In more recent times, this view of teaching has been shaken up. The buzzword you hear in professional development and read in the copy accompanying teaching products is student-centered. The way it was presented to me in my certificate training was "sage on the stage" vs. "guide on the side". The focus turns from the teacher teaching to the students learning. The teacher facilitates as the students plan, explore, collaborate, and share what they have learned.
I am all for the empowering of students! I thoroughly agree with helping them to become self-directed, curious and creative learners. But I'm not so thrilled with the label, for several reasons.
First, the word is an umbrella term. It not only refers to a group of related pedagogical principles (see one overview in the link below), but it's also used to refer to any activity where attention is on the student's life, interests or needs. I see many lesson plans (online and my own) that include "student-centered" activities such as having them work in small groups or pairs, surveying them to find out their needs, asking them to personalize their answers, etc. To my mind, those are still largely teacher-centered. Sure, I'm paying attention to the learners and collecting information about their needs ... but I made the plan, I decide when they move into groups, I decide what information to collect, I take the survey home and decide how to use the information in a future lesson plan. Don't I still hold most of the real power?
Second, in my explorations on the topic I read again and again that student-centered learning is achieved by shifting power from the teacher to the student:
by Geraldine O’Neill and Tim McMahon
I think another model may be more useful. For the student to be empowered, must the teacher's power be diminished? Isn't the shift really from authoritarian power (respect is defined by compliance) to individual power (respect is defined by acknowledging the unique gifts offered by each person as well as their needs and ambitions)? To my mind, the student-centered label retains a hierarchical mindset. It continues to put someone on a pedestal (just a different person). It does not acknowledge the individual power of the teacher, nor of the others at a school who support both teacher and student.
Third, I'm not so sure that the focus should be on people at all. We've recognized that a spotlight on a person who is a font of knowledge is not effective. Should the spotlight be turned to the seekers of knowledge? Or should it be turned to the knowledge itself? Imagine that the teacher and learners are each using their own spotlight to explore a topic. When we work together, more light is shed on a subject. When learners step out of the school, they take their spotlight with them and use it alone or with others as they choose. That's autonomy.
The first time I encountered the proposal that we all, students and teacher, put the subject in the center of the circle was in Parker J. Palmer's excellent The Courage to Teach (Ch. 4, see diagram on p. 105). He says:
To be in the truth, we must know how to observe and reflect and speak and listen, with passion and with discipline, in the circle gathered around a given subject. (p. 107)He also shares this quote from Robert Frost:
We dance round in a ring and suppose,The paradigm-shift that gave birth to the phrase "student-centered learning" is revolutionary. But I wonder if it isn't time to step even further along that path. I'd like to see the line between student, teacher, and the others at a learning institution eliminated completely and replaced with equal respect for our experience, skills, responsibilities, needs and aims. We are all there to support the same thing: learning. Who is the learner? Who is the teacher?
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.