Learner-Centered Teacher Preparation: A Mastery of Skills

By Hewett, Stephenie M. | Education, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Learner-Centered Teacher Preparation: A Mastery of Skills


Hewett, Stephenie M., Education


The major role of teaching is enhancing student learning. How to prepare teachers to be adept at enhancing learning of students is a topic of major discussions. From veteran teachers to college professors, the issues of how to enhance learning and improve the American education system all focus on the preparation of future teachers. For years, teacher education programs taught the future teachers to focus on their teaching. Teachers were taught lecture methods and presentation styles. The teachers were the active participants in the classrooms while the students were the passive recipients of knowledge.

The pendulum has swung in the other direction and the new pedagogy emphasizes the importance of the student being the center of focus. (Reilly, 2000). The student should be actively engaged in the learning process. The teacher is more of a facilitator in the learning process. This philosophy of teaching is known as learner-centered education. Learner-centered education is a philosophy of teaching that focuses on the experiences, backgrounds, talents, interests, capacities, and needs of the students and on the best practices for enhancing motivation, learning, and achievement for all students (McCombs 1997, Reilly, 2000). Learner-centered education has been well documented in the research as a successful way to improve student achievement. (Grimmer& MacKinnon, 1992; McCombs 1997, Reilly,2000; Shulman, 1987). A problem occurs when furore teachers are only exposed to teacher-centered approaches to teaching/learning. Typically, the college classrooms are far from being learner-centered. Professors like to be the "sage on the stage" (Lehr, 2002) dispensing their knowledge to passive recipients. The teacher preparation courses should serve as models of best practices and incorporate learner-centered activities into their learning environments. One of the strategies, which offer opportunities for pre-service teachers to participate in learner-centered environments, is mastery learning. This article focuses on the integration of the mastery approach to teaching and learner-centered education to enhance the preparation of future teachers. Focusing on the learner, planning for student success, creating an inviting learning environment, and providing appropriate feedback are major components of the mastery approach to teaching that make it a perfect fit for learner-centered education.

The mastery approach to teaching was introduced in the 1920's in the Winnetka Plan by Washburne (1922, as cited in Block, 1971) and has been researched for many years (Block, 1971, Carroll, 1989). The mastery approach is a philosophy of teaching that states that all students can learn if given appropriate quality instruction and the appropriate amount of time (Carroll, 1989). In typical classrooms, the achievement of students fluctuates and time is a constant. In the mastery approach, time fluctuates and achievement levels of students remain constant. All students are expected and required to reach mastery of all criteria regardless of the amount of time it takes for the student to reach mastery. In a typical mastery class, students are given assessments to determine needs before new information is introduced. That way, teachers are informed of areas in which each student may need assistance in order to reach mastery. The student is provided with the criteria and the objectives that must be mastered. In many mastery classes, students are given a variety of assignments to lead them toward mastery of the objectives. At the completion of those assignments, an assessment is given to determine mastery of all skills. The student must demonstrate mastery of all skills and is provided additional activities for the skills not mastered (Davis & Sorrell, 1995). In a teacher preparation program, no future teacher should leave the program until mastery of all teaching skills has been demonstrated. Students need the opportunity to work on those teaching skills until all are mastered.

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