Learner-Centered vs. Curriculum-Centered Teachers: Which Type Are You?

Your view of learning and student/teacher roles determines the method by which you teach

This insightful article will help you understand the difference between learner-centered and curriculum-centered classrooms. Constructivists adhere to learner-centered classrooms. Standards-based teachers adhere to curriculum-centered classrooms. Which one are you?

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Teaching Strategies:
Updated on: January 18, 2001
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Comparison of the two different classrooms

In order to visualize the two different types of classrooms, think about the structure of each:

Learner-centered Curriculum-centered
Child-centered Teacher-centered
Constructivist-driven Standards-driven
Progressive Traditional
Information-age model Factory model
Criterion-based Norm (bell curve) based
Depth Breadth
Thematic integration Single subjects
Process- and product-oriented Product-oriented
Block scheduling Short time periods
Collaboration Isolated teaching and learning
Experiential knowledge Rote knowledge


Many teachers fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum. They are neither strictly learner-centered nor only curriculum-centered. Teachers use what works for them based on their fundamental belief structures.

How do you prepare?

The way in which teachers spend their time in and out of class can reveal much about their teaching philosophies. A learner-centered teacher makes time to collaborate with others and problem solve as challenges evolve. This teacher spends his or her day researching new ideas and learning key concepts that students must acquire to gain competence. Evaluation is ongoing and done mostly in the context of students' learning.

A curriculum-centered teacher works mostly by himself or herself when he or she is teaching or developing lessons. When teachers do collaborate in team meetings, all involved agree to teach the same lessons. These assignments usually result in a lot of correcting at the end of the day.

How to work within the current system

If you are basically a curriculum-centered teacher, the system is already set up for you – no worries! If you are essentially a learner-centered teacher, you need to enlist support for your teaching style. Effective ways of gaining credibility include the following:

  • Initiate collaboration with other educational professionals.
  • Locate and share research that documents successful learner-centered classrooms (see References below).
  • Invite fellow teachers to attend conferences and workshops geared toward learner-centered topics.
  • Ask colleagues to discuss your philosophy of education (and theirs) so that you both may gain a clearer understanding of your principles. At that point, it becomes important to do what you say you do and make no excuses. Some people talk about running a child-centered classroom but actually have not broken from the model they were exposed to as students.
  • Finally, it is imperative to gain the respect of your students' parents at Back-to-School night, Open House, conferences, and through regular newsletters.

References
Armstrong, T. In Their Own Way. New York: Putnam, 1987.
Ashton-Warner, S. Teacher. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986.
Atwell, N. In the Middle: Writing, Reading, and Learning with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987.
Caine, R.N., and Caine, G. Education on the Edge of Possibility. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1997.
Caine, R.N., and Caine, G. Unleashing the Power of Perceptual Change. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1997.
Clemens, S. G. The Sun's Not Broken, a Cloud's Just in the Way: On Child-Centered Teaching. Mt. Rainier, MD: Gryphon House, 1983.
Duckworth, E. "The Having of Wonderful Ideas" and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning. Columbia University, New York: Teachers College Press, 1987.
Edwards, C., Gandini, L., and Forman, G. (Eds.) The Hundred Languages of Children. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1995.
Kohn, A. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Lillard, P. P. Montessori: A Modern Approach. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.
Piaget, J. and Inhelder, B. The Psychology of the Child. United States: Perseus, 1969.
Rose, M. Lives on the Boundary. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.
Routman, R. Invitations: Changing as Teachers and Learners K-12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1991.
Sizer, T.R. Horace's school: Redesigning the American High School. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
Vygotsky, L.S. Thought and Language. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1986.

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