A Critique of Student Centered Classrooms

Many education reformers and education pundits have been pushing for student-centered classrooms for quite some time.  The teacher should simply be a facilitator of the class, and let students construct their own knowledge.   Then students, left to themselves, with their natural curiosity and inner desire to learn freed from constraints, will take ownership of their learning and become lifelong learners.  The reason many have been calling for this change is that classrooms have been too teacher-centered for a long time.  In another post I shared some data from the Marzano Research group that indicates classrooms across the United States are heavily teacher-centered. So I get it.  We need to move away from the teacher as the sole deliverer of content.  But lets not throw out the baby with the bath water.

We can’t completely do away with teachers leading and teaching their classes.  I believe one reason many teachers hesitate to embrace a student-centered classroom is that a completely student-centered classroom goes too far.  Students often don’t know what they don’t know.  I, as a science teacher, am an expert on a topic such as Chemistry and know Chemistry very well.  My students, on the other hand, come to class not knowing Chemistry very well, if at all.  And though it seems well and good to think that we can have students completely construct knowledge on their own, we need to teach them the things that we do know.  We are experts in our field.  We went to college for a long time to learn specific content.

Instead of choosing between student and teacher-centered classrooms, we should think of it more as a continuum. Teachers need to teach and students need to take ownership.  The best classes bring in both of these elements. The sweet spot is where they come together so that the classroom becomes neither student nor teacher-centered as a whole. See diagram below. The sweet spot will be different for each teacher depending on the subject taught and degree of willingness to give up some control.

I believe one of the best ways to make your class less teacher-centered is to flip your class.  Teachers can still teach and students can still construct knowledge.  If teachers are presenting content to a whole group of students at the same time on a consistent basis, then classes tend to be too teacher-centered.  The simple act of putting the direct instruction (the “teaching”) on a short instructional video allows for more time for student-centered activities.  Teachers still “teach,” but class time is now freed up for students to explore, expand, and receive assistance.


What do you think?  To what extent do you think teachers need to teach and students need to construct?  Share with me your thoughts on how you can make class less teacher-centered and yet still allow you to teach.  Or if you think classes need to be student-centered.

5 Responses

  1. 3/20/2015

    Hi Mr. Bergmann:

    Re: Requesting a Copy of Your Chemistry Moodle course “.MBZ” file

    It is an honor to be able to write to you. I’m a science teacher in LAUSD. I have National Board Certification and I’m credentialed to teach Chem, Bio, Physics, and Psychology. I’ve been teaching science for over 30 years and technology, including the use of moodle, is one of my strong areas.

    I admire you for all the creative work that you’ve done and because you have so much to offer, I’m asking you for your help.

    Currently, I’m teaching Physics at Verdugo Hills High School in Tujunga, CA. and soon I’m going to be sharing the teaching of a summer school Chemistry credit recovery course beginning in June. I’ve developed a moodle Physics course that has turned out to be extremely successful in helping my students to study on their own after I present the topics in class. My moodle physics course has been so successful that my students are begging me to get the other teachers in our school to teach their courses the way I teach physics. However, creating a successful moodle course is no easy task. Because there is so little research on this topic and so much trial and error when it comes to discovering what works and what doesn’t work with your average high school student, that creating a course that works is a monumental task. I have already purchased your CD’s containing your videos but I would like to make some kind of a deal with you on obtaining your moodle chemistry course. At one point, you made it available to look at but at that time I couldn’t take advantage of the access you provided. About a year ago, unfortunately, your moodle courses were no longer available to study and learn from.
    Would you, by any chance, be willing to make your Moodle Chemistry course available again? What I would really like is to have a backup file “.mbz” of your Chemistry course that would also include your quizzes and your complete question bank. I would be willing to pay you for it. What I would do with it is that I would customize it based on what I’ve learned using moodle for the teaching of Physics.
    My physics moodle course looks a lot like your Chemistry course in that it has one attractive picture contained within each topic. My physics course has many hundreds of questions that have taken me untold hours to place into moodle – questions that I’ve modified so as to make full use of Moodle’s advanced question-type features. Some of my favorite features include the capability of placing questions and answer spaces directly on top of images. I’m also a fan of the calculated and cloze questions. And every question includes a “HELP” link so that student can answer questions and study at the same time. Additionally, I’m a fan of allowing multiple tries on each question. Also, all features of my moodle physics course are readily accessible with smart phones.
    I also had the opportunity, at one time, to view the Earth Science course that you were creating with another teacher. I thought it was also impressive.
    I really hope to hear from you soon. Thanks so much.

    William Graves, Science Teacher

    School Address: Verdugo Hills High School
    10625 Plainview Avenue, Tujunga, CA 91042

  2. Here are my thoughts on the Student Centered Classroom:
    As a 30 year veteran science teacher of all the major high school sciences, I lean more toward the Teacher Centered Classroom than the Student Centered Classroom. My main concern is with the Next Generation Science Standards which is the Federal extension of the “Federal” Common Core State Standards as it is applied to the teaching of science in K-12. The major flaw with NGSS is that is emphasizes Science Process over Science Content. The NGSS utterly fail to acknowledge the fact that critical thinking skills come from knowledge of content and that knowledge build from knowledge, not from “process”. The student centered classroom fails in this regard. For a very authoritative and highly respected critique of the NGSS, the Fordham Institute has published it’s evaluation of the NGSS. The link to this paper, “Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards” is
    As you may know, the Fordham Institute has been a great defender and promoter of the Common Core State Standards, however, in the case of the NGSS, this research paper, written by the top educators in the field of science teaching, thoroughly rips the NGSS apart but they do so in a gentle way. Since the NGSS requires that science classes in K-12 be more student centered than content centered (teacher centered), I think that it behooves your readers to take a close look at this authoritative paper. It’s especially important for high school chemistry and physics teachers to read because it truly provides the guidance for teaching those subjects that the NGSS almost entirely fails to provide.

  3. Pingback : Flipped Classroom ¿Cómo? | Sociedad del Conocimiento

  4. Tom Mennella

    Thank you, Jon, for yet another wonderful and insightful contribution to the flipped learning dialog. The concerns you express here were exactly those that I, too, shared when trying to get away from “sage on the stage” lecturing. I experimented with PBL, but felt I was leaving students too unguided and the class too unstructured for effective learning to take place (but I saw the potential). I experimented with clickers and loved the student engagement, but at the end of the day, I still spent most of the class time lecturing… It wasn’t until I embraced flipped learning that I had the best of both worlds. I was still able to teach my students, providing them with background content delivered in a way that I thought made sense, and guiding them through their first pass with the course material, but then class time could be spent on student-centered group work and activities that fortified the learning of that content, and let the students shine as creators of new content and resources created through the lens of their own personal understanding of the material. I still feel giddy that I can have my cake and eat it too with flipped learning! Thanks for a great post, but more importantly, many thanks to you and Aaron for this AMAZING contribution to teaching and learning! – Tom

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