A Faculty Institute Follow-up
by Caitlin Caron
Learner-centered teaching, the topic of Todd Zakrajsek’s January 22nd HWS Faculty Institute talk (http://youtu.be/cCVhSlPlSvY), was also the topic of a keynote address by Dr. Maryellen Weimer, editor of The Teaching Professor newsletter (http://www.teachingprofessor.com/) and Emeritus Professor of Teaching and Learning at Penn State Berks, at the Teaching and Learning Day at Brockport University. Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, Susan Pliner, and Coordinator of Writing Initiatives, Caitlin Caron, attended this Teaching and Learning Day on January 23rd and made connections between the two talks. In her address, Weimer focused on 5 ways to make your teaching learner-centered, and on 5 ways to respond to student resistance to learner-centered teaching.
Weimer suggests strategies like asking students to review their notes at the end of class or having them write exam questions about new material as a way to help students synthesize and think critically about content covered during class. Too often, Weimer says, teachers end up doing the work that should be done by students: synthesizing, summarizing, and analyzing the outcomes of a particular classroom lesson.
Content should be used as the means, not the end, for learning. In this way, content becomes the stuff that helps students learn the skills they need to succeed as students in your class and as lifelong learners.
How can we expect students to become self-directed, independent learners when we maintain all of the control over the learning process? Weimer asks. If we want students to be active, autonomous, and self-directed, we need to teach students how to become responsible for their own learning by helping them take control of the learning process. Of course, students cannot make decisions about their own learning processes if they are not developmentally ready for such responsibility; therefore, we must guide students to become self-directed learners by giving them small tasks that give them control over their learning.
Students can begin to think of themselves as learners by reflecting and critiquing what and how they are learning. Weimer emphasizes the importance of having students think about both content and method in a course. This metacognitive approach helps students develop confidence, grow their repertoire of strategies for learning, and synthesize information.
When students work with each other, Weimer says, they open windows of understanding. Teachers can play an important role by modeling active ways of interacting in a classroom environment by doing simple things like writing down students’ responses and identifying good questions during class discussions. If the teacher writes a student’s comment down and says that it is significant, students will do the same. You can then ask students to do this when they work with each other and, in this way, they will listen more actively to each other.
Weimer cautions that learner-centered teaching might be met with some student resistance. Students may simply resist change to the classroom they’re familiar with or they may resist the more complex thinking and learning that learner-centered techniques require. She suggests several ways to combat this resistance:
Students are more likely to do what we ask when we explain why, too. Education needs to be explicit, Weimer says. In a transparent educational rationale, there is a balance between student discovery and teacher explanation.
This can be as simple as taking a few minutes to ask students to tell you something interesting that they are learning in your class or in another class. This kind of question asks students to think critically and actively about their learning.
Remind students that they can accomplish the goals that you set forth for them. Acknowledge that it is hard work, but they can do it. While this may sound elementary, who doesn’t like to hear they can achieve what they are trying to do?
This process helps you understand what is and is not working for students’ learning and also allows you to teach them the purpose of constructive feedback. Weimer suggests asking for truthful feedback, but also explaining the “golden rule” of feedback: I won’t say hurtful things to you and you won’t say hurtful things to me (I will give to you in the same way you give to me).
Just as you can provide students with encouragement that they can succeed, you can also explain that sometimes we need to do things that feel uncomfortable or are difficult. This is part of the process of learning.
A list of resources about learner-centered teaching and Weimer’s book, Learner-Centered Teaching, are available in the CTL Lending Library.