Students engage in teamwork, which might be hindered by uneven participation and not focusing on task at hand, though at the same teamwork might improve social interaction. You win, you lose, while trying to find the optimal method. 

There’s certainly much to ponder. Traditional teaching models have lately gained attention also in Finland, because self-directed learning skills differ from student to student and progressive teaching models are criticised for putting too much pressure on the student. And that might cause anxiety and excessive amounts of stress. Nevertheless, for some student-centric teaching allows flourishing and growing as an individual.

Perhaps rather than finding a definite answer to which teaching model is the greatest, the idea in teaching could be to find the best practice that works with a certain group. And each group or individual is uniquely different. As the teacher in Education Week’s article points out, each method may prove succesful, yet no single method is always superior to others.

Finally, happy new year! I’ve been busy as a beaver with teaching, hence the lack of more frequent posts 😉

Behaviorism vs. constructivism: Comparing two leading approaches to learning

Let’s take a look on two most influential theories that have affected today’s learning and teaching styles.

  • Behaviorism (theory related to ‘passive mind’)

-Teacher teaches while the students remain relatively passive
(interaction is limited)
Teacher tells ‘facts’ which are then linked with students’ earlier knowledge (memorazing facts is also promoted)
-Learning happens individually in the classroom as a teacher-led process (80 % of the talk in class originates from teacher)
-Teacher knows everything
Making mistakes isn’t encouraged, in fact mistakes are quickly overlooked so that they wouldn’t leave a permanent memory trace

  • Constructivism (theory related to ‘active mind’)

-Teacher supports an active learning environment
(where students work together and discuss)
-Learning is based on understanding what has been learnt and processing that information
-Learning happens inside or outside the class
-Teacher as an expert, who encourages learning
-Teacher guides students to find solutions to problems
(main responsibility of learning lays with the student)
-Emphasis on learning strategies and creating new knowledge

Finally, many teachers combine these approaches. Based on the situation both of them prove useful in teaching – trick is to find the suitable balance 😉