When we talk about student centred and teacher-directed learning, do we mean poles, continuums or pendulums?

Each Friday I reflect on what I’ve read, learnt and pondered during the week. Sometimes I think my job is to ‘Read for Australia’ and then I need to share.

Short version:

Every school, organisation, group and family have a culture. Often culture is centred on language and terminology that becomes embedded into our vocabulary. Sometimes, however, we need to step back and think about what we actually mean.

What do we mean by student centred learning and teacher-directed learning. Research presented here suggests that the teachers in the study weren’t perceived as student-centred as they thought they were.

But how do we view this idea of student centred learning and teacher-directed learning cultures? As polar opposites, as a continuum of a journey or a pendulum that swings from one side to the other?

Leading me to ask:

What about all the knowledge and experience a teacher brings?

Are teachers really controlling the student-centred learning environments anyway?

Do we believe that all students can become self-directed autonomous learners?

What do you think?

If you want to read more:

My main interest is culture. Every school, organisation, group and family have a culture. The family ones often run deep. To this day, there are ways of thinking that were part of my family culture that ‘pop-up’ in my mind, things that no longer fit with the way I see the world today. Often culture is centred on language and terminology that becomes embedded into our vocabulary. Sometimes, however, we need to step back and think about what we actually mean.

Take for example the notions of ‘learner centred’ and ‘teacher directed’ cultures. In our ‘progressive 21st century’ sense of education, one has become the preference over the other. But is that justified? The premise is that student agency can have expression in a student-centred learning environment.

In their paper “Agency, responsibility and equity in teacher versus student activities: A comparison between teachers’ and learners’ perceptions” Mameli (2019) and her colleagues sought to investigate whether there was a “match between teachers’ and students’ perceptions of what they are doing in the classroom”. As I read, I asked myself the question:

When we talk about teacher-directed and student centred, do we mean poles, continuums or pendulums?

First, they unpacked what is meant by the key terms:

Agency: “an individual’s ability to transform the social practices in which s/he participates”

Teacher-directed: favouring a compliant form of action, described as a “responsive or domesticated agency”. Activities of learning, as the name suggest are dependent on the teacher – didactic teaching, tests, teacher-led discussions and completion of teacher devised tasks.

Learner-centred: The teaching and learning processes are founded on collective co-constructed knowledge and “teachers concede part of their instructional power to learners”. Activities of learning include collaborative activities, reflective thinking, investigations and exploratory discussions.

As the title of the paper suggests, they were looking at ‘perceptions’ of student-centred learning to support agency, responsibility and equity. There was a disconnect between the perceptions of student-centred learning by the teachers and as it was experienced by the students. It was reported that teachers in the study over-emphasised their capacity for student-centred learning to foster agency, responsibility and equity. This led to the conclusion that for this study “teachers, in their everyday practice tend to accept and legitimise mainly domesticated forms of agency”. The teachers in the study already considered themselves to be learner-centred, yet this was not affirmed by the students.

Do we as educators perceive what we are doing is supporting student agency, but only a domesticated form?

Is that OK? Is it reasonable? This gets me to the ideas of poles, continuums and pendulums. When I was teaching, I hoped that the learning environment I set up was student-centred, empathic, focused on learner needs and collaborative. But I have to admit, there was a sense of peace and order that I enjoyed during ‘handwriting lessons’ each week. It was responsive to the teacher and probably a domesticated form of agency, but there was also a collective calm.

So how do we view student-centred and teacher-directed learning?

Poles: It’s one way or another, student-centred and teacher-directed learning cannot co-exist.

Continuum: If our professional life is a journey I can plot myself along a continuum, heading in a direction.

Pendulum: There are times my class would be student-centred and other when it is teacher-directed learning.

How do these questions resonate with you?

What about all the knowledge and experience a teacher brings?

Are teachers secretly controlling the student-centred learning environment, anyway?

Do we believe that all students become self-directed autonomous learners?

Are we talking about either/or or both/and?

I would love to hear about the reality of your context.
Email me via this website or reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn.

@anneknock

Ref
Mameli, C., Grazia, V. & Molinari, L (2019)Agency, responsibility and equity in teacher versus student activities: A comparison between teachers’ and learners’ perceptions. Journal of Educational Change (Published online 21 January, 2020)

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