5 Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching

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Maryellen Weimer (whose bio includes: Penn State Professor Emeritus of Teaching and Learning and Editor-in-chief of Teaching Professor) addresses the wide spread use of the term “learner-centered” in her post, “Five Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching” on The Teaching Professor Blog at Faculty Focus. At the heart of her concern is this: “With widespread use comes a certain definitional looseness.”

To help tighten up the definition, she offers five clarifying characteristics, quoted below with a single descriptor pulled from her explanations. For more fully fleshed out descriptions, visit her original post, or better yet, check out her book, “Learner-Centered Teaching.”

1. Learner-centered teaching engages students in the hard, messy work of learning.

On any given day, in most classes teachers are working much harder than students.

2. Learner-centered teaching includes explicit skill instruction.

Learner-centered teachers teach students how to think, solve problems, evaluate evidence, analyze arguments, generate hypotheses—all those learning skills essential to mastering material in the discipline.

3. Learner-centered teaching encourages students to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning it. 

They challenge student assumptions about learning and encourage them to accept responsibility for decisions they make about learning; like how they study for exams, when they do assigned reading, whether they revise their writing or check their answers.

4. Learner-centered teaching motivates students by giving them some control over learning processes.

Learner-centered teachers search out ethically responsible ways to share power with students.

5. Learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration.

Learner-centered teachers work to develop structures that promote shared commitments to learning.

It is pretty easy to see how these core characteristics can apply to any age learner — be they kindergarteners or faculty in a school system. If we want our educators to be learning models for students, we would do well to employ some of these characteristics at all levels of learning.

Photo Credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc

Year At Mission Hill – Chapter 6: Like a Family

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The idea of living “like a family” is explored, like other topics within the school, as a community — among faculty, students, parents, and every combination thereof. Faculty see parents as partners, and talk about trust, cooperation, and communication as building blocks of that key relationship. The footage shows interactions between parents, teachers, and students — the kind of interactions that shape the culture of the school and ultimately shapes the experience students have day in and day out.

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 5: The Eye of the Dragon

missionhillSo much of the language that we know to be valuable in education comes alive at Mission Hill. Art. Empowerment. Choice. Voice. Inspiration. Creativity. Student experts. Student teachers. Community.

Every year they employ a school wide theme that aims for depth and breadth throughout the school. This year’s, “Long Ago and Far Away,” and the students share a seam of study (though not necessarily specific content) that everyone can relate to, no matter the age.

“To This Day” Project (Amazing Video)

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 8.59.15 AMShane Koyczan — spoken word poet, writer, and performer — was the first Canadian to win the National Poetry Slam in 2000. That success portended the recent virality of “To This Day,” an emotional and passionate exploration of bullying, victimhood, and the ongoing struggle to heal wounds so as to not be defined by them.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 9.02.46 AMOne of the many beautiful things about the “To This Day Project” is that it is animated by a collection of artists who created 20-second segments to accompany the poem. The result is a mosaic of visually moving interpretations of Shane’s narration. Collectively, the artistic collaboration of poet and animators create an art form that is powerful, instructive, and deeply moving. And inspiring.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 9.10.11 AMAs a metaphor for education, it speaks to both the need to cultivate authentic opportunities for students to leverage their strengths and share their unique voices as well as the urgency of ensuring that each and every student is — and feels — safe and valued in our learning communities.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 9.03.47 AMWatch below. It will move and transform you.

Want to know more?

On the To This Day Project website they write,

To This Day Project is a project based on a spoken word poem written by Shane Koyczan called “To This Day”, to further explore the profound and lasting impact that bullying can have on an individual.

Schools and families are in desperate need of proper tools to confront this problem. We can give them a starting point… A message that will have a far reaching and long lasting effect in confronting bullying.

Animators and motion artists brought their unique styles to 20 second segments that will thread into one fluid voice.

This collaborative volunteer effort will demonstrate what a community of caring individuals are capable of when they come together.

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Images: ScreenShots from the “To This Day” Video

 

Before I die I want to . . .

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Creating discussions and constructive conversations that lead to transformational learning necessitates we generate experiences that reframe our perspective on our world. Sometimes this can happen in surprising and spontaneous ways that build community.

Candy Chang created just such an event in her neighborhood in New Orleans when she painted an abandoned house with chalkboard paint and then stenciled “Before I die I want to . . . ” all over it. She supplied chalk and passer-bys supplied the ideas. Watch her TED Talk below and you may find yourself wanting to create a gorilla conversation in your neighborhood.

We can take a lot from this video, but perhaps one of the most important is to wonder, “Are we giving students opportunities to express their voices in way that matter to them?” Or, “What can we do more to make sure they feel like school is a reflection of their needs, interests, and desires?”

You can watch her talk on the TED site as well.

Image: Candy Chang
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