Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Essential Ingredient for Meaningful Teaching

The most effective sorts are teaching are the ones that are student-centric rather than curriculum-centric. While curriculum-centric teaching focuses ostensibly on what students "ought" to know, student-centric teaching emphasizes that which students will actually find personally meaningful. This is not a paradigm generally embraced by teaching institutions. Curriculum-centric teaching is the norm in American public schools, private schools, and churches today. This misplaced focus is one of the major reasons why most teaching is perceived as irrelevant. If the goal of teaching is for students to be better prepared for life and better equipped to face various challenges, then it is imperative that students learn things that practically impact their lives. In order for students to learn things that practically impact their lives, it is necessary that whatever is taught directly addresses things that pertain to students' lives.

Curriculum-centric teaching does not effectively meet this need since curriculum-centric teaching has several instrinsic limitations. The first limitation of curriculum-centric teaching is that curriculums are developed by the people who teach, based on their own impressions of what students will find useful rather than being developed directly based on feedback and inquiries from students. The second limitation of curriculum-centric teaching is that it is fairly inflexible. Since curriculum-centric teaching typically emphasizes specific lessons that must be taught in a specific order, there is little room for day-to-day flexibility or deviation from the scheduled content. Additionally, since curriculums are generally developed and refined over a period of time and not prone to be changed rapidly, many of them are based on the real or perceived needs of students in times past, rather than being developed in response to the needs of today's students. The third limitation of curriculum-centric teaching is that it is uniformly "taught" to a broad range of students, whose varying levels of foundational knowledge and learning styles serve to negate the effectiveness of what is taught. Curriculum-centric teaching cannot be easily adapted to the needs of individual students or groups of students.

Student-centric learning, contrastingly, focuses on what students actually need to know. It is form of responsive, dynamic teaching, rather than being static and inflexible. For a teacher to teach students content of relevance, it is indispensible for teachers to be aware of what matters to students, what students struggle with, what students think about, and how students think. For this sort of awareness to be developed, teaching must be a relational experience rather than a merely "academic" one. An atmosphere of open dialog and direct student feedback must be continually cultivated. Simple "factual" communication is insufficient to gauge what students are actually learning. Instead, two-way communication must be the foundation of learning.

As an illustration, there is a profound difference between a teacher informing a student of a fact, and a teacher answering a question posed by a student, even if the hypothetical content is exactly the same. When a teacher informs a student of a fact, this may be a fact that the student does not care about, has no deeper comprehesion of, or already knows. However, when a student poses a self-motivated question, the answer then given is one that is desired, likely unknown and one which the student is prepared to develop a comprehension of. The best way to prepare students to learn is by encouraging them to ask questions, showing them how to ask questions, and having an environment where question-asking and open discussion are encouraged.

Upon the foundation of open dialog and relational learning, is it certainly possible to teach specific lessons about specific topics, since relevance has already been established. After (or even during) the teaching of specific lessons, it is best if there is room for direct feedback about the helpfulness and relevance of the lesson. Apart from establishing that a specific topic is relevant to a student, however, there is limited usefulness in teaching specific lessons. Relevance is the most essential ingreident for meaningful teaching. Anything that is taught must be relevant to the students' lives, comprehensible by the students, and taught in a manner that ensures students are able to connect with the way it is being taught.

The focus in developing lessons should be on quality, rather than quantity. Rather than throwing lots of factual content at students and hoping for them to retain some of it, teaching would be far more effective if most of the time were spent on seeking to develop relationships with students and determining topics of relevance. A few lessons that are highly relevant far outweigh the practical value of many lessons with limited relevance. This is a paradigm that is utilized by effective salesmen, effective couselors, and effective entrepreneurs. Developing a strategy that ensures relevance to the target market is the key to success for those sorts of jobs. If a similar paradigm were adopted towards teaching methods, the quantity of teaching and time spend teaching would decrease, while the quality of the lessons taught would increase exponentially.


  1. I strenuously disagree with your thesis. We're in the trouble we're in because we've become "student-centric." The ancients never would have gone along with your program. They believed in sitting under teachers. The teachers had the requisite knowledge and the students thought it their task to learn it. We have curricula because students don't even KNOW what it is they should be learning. That's why they're students! Students don't know what is "relevant" to them. We've "relevant-ed" ourselves right into to ignorance and stupidity. Our young people don't know history, don't know literature, don't know music, don't know philosophy, and don't know art. And why don't they? Because we're trying to be "relevant" to them.

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