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Topic: RESPONSES: Flaw in Student-Centered Learning
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 14,475
Registered: 12/3/04
RESPONSES: Flaw in Student-Centered Learning
Posted: Dec 15, 1998 10:57 AM
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[Note: The following responses were received shortly after posting the "Flaw
in Student-Centered Learning" OP-ED piece from the NYTimes.]

[1] Thanks for the article. My mailbox is full of essays I should read, but I
couldn't pass up one on student-centered learning. The op-ed goes overboard
in rejecting all student centered learning, but I did spend the last 15 weeks
taking a supervision course at _________ College. When teachers were
assigned a chapter to teach, I was appalled by how badly the teachers ran
discussions. I couldn't believe they couldn't ask better questions to elicit
instruction. Thus student centered learning can easlily be as bad as the
writer attested, if the teachers don't know how to ask meaningful questions
that would get students excited about collaborating.

[2] this was an interesting article.....it is amazing to me that so much of
the time schools and school boards and universities in this country just
blindly follow a "new" model of teaching or teacher training. they
don't do research or when they do, it is ignored....when you read about
it it sounds completely ignorant....but still it continues. why is
this? do we always have to have something new, not knowing whether it is
better or not? strange thing ....

[3] The ed class described in the op-ed article IS terrible; worse, it's
dangerous. I agree.

However, research presented at a November '98 meeting of the Council of
Chief State School Officers reveals that there are significant differences
in student achievement between students of teachers who come to classrooms
with and without education preparation. The differences favor those who have
it. This does NOT mean that all is well with pre-service education. It
definitely isn't. Nor does it mean that everyone needs to travel the exact
same path. But the solution is not more folks who have avoided ed school. It
is to improve teacher preparation, base it on sound research, use the
standards established by the National Board for Professional Teaching
Standards (NBPTS-for accomplished teachers) and the Interstate New Teacher
Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC-for beginning teachers) as
frameworks for what teachers need to know (these include subject matter
knowledge) and to take the debate out of the arena of ideology into the
arena of what works, for whom, and under whnat circumstances.

The flaw is not so much in "student-centered" learning, but in the
perception that student-centered learning is by nature touchy-feely,
directed only by student interest, and not based in specified content. The
Japanese TIMSS geometry lesson, for example, is quite student-centered. But
it is also math-centered and highly teacher-directed. Those three elements
are powerful together.

[4] I agree. It's not an either/or situation. Plus, this was such a gross
misrepresentation of "student centered learning". I am not disputing what
the woman saw, but to characterize this as what's going on in classrooms in
the name of student-centered learning is wrong. Here's an example of what I
mean when I say student-centered: The teacher could stand up and give
students the distance formula and let them plug in points and chug out
answers, not thinking too much. Or she could give them points on a
coordinate system and tell them to use the Pythagorean theorem to figure
out the distance between the two points, thus deriving the distance formula
for themselves.

There are thousands of even better examples that teachers on this list
could name that they use.

What really bothers me is that this type of article really prejudices the
public about these issues, and now when they hear the phrase "student
centered", this is what they'll think of.

[5] Very interesting......seems we are either on one side or another. Do you
suppose there are teachers that might use both methods depending on the
subject/project and/or students themselves? Seems we should be able to
gleen the good from different learning styles and adapt them appropriately.
Guess this article got a rise out of me. The pendulum swings.

[6] The last article reminded me of research about the general public and
their concepts that "anyone can teach". This idea is so entrenched, it
does prevent research based change. I always want to ask those people who
write editorials like that to come in and teach for a week. HA! Oh well,
enough fantasizing.

Just finished the latest KAPPAN. The whole issue was filled with
pertinent, just-in-time info, and I want to point out the best (to me) of
the whole issue was the article written by Judith M. Newman, entitled, "We
Can't Get There From Here!" The article is fairly long, but I was
especially touched by the reflection of the new teacher who was put in her
place by a peer on her first day on the job. I want to quote this lady's
reaction, pg 289:

"'After three years of waiting, I have finally signed a probationary
contract. I'm bursting with excitement. On my first day at school, in the
midst of my musings about how I can transform my classroom into an exciting
place, a colleague drops by and introduces herself. We chat for a few
minutes about her background and about the school community before she asks
about some materials I've got laid out on a nearby table. I launch
enthusiastically into an account of portfolio assessment. My colleague
listens with the odd "uh-hum" and nod, and then she finally speaks.

"We don't do stuff like that here. We'll hate you if you do because then
we'll have to start doing the same thing." I chuckle nervously not knowing
whether she is joking or being serious. Our chat ends soon after that.

That was the first day. Four months later, I still have not implemented my
portfolio plan.'"

Dr. Becker, I believe colleges and universities could help their students
by providing their students, in teacher education, classes in group theory,
negotiating skills, and other skills necessary to combat that typical
attack that ALWAYS happens to the new teacher.

One downfall of education programs, in my opinion, is to separate the
knowledge of systems and people that administrators receive and the
knowledge that teachers NEVER receive.

If we ever hope to develop leaders, shakers and changers among teachers,
they must have the skills and the werewithal (money, supplies, or other
prestigious perks such as listserv backup, conferences, etc) to help them
survive and thrive while overcoming the weak, yet effective guerrila
tactics to bring the new into line with the status quo.


Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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