Newman - 1 - Katharine Newman PSYC 232 Blackwell September 30th, 2007 Centeredness 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 learned. 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. Conclusion: 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 - WORKS CITED 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 http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/Home.portal?_nfpb=true&ERICExtSearc h_Operator_2=and&searchtype=advanced&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=kw& ERICExtSearch_Operator_1=and&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_1=kw&eric_dis playStartCount=21&ERICExtSearch_PubDate_To=2008&eric_viewStyle=list&E RICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=constructivism&ERICExtSearch_PubType=Journ al+Articles&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_2=kw&ERICExtSearch_SearchCount =2&ERICExtSearch_PubDate_From=0&ERICExtSearch_FullText=true&pageSi ze=10&eric_displayNtriever=false&_pageLabel=RecordDetails&objectId=09000 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 http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=58&hid=17&sid=956406b7-14c5- 45de-96b1-b5c0c5b043c2%40sessionmgr7 .
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