From Teacher-Centered to Learner-Centered Curriculum: Improving Learning in Diverse Classrooms

Article excerpt


Twenty-first century classrooms challenge traditional, teacher-centered curriculum to meet the increasingly diverse needs of students and make the required increases in achievement gains. School violence, diverse student needs and populations, educational renewal, and technological advances place demands on teachers in areas for which they were formally held accountable. With teacher educators, problems occur when teaching styles conflict with students' learning styles, often resulting in limited learning or no learning. Altan and Trombly (2001) offer learner-centeredness as a model for countering classroom challenges because of its viability for meeting diverse needs. Learner-centered classrooms place students at the center of classroom organization and respect their learning needs, strategies, and styles. In learner-centered classrooms, students can be observed working individually or in pairs and small groups on distinct tasks and projects. The transition from teaching the entire group to meeting individual learner needs involves extensive planning and task-specific classroom management.


The premise--one teaching and learning approach fits all--is not working for a growing number of student populations and has prompted this researcher to examine what is required to move from a teacher-centered to a learner-centered approach. McCombs & Whisler (1997) identified two essential factors for a learner-centered approach to education: (a) characteristics of the learner and (b) teaching practices. By contrasting the use of reflective inquiry, thinking-centered learning, and assessment of program quality to satisfy McCombs & Whisler's essential factors, this article examines whether moving from a teacher-centered to a learner-centered approach requires a transition or a paradigm shift.

Learner Characteristics

Learner-Centered Approach

An essential factor for a learner-centered approach is placing the learning characteristics of all learners under the microscope with specific emphasis on low-performing learners. McCombs (1997) explained that the focus in a learner-centered approach is on individual learners' heredity, experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, talents, interests, capacities, and needs. She defined learner-centered, from a research-based perspective, as a foundation for clarifying what is needed to create positive learning contexts to increase the likelihood that more students will experience success (Defining "Learner-Centered", [paragraph] 2). Cultural factors impact the connection teachers must make to scaffold students' learning (Singham, 1998; McCombs & Whisler, 1997). The focus is on metacognition, how individual students learn. Milambiling (2001) extended the learner-centered definition by characterizing learner-centered education as context-sensitive. She said that the culture of the learning context is as important to learning as the content and the methods used. Milambiling recommended curricula which address the culture of the learner within specific learning contexts.

Teacher-Centered Approach

The teacher-centered approach is associated chiefly with the transmission of knowledge. McDonald (2002) clarified the definition by saying that the work of teachers depends upon the abilities, skills and efforts of their students. Student achievement is at the forefront of teacher centered curriculum, but teachers are driven to meet accountability standards and often sacrifice the needs of the students to ensure exposure to the standards. Berliner (as cited in Scherer, 2001) distinguished between the expert and the novice teacher. He explained that expert teachers have case knowledge, knowledge of information stored in their memory banks, that allows them to compare situations and respond accordingly. They have amassed a store of impromptu responses for capturing teachable moments. The issue, however, is whether those impromptu responses are a clear match for the learner who is having difficulty. …