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Learning-Centered Teaching

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
604

We have come to understand that for professors to hold a learning-centered perspective and be able to act on it, they need to have developed a complex and integrated understanding of the nature of teaching and learning. The complex and multilayered nature of the teaching process at the primary and secondary school levels (K-12) has been well described in the literature. In higher education, this is not the case.

Folks:

The posting below looks at a new approach to teacher preparation workshops. It is from Chapter 2: Assumptions Underlying Workshop Activities by Alenoush Saroyan, Cheryl Amundsen, Lynn McAlpine, Cynthia Weston, Laura Winer, and Terry Gandell in Rethinking Teaching in Higher Education: From a Course Design Workshop to a Faculty Development Framework, edited by Alenoush Saroyan and Cheryl Amundsen. Published in 2004 by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, Virginia 20166 Copyright ? 2004 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

 

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LEARNING CENTERED TEACHING

 

We think about teaching from a learning-centered perspective: Whenever we are involved in instruction, we try to think about the way each of our decisions and actions will influence students and their learning. What we mean by learning-centered teaching is manifest in what we do (and will become more apparent in following chapters), and is to be distinguished from a student-centered approach. This latter term is most often used to indicate that students are the center focus of instruction, as they are engaged in "active" learning strategies (Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991; Kember, 1997). A learning-centered approach, in contrast, does not necessarily mean that student activity is the focus of the teaching strategy. Rather, learning-centered teaching means that decisions are made with specific reference to the kind of learning that is desired, and strategies are chosen because they are the most likely to support that kind of learning. For instance!

, even though a lecture is teacher-centered, the strategy may be a very good choice if the learning goal is an overview or a model for subsequent activities.

We have come to understand that for professors to hold a learning-centered perspective and be able to act on it, they need to have developed a complex and integrated understanding of the nature of teaching and learning (Saroyan, Amundsen, & Cao, 1997). The complex and multilayered nature of the teaching process at the primary and secondary school levels (K-12) has been well described in the literature (see review by Wideen, Mayer-Smith, & Moon, 1998). In higher education, this is not the case. Teaching in this context is usually described in terms of having a solid grasp of the subject matter and knowing how to skillfully present it-in other words, the emphasis is usually on content knowledge and presentation. Items that appear on commonly used student course evaluation forms reflect this orientation to teaching. For example, items about a professor's degree of preparation, organization, clarity of presentation, and ability to demonstrate knowledge of the content and st!

imulate student interest refer to overt actions typically associated with effective lecturing. We concur that these can be important attributes of effective teaching, but we disagree with the implication that these overt actions effectively describe teaching. In our view, generic skills cannot be considered as unrelated to or independent of subject matter (Saroyan & Amundsen, 2001). Moreover, a good part of teaching involves thinking, problem-solving, and decision making, all of which are unobservable processes. Any discussion about teaching necessitates taking into account multiple dimensions-both observable actions and unobservable processes.

Schwab (1970) notes that in any situation in which teaching and learning is presumed to be occurring, events can be examined by considering the interaction among four commonplaces-students, teacher, subject matter, and context-each of which incorporates a range of factors:

1. What students bring to the educational experience-for example, perspective on teaching and learning, prior experience of teaching in general and the course being taught, perspective on the role of the instructor.

2. What the teacher brings to the educational experience-for example, perspective on teaching and learning, prior experience of teaching in general and the course being taught, perspective on the role of the instructor.

3. How the subject matter or discipline affects the educational experience-for example, how the knowledge structures of the discipline influence the nature of the tasks that are engaged in by those in the discipline (Donald, 1986), the type of learning that is required (often relate to the level of the course).

4. How the context or external factors influence the nature of the instruction-for example, whether the course is required or not, size of the class, other responsibilities of the professor and students, institutional factors.

Effective teaching decisions are those made on the basis of the commonplaces outlined by Schwab rather than out of habit or because of what others do. We argue that professors develop into competent instructional decision makers through an intellectual process. Subject-matter expertise is used to clarify and articulate the student learning that is desired, becoming the reference point for all subsequent decisions. Competency is thus developed through the practice and close examination of decision sequences and teaching actions. Self- and peer analyses assist this process because they enable an individual to explore alternative possibilities and potential outcomes; moreover, they foster an openness to different ways of approaching the teaching task.

Our views have led us to adopt a different strategy for teaching development than the traditional format of short, skill-based faculty development workshops (Weimer & Lenze, 1991). We believe that knowledge of generic teaching approaches gained through skill-based workshops is often not put into practice because most professors are unable to see relevance of general pedagogies to their particular discipline. Moreover, these workshops often do not provide professors with the opportunity to "practice" in a meaningful way the teaching and learning strategies introduced in the workshop. Consequently, the professors have little opportunity to develop their comfort with the strategy and to determine the relevance of the strategy to student learning in their course or discipline. Without this opportunity, the commitment to incorporate what is learned into teaching practice may never develop. We have even observed professors who "try out" strategies learned in such workshops wi!

thout understanding the connection between the teaching strategy and student learning. In our experience, without this understanding, a strategy is likely to be quickly abandoned in the face of any challenge-for example, if the strategy is not greeted positively by students or not implemented as easily as planned.

The intellectual exercise of understanding the rationale for a teaching method and how it relates to learning as well as testing out the teaching method is akin to what professors do as scholars. A teaching method that is so presented is more likely to be internalized. Moreover, given the importance of subject matter for faculty and the passion with which it is accompanied, we believe subject matter must be made the focus and underlying thinking of the development of teaching. Shulman (1986) has also suggested that subject matter must be the point of departure for developing teaching. For this reason, the Workshop is consciously aimed at merging generic knowledge of teaching with subject-matter knowledge and rarely deals with development of teaching knowledge separately.

References

Bonwell, C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active Learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Donald, J.G. (1986). Knowledge and the university curriculum. Higher Education, 15(3-4), 267-282.

Johnson, D., Johnson, R., & Smith, K. (1991). Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

Kember, D. (1997). A reconceptualization of the research into university academics' conceptions of teaching. Learning and Instruction, 7(3), 255-275.

Saroyan, A., & Amundsen, C. (2001). Evaluating university teaching: Time to take stock. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 26(4), 337-349.

Saroyan, A., Amundsen, C., & Cao, L. (1997). Incorporating theories of teacher growth and adult education in a faculty development program. To Improve the Academy, 16, 93-115.

Schwab, J.J. (1970). The practical: A language for curriculum. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.

Weimer, M., & Lenze, L.F. (1991). Instructional interventions: A review of the literature on efforts to improve instruction. In J. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. 7, pp. 294-333). New York: Agathon.

Wideen, M., Mayer-Smith, J., & Moon, B. (1998). A critical analysis of the research on learning to teach: Making the case for an ecological perspective on inquiry. Review of Educational Research, 68(2), 130-178.