Katharine Newman by panniuniu


									                                                                                Newman - 1 -

Katharine Newman

PSYC 232


September 30th, 2007


       This may come as quite as surprise, but in the realm of educational thought, I am

“old-school.” In my first education class we were given a short assessment to classify us

as either essentialists, progressivists, perennialists, existentialists or some combination of

the four; I am equal amounts essentialist and perrenialist, schools of thought traditionally

associated with teacher-centered educational practice. At the same time, I’ve always been

drawn to constructivist educational philosophy and alternative teaching methods that

stress the joy and the process of learning. In an attempt to reconcile these competing

ideals I have taken this prompt and divided it into two parts: in the first I will review the

current literature debating teacher-centered and student-centered learning; in the second, I

will give my well-reasoned, or very impassioned, opinion about what I feel would be best

for my ideal school or classroom. An assessor given to teacher-centered ideas would best

read the first part and the conclusion, and an assessor interested in “making meaning”

may appreciate the whole document.

Part One:
                                                                               Newman - 2 -

       In 2005, Korean researcher Jong Suk Kim conducted an experiment, comparing

traditional Korean instruction with constructivist teaching. As many in this country are

concerned that young Americans are falling behind Asian youth in math and science

scores, educators in Korea are “raising questions about the inability of Korean students to

perform creative thinking as well as problem solving tasks when compared to other

advanced countries” (Kim, 2004). One aspect of Kim’s research was designed to show

whether constructivist-teaching practice (student-centered, designed to engage

discussion) would be as effective in terms of academic achievement as traditional

schooling methods (direct teaching, memorization etc). In a study of 76 sixth graders

Kim found that children studying mathematics in a constructivist environment out

performed other children studying in a traditional setting (Kim, 2004).

       At the same time, Richard Mayer argues convincingly that constructivism or

“discovery learning” goes best with guided instruction. He cites numerous studies that

show students who receive feedback and guidance when engaged in problem solving,

find solutions faster and are better able to apply similar logic to future tasks (Mayer,

2004). As previously covered in class, studies are discussed in the article where

researchers guide kindergarteners through conservation and reversibility tasks – problems

which children struggle with when allowed to discover and learn at their own pace. In his

analysis Mayer draws a distinction between behavioral and cognitive activity: “Instead of

depending solely on learning by doing or learning by discussion, the most genuine

approach to constructivist learning is by thinking” (Mayer, 2004).
                                                                                 Newman - 3 -

        Mayer correctly asserts that constructivism and student-centered teaching are

emphasized in teacher preparation programs. This was in large part confirmed by a study

of sixty-nine new science teachers conducted by Simmons, P. E., Emory, A., Carter, T.,

Coker, T., Finnegan, B., Crockett, D., et al. The study also found however, that

beginning teachers were likely to “wobble” in their actual implementation of student-

centered practice, and towards the third year shift predominantly into teacher-centered

practices. Most surprisingly, teachers who considered themselves to be “learner-

centered” but used teacher-centered methods “did not discover or reconcile this

inconsistency” (Simmons, P.E., et al, 1999). Additionally most teachers reported that

students “learned the same way” they themselves did, reflecting no understanding or

consideration for differences in learning styles (Simmons, P.E., et al, 1999).

Part Two:

        All of these articles and the research they cover convey one point: good teaching

is hard. Creating a bad teacher-centered lesson is easy: write a speech about the content,

deliver it and give a concept check at the end. A good teacher-centered lesson is

possible: an engaging lecture, with different kinds of examples, and a visual or two is a

substantial improvement the first example. As much as we’ve discussed the difficulties

of student-centered teaching in class (designing developmentally appropriate lessons,

individualizing instruction etc.), when this method is poorly executed it can be quite easy.

Ideas like letting students set their own pace and “discover” information give some

teachers license to exert little or no oversight, a situation in which very little can be

                                                                              Newman - 4 -

       I think the ideal learning situation combines elements of teacher-centered and

student-centered practice at different developmental stages, and in different disciplines. I

can easily understand using student-centered teaching to guide students through early

math concepts, using manipulatives, but explaining basic principles of chemistry through

a purely discovery method to me sounds tedious. On the other hand, exhaustive research

has shown that systematic explicit, phonetic instruction of English is best for young

readers (Chall, 2000), while intuitively top-down instruction on themes in literature to me

seems heavy-handed.

       There are very few Montessori post-elementary schools. Whenever I think about

student-centered learning, I think about the Montessori method and that focus on self-

regulated learning through activity. It’s not a method with complete freedom; children

are taught the right and wrong way to use an activity station, but are otherwise left to

their own devices. The Montessori method would not be so popular if it didn’t show at

least moderate academic success and yet most Montessori programs only run until middle

school. This tells me that there comes a point where there must me a shift away from

student-centered teaching.

       It makes sense that there is a preponderance of student-centered methodology in

elementary school (Chall, 2000). Early schooling is about so much more than just

academics. A good elementary school teacher is concerned not only with the

achievement of his students but also their development as people and an environment that

focuses on the needs of the individual child would best support this. However as learners

progress there is an increasing premium placed on mastering content and performing on

or around an expected level. A college mathematics professor meeting a student “on his
                                                                             Newman - 5 -

level” and focusing on developmentally responsive teaching strategies, but a fifth grade

math and science teacher who does so is laying a good foundation for future learning.


       In her book, Jeanne Chall discusses whole-word reading and phonetic reading

instruction as one more battleground in the debate over student-centered and teacher-

centered reading. What she doesn’t mention, and what few people consider when

debating reading instruction, is that there is already a compromise between the two

camps: Dr. Seuss. The books Dr. Seuss was commissioned to write use a limited number

of words that tell a story (whole-word orientation), which rhyme and have similar

phonetic construction (phonemic orientation). The “dive-right-in” approach to reading is

no more appropriate for early readers than phonics flashcards, charts, and recitation

activities. In the same way, neither pure teacher-centered instruction nor student-

centered teaching has an inherent, complete edge over the other method. It is best to

combine the strengths of both to teach effectively.
                                                                             Newman - 6 -


Chall, J. S. (2000). The academic challenge: what really works in the classroom?. New

       York: Guilford Press.

Kim, J. S. (2005). The effects of a constructivist teaching approach on student academic

       achievement, self-concept, and learning strategies. Asia Pacific Education

       Review, 6(1), 7-19. Retrieved October 5, 2007, from









       19b8010680f&accno=EJ728823&_nfls=false .

Mayer, R. E. (2004). Should there be a three-strikes rules against pure discovery

       learning? American Psychologist, 59(1), 14-19.

Simmons, P. E., Emory, A., Carter, T., Coker, T., Finnegan, B., Crockett, D., et al.

       (1999). Beginning teachers: beliefs and classroom actions. Journal of Research in
                                                                    Newman - 7 -

Science Teaching, 36(8), 930-954. Retrieved October 3, 2007, from


45de-96b1-b5c0c5b043c2%40sessionmgr7 .

To top